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Making communities inclusive for older people
My name is George, I am in my mid 50’s. Most of my early life I worked in warehousing until I could no longer cope due to sciatica. I have since been diagnosed with nerve damage in both hands and restless legs syndrome.
Over the years I have volunteered in many roles including youth work, school parent governor in a school that had gone into special measures, helping in classrooms, a homeless charity in the volunteer management team, and in recent years with the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) which manages the estate I live on.
You can find out more about TMOs at http://www.nftmo.co.uk
My experience with the TMO eventually helped me to get a position with a housing association where I now work in the service charges and Section 20 team. I love the work and the people I work with are fantastic and very supportive of each other. Unfortunately, it is usually very busy, and at points can be frantic.
Finally, I am also a community champion here at Scope, though sadly my involvement has been restricted the last few months due to various workloads.
When I first became involved a lot of the work going on was centred on creating the type of organisation we wanted to be. I knew very little about running housing services or services for a very diverse community. A lot of my time was taken up doing training courses to equip me with the knowledge and skills I needed to understand what was going on and how to achieve a change.
After the first year, I became the Secretary and the following year the Chair. I took on the job of creating our newsletters improving the way we were communicating and introduced our first resident satisfaction survey. I created the survey to reflect on what was important to us as an organisation and allowed residents to give additional feedback through comment boxes.
From the various feedback, I began to develop social activities such as bingo, coffee mornings, quiz nights, film nights and improved our open days, all of these were introduced as suggestions from residents. As our elderly residents began to mention that the other community activities they did closed over Christmas, so I made the decision to continue these over the Christmas period.
As the TMO grew and developed I persuaded our board to set aside a sum of money for residents to say how they wanted it spent. The response was various and gave us a good insight into what residents wanted. Many of which were beyond the money we had made available. I soon sourced grants which allowed us to spend £90,000 on improving the environment. We removed two disused and dilapidated play areas and replaced them with a rock garden and community garden. We also installed an outside gym.
In 2010 the new government was soon causing concerns for many, including us. I soon started working with the office on how we could help support our residents. Working with the manager we sourced a volunteer with experience of budgeting and benefits advice.
We were approached by one of our local councillors to see if we would be interested in some computers as the council were renewing their stock. Setting aside a small proportion of our own funds I was able to set up a small internet suite and we were soon introducing our elderly residents to the internet, online shopping, email and Skype.
While a lot of good things were going on and we were achieving a lot it was often the small things I did that often went un-noticed that derived the greatest satisfaction. Helping to find a hairdresser for an elderly resident who was in a body frame and could not get her hair done or just helping to clean out the bin keep of one or two of our elderly residents who could no longer do it. To taking the time to stop and speak to an elderly resident who had recently moved in, discovering she was getting used to a new prosthetic leg and had no one to walk with her to the open day and waiting for her to get ready so I could escort her there and back. The biggest satisfaction though was knowing we were building on what was already there as this was a community that cared for each other.
Then in 2013, I got a trainee position working in leasehold management with a housing association. After discussing it with the manager I stepped down from the board and concentrated on the opportunity I had been giving. While I maintained some involvement others soon stepped up to continue the activities I started and create new ones. We have a personal trainer who lives on the estate who does weekly exercise classes and an octogenarian who runs a line dancing classes.
A new challenge
Last year I was asked if I would consider returning to the board. I had recently started a new position and moved onto condensed hours so was available when the board met so said yes. Five years had seen a lot of changes, new monitoring and support team in the council, reduced allowances and a steady change in demographics has brought a whole new range of challenges for the TMO.
I don’t have the time for a more hands-on approach towards residents, but I can at least help to get the TMO back into good shape so the good things can continue to happen.
I hear a lot about how much communities have changed, often for the worse, but we need to decide if we are victims of these changes or if we can act as agents for changes. We are not unique, there are over 300 TMOs in England and a few new ones being developed. There are more familiar residents co-ops and thousands of organisations, charities and individuals who work tirelessly to improve the communities around us. Many are run by disabled people, carers and elderly people. All that I have managed to do I could not have done without the support of those on the board, the residents who support us and the wider community around us.
What would be your hints and tips about making any community more inclusive for older people?
As an individual I stood alone.
As a member of a group I did things.
As part of a community I helped to create change!