Age UK Norfolk turns 70
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It has given vital help, support and companionship to thousands of older people across the county - and this year Age UK Norfolk celebrates its 70th birthday
In 1947, Norfolk Old People’s Welfare Committee was set up to give help and assistance to older people in the county, struggling in the aftermath of two wars.
Today, the work of that organisation - now known as Age UK Norfolk - remains just as vital as it was all those years ago, giving life changing support to thousands of our most vulnerable residents and their families.
This year, as it celebrates its 70th anniversary, the charity not only wants to promote the services it provides, but to also encourage more people to get involved.
Chief executive Hilary MacDonald says that while the key principles of the charity remain very much the same as in 1947, it has constantly evolved to meet the changing needs of older people brought about by the many societal and political changes.
“Year on year we see a demand for all our services increase. We can’t stop the flow of people and the more people who get to know what we do, the more they come to us for help. I am hugely proud that we are reaching so many older people, their families and carers across Norfolk.
“There have been huge changes within social care and the voluntary sector over the past 10 years and providing key public services as well as our vital free services remains a huge challenge, but it is in our DNA. Thanks to our excellent team we are in a strong position going forward but while having to be more business minded in how we operate, it is essential we remember we are still a charity.”
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When the charity began, the number of people in England and Wales aged 65 and over was an estimated 4.5million; the latest figure today is 10.3m – and in Norfolk over 65s account for 24pc of the population.
“Many families now live at a distance and many people work longer into old age so the caring network has changed dramatically. It is almost a perfect storm. People are living longer, we have increasing numbers of older people, increasing numbers of people with dementia, an increasing needs for volunteers and a difficult financial situation. It is a challenge but one I am confident we can meet.”
As well as employing a multi-disciplinary team of 79 full time equivalent staff, Age UK Norfolk also has the support of more than 270 volunteers enabling older people to stay independent, inspired, healthy and most importantly, listened to, giving them dignity and choice.
“The dynamics have changed in the voluntary sector,” she says. “In the past, it would have been women in their early sixties and late fifties who would have been the major cohorts in volunteering, now those women are working until their late sixties or seventies, and do not have the time. But we have some excellent opportunities for volunteers of all ages – and with things like the befriending service – it is something you can do from home, even if you only have an hour to spare a week to call an elderly person who is feeling lonely and isolated. Perhaps if you are on a career break after having children you could volunteer in our fund raising and marketing department – helping us, but also helping you reinvigorate your skills to prepare for work.
“We also offer really good experience for students fresh out of college or university. It not only all helps on their CV, it can help improve understanding between the generations.
The charity’s services include a confidential free information and advice line available to anyone aged 50 or over, family, carers or professionals. The experienced advisers can help with a range of subjects, including benefits, household finances, power of attorney advice, social care, housing and care options and NHS issues. Last year alone, the line received 11,864 calls, a 20pc increase on the previous year. It also runs two day centres in Norwich in Diss, where older people can make friends.
In 2013, the charity set up the first Dementia Friendly Community Project in Wymondham, and since then Age UK Norfolk has expanded the projects to 14 other places, creating support networks, friendship, advice centres and dementia awareness training, building on the success of its four Pabulum dementia cafes.
“We want to ensure those with dementia, and their families and carers, can feel supported within the community, to feel part of it, not isolated from it,” says Hilary. “But it isn’t just ensuring our communities are dementia friendly, we want them to be age friendly as well. Older people should have their voices heard.”
Café helped us in difficult times
For Peter, the Age UK Norfolk Pabulum dementia café was a vital lifeline when he was caring for his father Jack.
Peter moved to Norfolk from Worthing, West Sussex three years ago with his wife. His widowed father Jack remained but after a year it became apparent that he was starting to have some difficulties with day to day living.
With encouragement Jack agreed to seek medical advice and an MRI scan confirmed that Jack had dementia. “Dad was working through things logically but seemed to be on a loop as he’d ask the same stuff again and again,” says Peter.
“I felt the diagnosis confirmed what we as a family expected and was a little bit of a relief as we had a diagnosis and felt we could move forwards to give dad some support.”
Peter’s wife, Nicky, suggested that if Jack was unable to cope, he should move to Norfolk to live with them.
“Everything went on hold when dad became ill. Six months on I felt exhausted. Everyone who cares needs to be able to step away from it and you need the opportunity to escape, even if it’s just to go outside and shout in a field.
“Age UK Norfolk dementia cafe has helped us to find something that interested dad. We all enjoyed it and made friends there.
“It’s as much as you want it to be and you can get involved as much or as little as you want. “There’s no pressure. It was good to speak to people in the same situation as us.
“The support and help meant a great deal to us as carers at the time and was very important. We’ve met some fantastic and lovely people at the café which has helped us get through some difficult circumstances.”
This month, the charity will celebrate its 70th birthday with an anniversary ball at Norwich City Football Club, with former Strictly Come Dancing stars James and Ola Jordan providing some sparkling entertainment.
Guests will enjoy a three course dinner, music from the Jonathan Wyatt Big Band and a charity auction. The ball is on February 25, from 7pm, tickets are £70 pp or £630 per table of ten.
Other birthday fundraising events being held throughout the year include:
Jarrold in Norwich is hosting a special fashion show on March 23, at 6.30pm; there is a 70th Anniversary Golf Day on June 20 at Sheringham Golf Club; The 70th Anniversary Parachute Jump is on August 20, at UK Parachuting, at Ellough, near Beccles.
Call 01603 787111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on all events.