It’s nearly the end of the 40th anniversary year for Age Concern Central Lancashire, and they had little idea how the pandemic would shape the year or their future. Year 41 is, they believe, the start of a new post-pandemic era of understanding of what it’s like to grow old. We met with their CEO Suzanne Carr to find out more.
Age Concern Central Lancashire’s big plans for its 2021 anniversary were brought to a halt as lockdowns were announced and then extended from 2020 into 2021. For the last 18 months and during multiple lockdowns the charity has channelled efforts into offering coronavirus support for those grieving or isolated or struggling to survive – everything from a helpline to food parcel deliveries, a befriending service to extraordinary events.
But as the new normal returns they are, they say, coming out the other side aware of and hopeful about a new public awareness of what life is like for old people. A new way of relating to people not just stuck at home due to the pandemic, but just stuck at home – lonely and isolated – in the normal every day.
The charity’s CEO Suzanne Carr said:
“People have seen their own families in a different light, understanding how much their parents or grandparents depended on local support of neighbours and community groups, and what happened when that was taken away. They saw what we were doing – checking in on people, delivering care services, delivering food, signposting organisations who could help meet their needs if we couldn’t, bringing people together so they felt valued and part of a bigger community.
“They got why it matters – why charities like ours matter.
“When we launched the coronavirus support service, we had so many people offering support it amazed and inspired us. “It wasn’t just that the needs of older, vulnerable people were front and centre. Suddenly people of all ages in lockdown were realizing how difficult it was to go days without speaking to or seeing people. Realising how tough that must be if it’s your lifelong term.”
The help the charity was offered in response was, they say, priceless and Carr claims they couldn’t have done what they did during the pandemic without the support of volunteers and many local businesses. And the need to support continues – the problems haven’t gone away. They are now urgently seeking more volunteers to support services and shops across the charity, to ensure that what started during the lockdowns can continue to meet the needs of the community going forward.
“While awareness is there and so welcome, it is easy for people to think now they’re back at work, now towns are getting back to a new normal, that the help we need is no longer an issue. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Older people in Lancashire are still struggling, and will continue to do so, especially through the winter months.”
Over the last 40 years – since it launched as Age Concern Preston in 1981 – this rather unique local award-winning charity has developed into an independent force for good across the county. Spending in these first four decades over £42 million on their activities over one million people have been supported with their diverse menu of services, with the help of thousands of volunteers. Completely independent of other national charities, their local, self-governing nature allows them to be adaptable and agile to respond to changing customer needs and priorities.
“Every penny we spend and action we take is considered, but we can act quickly to deliver a solution in a way that makes a difference that people feel straight away.”
When lockdown happened the way Carr’s team at Age Concern Central Lancashire immediately opened the coronavirus helpline so people could call for advice and help was a case in point. They were providing hundreds of hours of support across Lancashire each week, equating (over the initial eight-month period) to over 4,000 hours of befriending. While they hadn’t dealt in food parcels previously, the charity’s army of volunteers was quickly organised to support collecting, packing and delivering food to people who couldn’t go out.
They organised events in response to lockdown ranging from a virtual VE Day Afternoon with tea delivered to the door to A Night In at the Movies with charity shop DVDs and Odeon-donated-popcorn distributed to those who needed a ‘night out’ most. Now they’re turning to the fuel crisis, launching The Big Lancashire Energy Project to help people make energy savings and home improvements and to reduce energy bills and carbon emissions. The project aspires to reduce fuel poverty across Lancashire and to improve the health and wellbeing of Lancashire’s adult population.
The charity’s anniversary year fundraising ambitions were knocked back as the pandemic took hold but as the country begins to lift itself up again it is making new headway with support from the local and regional businesses community. Meanwhile their Patron’s Community, a fledgling initiative launched just before the Pandemic, is now supported by 30 corporates who are acknowledging the mutual benefits of supporting those in need of specialist support and growing a socially responsible business and a force for good.
“Companies in this region had an appetite for change in this arena before the pandemic hit. We have been so heartened to see our Patron’s Community grow through the past year. Businesses have come in and embraced big brand-building initiatives like Age Concern’s 7.5 tonne, 56 sq metre mobile advice vehicle. Enabled by investment from the utility companies Electricity North West, United Utilities and Cadent Gas, and refitted with booths for private confidential conversations, the mobile centre means the charity can now get out and about to deliver training and advice into the heart of local communities, for example in retail centres, public spaces and commercial premises.
“Everyone who gets behind us gains from the experience, knowing that they make a meaningful difference enabling our older community to live well and age well with dignity.”
Being a Patron provides various ways and means of demonstrating tangible concern for community and employee relevant matters. Patrons are seeing clearly that they don’t have to be in the business of ageing or dementia to benefit or to make a difference. This is about understanding what customers and their own staff are living with. Patron companies can, for example, contribute to improving dementia awareness through supporting dementia training workshops for customer service call handlers so they can more easily spot signs of distress or dementia and respond sensitively to such customers. That in itself can be life-transforming.
As we collectively move out of the pandemic, and we embrace our new freedoms and desires for social interaction Carr hopes we will not forget the awfulness of isolating and loss of family and friendship support. That we will remember to do something constructive to enable Age Concern Central Lancashire.
You can find out more about this charity in their anniversary year by visiting: https://www.ageisjustanumber.org.uk. The charity is also planning a Future of Ageing Conference in the Spring of 2022. Details and opportunities for businesses to be announced. If you’re able to support Age Concern Central Lancashire by volunteering they would welcome your support. Go to the website to find out more. Donations towards the 40th year can be made here: https://www.ageisjustanumber.org.uk/get-involved/donate/.