The Age UK network comprises more than 130 local Age UKs across England, as well as Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI. During the coronavirus crisis, they’re working harder than ever to provide services and support for older people in their communities, rising to the challenges of this difficult time. With BBC's Big Night In shining a light on the incredible work they're doing, we thought we'd share some stories.
Share your stories
We’d love to hear from local Age UKs about the work they’re doing, whether that’s delivering food and prescriptions, getting older people digitally connected, providing online social activities, or fundraising in fun and inventive ways. Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org
Delivering groceries safely
Food2You is a grocery delivery service for those aged over 50 in Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth who struggle to do their own shopping. Food2You works with some of the most vulnerable people in these communities, providing them with a personalised and accessible service.
In regular circumstances Food2You is important, but in the current climate it has become even more vital. As older people who have been told are extremely vulnerable are forced to shield, they are more reliant on services such as Food2You to help them access groceries safely, while maintaining contact with the outside world.
Food2You operates from the centre owned by Age UK Lewisham and Southwark, but with use of the building limited by the coronavirus outbreak, it’s become Food2You’s headquarters, with many of the staff there (and some welcome volunteers) now assisting with food deliveries. “We've seen a huge number of volunteer applications, which is very gratefully received,” explains Food2You Manager Caroline Hughes. “As many of our regular volunteers can’t attend due to health reasons and caring responsibilities, it’s been vital that new volunteers have joined us to ensure the service remains operational.”
Staff and volunteers have worked equally hard to adhere to the health and safety standards necessary to protect their customers, many of whom are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus, as Caroline explains.
“Food2You has taken sensible precautions to ensure the service is as safe as possible for our clients. Volunteers are urged not to attend if they cannot travel without the use of public transport. All volunteers, regardless of the tasks they’re doing, have access to face masks and gloves at all times, and on some tasks these are mandatory. We have also introduced more stringent cleaning to the service, with the inside of our delivery vans, the office space, and all delivery equipment disinfected on a daily basis by our kind volunteers.”
Caroline continues: “Deliveries have been significantly impacted, as we try to minimise time spent in the customers’ homes where a doorstep delivery isn’t possible, and ensure we maintain the 2 metre distance at all times. This has been difficult for our customers, who would normally enjoy the visits from our volunteers and the social interaction it brings them. It has taken some of them some time to understand and adapt to these changes.”
What about the fundraisers?
Dan, Age UK's Community Fundraising Manager, introduces some of the special people raising money for older people in fun and challenging ways during the coronavirus crisis.
The speedy creation of a food distribution hub
Age UK Portsmouth managed to overhaul their services within 5 working days in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. As part of this, The Bradbury Centre, Age UK Portsmouth’s base of operations, was transformed into a food distribution hub, receiving at least four pallet loads of donated food each day, resulting in 50-100 bags of shopping delivered to older people in the community on a daily basis.
They’ve been helped in doing so by their team of trusted volunteers and staff, including Poppy (pictured), who have been on hand to label frozen items and refrigerating fresh produce, ensure hygiene protocols are adhered to, and making those much-needed deliveries to the homes of older people. There was vital assistance, too, from supermarkets in the area. The local branches of Morrison’s and Waitrose made deliveries direct to the centre, while the Tesco across the road provided a fridge for storing bread and other produce.
Spanning large distances to bring food to those in need
How do you meet the needs of older people across a vast area, much of it rural, when you have limited staff and older volunteers in your team? That was the challenge faced, and met, by Age UK North East Lincolnshire.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Age UK North East Lincolnshire provided food and drinks via their two cafes and a restaurant. With these all unable to open, though, but catering staff keen to continue providing a service, some alterations were made.
Delivery services set up within a week, with players from nearby Grimsby Town F.C. and staff from local businesses lending a hand to take meals to 150 households each week. Staff from two Age UK North East Lincolnshire sites made these meals, with their combined efforts organised by a rota.
These efforts were certainly appreciated, with one recipient saying, “[They] are a god send! I’m on my own so wouldn’t bother making anything myself.”
Turning the town hall into delivery headquarters
Age UK Wandsworth use the nearby Wandsworth Town Hall to organise their grocery deliveries for older people in the area. The team there, which includes 3 members of staff, 2 additional people seconded from the local council and 8 volunteers, manage to get food packages to an average of 60 households each day. They’re going above and beyond the call of duty, too, providing similar care and support for families facing financial hardship and people with mental health needs.
“We’ve been really well supported by Wandsworth Community Transport,” explains Natalie de Silva, CEO of Age UK Wandsworth. “They’ve provided us with minibuses and drivers to ensure deliveries reach the older people who need them.”
What they do need help with, however, is food donations. “I go to the nearby Cash & Carry every morning,” says Natalie of where the majority of the groceries currently come from. “We need food donations and rely on members of the public. We’re always in need of tinned fruit and vegetables, as those are the things we’re always short of.”
Forming a digital community
Age UK Kensington & Chelsea offer services specific to the local area, many of which are now being conducted online to ensure older people remain socially connected and physically active while shielding at home.
Staff and volunteers at Age UK Kensington & Chelsea trialled different video conferencing software to see which would best suit these regular activities, including chair exercise classes, yoga and Zumba, lessons in English, French, Italian and Spanish, cooking lessons and games sessions.
They settled on using Zoom, which suited the needs of volunteers and older users alike. “At first it was hard to connect older people online because they didn’t necessarily feel confident using video conferencing and they were feeling a bit unmotivated by being isolated,” says Ximena Chiesa, Activities & Events Team Leader at Age UK Kensington & Chelsea. “But after trying it out and growing in confidence, they started inviting their friends and neighbours along too, so we now have more than 200 people connecting with us each week.”
Given the physical limitations presented by having to stay indoors, the chair exercise classes have proved particularly popular. “Many people had started experiencing pain because they can’t get out and have a proper walk,” explains Ximena. “These classes allow them to get moving, which helps reduce any discomfort they may have been feeling.”
Older people not having the necessary technology or Wi-Fi connection to be online doesn’t stop them being in contact, according to Ximena. “We phone anyone who’s not connected digitally to check how they’re doing, and encourage them to stay in touch with others.”
Age UK Kensington & Chelsea have received some very positive feedback from members, which has motivated them to think about new activities. “We are a big family and we support each other every day,” says Ximena, who along with her colleagues is contacting older people on the waiting list to access classes online. “We’re looking for more community organisations or volunteers who can run activities and share skills with our members.”
One of these members, Patricia, is particularly enthusiastic about the exercise classes being run. “They are absolutely brilliant,” she says. “I feel positive after them and they make me feel taller and fitter. It's just what I needed.”
Rosalind is a fan of the music used during the classes. “Being able to hear it has been fantastic,” she says. “I love music and I’ve been really missing it.”
Claire, meanwhile, commends the benefits to her sense of loneliness. “I feel less isolated now and more active. Thank you so much!”