Today BIG has announced two new initiatives in England that will bring improvements to the lives of vulnerable older people by reducing isolation, helping to deal better with change, and building confidence for the future.
In this guest blog, Age UK‘s Michelle Mitchell discusses the creation of a Centre for Ageing Better which will bring together and stimulate the growth of a wide range of evidence to share with older people and well-being professionals.
We are faced with unprecedented ageing. Those over 85 will reach 2.8 million by 2030, a doubling of present numbers. Such numbers are enough to raise panic in the Treasury, if the prevailing scenarios of cost are to be believed.
Conversely, I have always thought that we should celebrate our increased longevity as an enormous success story for society. I have been encouraged in my belief by the increasing evidence of the contribution that older people make and the progress that is being made, albeit slowly, in reducing the years we spend in ill health.
Speaking with media I was struck by the number of presenters who, like me, concluded that ‘we’re not really ready for this, are we?’. It is one thing to age and another to age well but the revolution in longevity is going to completely re-structure society. We will need new solutions, new approaches and most of all new evidence on what truly works.
Simply increasing expenditure in itself is not an option because there is little evidence that much – some would say any – of what we do is cost effective.
Consider the escalating NHS budget: £43.5bn in 1988; £64bn in 1998 and a staggering £120bn (8% of GDP) in 2008 – without any corresponding reduction in demand or focus on outcomes.
The improvement in healthcare in the last fifty years must rank as one of the most impressive periods of advancement in human history. For some 2,000 years, doctors sought in vain for ‘magic bullets’ to resolve the multiple health problems of the society around them. Then, suddenly and apparently without warning, they came cascading out of the research laboratories.
Antibiotics, open-heart surgery, transplants, new drugs, CAT-scans and test tube babies. All of them based on evidence. Rich, certain, empirical evidence. We have witnessed Cochrane, NICE, systematic reviews and randomised clinical trials – all of it providing a mandate of evidence on which to base policy and practice.
The same cannot be said of social or even economic policy. The quality of evaluation is variable. Evidence is weak in some areas, conversely strong in others.
It is often uninformed by user experience and is too rarely directly applicable. Moreover, simply presenting evidence and expecting policy makers to act on it is unlikely to work: policy processes are complex, rarely linear or even logical. It is therefore unsurprising that policy itself can be weakly informed by evidence.
Such a situation cannot be allowed to persist. We need change. It will only be achieved by the adoption of a new paradigm, one in which the use of evidence, open dialogue between users and researchers and one which ensures that users themselves, at all levels, can access evidence which is relevant and effective. Making use of the best available evidence will mean we can deliver services which are effective, user-centred and improve the lives of older people.
I welcome the Big Lottery Fund’s initiative to deliver a Centre for ‘Ageing Better’. Age UK is in a privileged position to influence many of these processes and we will work with others to ensure that evidence is relevant and of high quality, reaches those who need it most, and delivers the impact we need to improve the lives of those in later life.
Michelle Mitchell is Charity Director General – Age UK
What should our priorities be as a society to support ageing better? Leave your comments below or join the conversation on Twitter using #AgeingBetter.
The Big Lunch is a one-day get-together for neighbours – a Big Lottery Fund-supported idea from the Eden Project, encouraging people across the UK to gather for a few hours of food, friendship and fun. Millions of people have been involved since it started back in 2009. In this short guest blog, The Big Lunch’s Camilla Baker explains how you can take part too.
The Big Lunch aims to create stronger, friendlier communities in which people start to share things, from conversation and ideas to skills and resources.
Our recent research has shown that more than half of those surveyed don’t know their neighbours. However, it also showed that the majority of people would like there to be more community spirit in their area, with the main reasons being that they’d make new friends, feel safer and have people to look out for their homes and pets when they go away.
Our founder, Sir Tim Smit, has said: “If you get to know your neighbours, not only does it create a happier, safer environment to live in, but you will probably find they are happy to help you out with your pets or water your plants when you go on holiday. You never know, you might even end up with a new best friend, simply from knocking on your neighbour’s door to say hello.”
You can read more about our ‘Knocking on Doors’ research by visiting the Big Lunch website.
Big Lunches can be big or small and take place in the street, back garden, park or local community venue – anywhere where neighbours get together. Since starting in 2009, thousands of events have taken place each year, with a staggering 8.5 million people participating in 2012.
Free Big Lunch packs are now available from our website – full of information, hints, tips and resources to help you get started. Just visit www.thebiglunch.com or call 0845 850 8181. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, take a look at our Big Lunch film at the top of the blog and get planning today!
Camilla Baker is Marketing and Events Officer at the Big Lunch
Earlier this week Age UK unveiled its latest Internet Champion of the Year – an individual who has embraced the World Wide Web and encouraged others to get online too. Congratulations to this year’s two award-winners, Janet Tchamani and James Perry, who both provide inspiration for those looking to take their first steps on the Internet.
BIG-funded projects across the country are also proving that age is no barrier to those wanting to keep pace with technology. Just ask Betty Holden – Pride Media’s latest success story…
Betty Holden, 83, has lived in Manchester for over 25 years. The retired council worker, widowed with two children and four grandchildren, enjoys a full and active life.
However, a few years ago it got harder for her to walk. She found herself housebound and increasingly disconnected from the outside world.
“When I started to have problems with mobility, my children bought a laptop for me so I could keep connected with the outside world.
“They told me I’d be able to do some online shopping and look up websites for my favourite TV programmes.
“Initially I was daunted as I simply didn’t know what to do. My son said to have a go and reassured me that I couldn’t break it. But then one window opened up on top of another on the computer screen. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Through chatting to one of her friends, Betty found out about a Rochdale-based project run by Pride Media – recipients of more than £204,000 from the Big Lottery Fund. Its ‘Never Too Old to do IT’ initiative offers support to people over 50 who want to learn basic skills for computers and the Internet. Betty wasted no time and enrolled on a course. From there she hasn’t looked back.
“I started with a foundation course which was ideal for me as a first-time user. I learnt to master the mouse and keyboard before being taught how to send emails and visit different web pages.
“It’s a great course to do because it’s accessible and informative. I thought it would be scary to learn IT skills but because there were people of a similar age, I didn’t feel intimidated. Learning came much easier to me.”
Betty now knows how to do Internet shopping, write letters and go online to pay her bills.
“I use Google Earth a lot because it’s really great fun to do. I look at far-flung places I’ve been to like Cape Town in South Africa. I also look up hotels that I might want to go to on holiday. It keeps my brain active and I love it.
Since enrolling on Pride Media’s courses, Betty has made plenty of new friends and they regularly go out for meals together. She’s learnt so much that she now passes on her knowledge to others in her role as a volunteer mentor.
“I love helping people out as they’re in the same position I was in when I first came here. It makes me happy to see how they can develop and learn.”
Project development officer Jonathan Burns says, “Older people often feel isolated and there was really not much capacity in the Rochdale area for older people to learn IT skills in an informal setting. There were a lot of accredited courses, but nothing specifically for the over 50s to learn basic skills without having to work towards qualifications.
“Betty is one of our longest-serving mentors. She’s helping more and more people over the age of 50 overcome their IT fears and take advantage of what technology has to offer them. She really is an inspiration.”
On Monday 25 March, BIG is launching new investments for older people. Follow @biglotteryfund on Twitter and use #ageingbetter on the day to join the conversation.
Today we announce £40 million of additional funding to top up our existing investment in Well-being. The new funding will be channelled into initiatives that increase physical activity, improve eating habits and tackle mental health across the country, targeting areas, groups and people experiencing the starkest health inequalities.
Projects we’ve funded over the years have done, and continue to do, amazing work to support people affected by obesity, unhealthy diet and inactive lifestyles and also those experiencing anxiety, depression, dementia or other mental health issues.
One prime example is Age UK’s Fit as a Fiddle programme. The programme is designed to encourage lifestyle changes and during its five years of BIG funding, 26 different projects have been delivered across England by over 400 community organisations, including 100 local Age UKs.
Over the six years Fit as a Fiddle has been in operation, the team has got close to 275,000 more older people taking part in physical activity. Norma got involved in Age UK Newham’s Fit as a Fiddle Nordic Walking project, after she became lonely after retirement and was prescribed medication for depression. A friend told her about the project and Norma hasn’t looked back. She has lost two stone, is no longer taking medication and has become a community activist in her area.
Fit as a Fiddle is designed by older people for older people, to ensure they have a say about what they want to get out of the programme. In the six years it has been running over 4,500 volunteers have played a vital part contributing hundreds of hours of their own time and improving their skills and confidence in the process.
Find out more
If you want to find out more, Fit as a Fiddle is running six Sharing the Learning webinars between the 19 March and 9 April. These bite size webinars will focus on six bespoke projects designed to improve the health and wellbeing of specific groups of older people.
On Wednesday 13th March, BIG held the second in its series of seminars ‘Getting to Grips with Replication’. The audience heard from four excellent speakers including Rob Owen of the St Giles Trust. St Giles Trust aims to help break the cycle of prison, crime and disadvantage and create safer communities by supporting people to change their lives. Their services put reformed ex-offenders at the heart of the solution, training them to use their skills and first-hand experience to help others through peer-led support…
At the heart of replication has to be the question: “why?”
Why does your service, idea or organisation deserve replicating, especially in a time of scant resources when every pound has to be spent ever more wisely? Why does your service deserve to be one of the chosen few? Look at yourself critically – does it really make life exponentially better for your clients? Will your new approach radically improve results for real people, your clients, often the most vulnerable in our society, and for the funder who will be investing in you? Is the service user really at the centre of the solution? Is the solution really that radical?
If you can answer “yes” to all this, then you get my vote for replication. What we all must fight against is replicating poor services that don’t address real needs, which are poor shadow images of current services that just now happen to be cheap and getting cheaper. As a charity we must not enter the race to the bottom.
Replication for us is about evidencing that we can do it smarter, better and yes, more effectively pound for pound. But this takes bravery and trust on behalf of funders to allow us the space and freedom to do it right. This also means a degree of unrestricted funding, the gold dust that supports effective go-getting charities to achieve more of their much needed potential. We were very lucky to have such an injection in our early days from the Impetus Trust, who helped us to become a genuine learning and adapting organisation. None of us operate in a static environment and to paraphrase Darwin, those that don’t adapt won’t survive.
But replication, like the natural cycle of any ambitious organisation, needs investment in its growth spurts. So replication needs a plan. And although we spend a great deal of time planning, it often comes down to being strategically opportunist. Sadly none of us have a crystal ball to guide us, but we can make ourselves luckier and at the heart of that I think there are two simple things.
Firstly, you need hard and robust evidence that what you do uniquely well really does work. Secondly you need staff and volunteers that are willing go the extra mile for their clients, who are more than brilliant caseworkers: they are fabulously credible role models too.
If your organisation really spends time enabling your team to love their job, then you really deserve to think big. And you deserve to be replicated.
Rob Owen is Chief Executive of St Giles Trust.
What do you think of Rob’s guest blog? Join the discussion on Twitter using #BIGreplication or leave your comment below.
The third of three ‘Getting to Grips with Replication’ seminars will be held on Thursday 21st March. There are a handful of spaces left – email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.