Age UK Somerset: Coming to the rescue
PUBLISHED: 10:49 27 November 2018
Since 1948 a Somerset charity has been striving to improve life for older people, as Kate Barrington explains
In the early 1970s the charity now known as Age UK Somerset got a request to help transport Flossie, an older lady of over 80, her 18 pieces of luggage and a boxer dog (weighing 4 stone), from Somerset to France to live with a relative. It was agreed that £8 would be donated towards this endeavour. In 2016, the charity made a short film, still available on its website, telling Jean’s story. After her husband passed away, Jean was feeling so low and lonely that she felt that life wasn’t worth living and had contemplated suicide. The charity found her a befriending volunteer, and her life was turned around. She now gets out and about, has met new people and her volunteer visitor gave her friendship and the encouragement she needed to get herself a dog, Sir Digby, the star of the film! Flossie and Jean may be separated by decades, but they share one thing in common. When they were struggling Age UK Somerset came to their rescue.
It was back in 1948 that the Somerset Older People’s Welfare Committee met for the first time. This was a group of organisations sharing the same aim - to improve life for older people in Somerset. Since then there have been several name changes - to Age Concern Somerset in 1971, to Age UK Somerset in 2010 - but in 70 years the aim remains the same.
Age UK Somerset is an independent local charity (not to be confused with Age UK, the national charity) and the largest charity supporting our older people across all the towns, villages and city of Somerset and North Somerset. It helps older people to enjoy their later years by offering specifically developed services and activities which address their issues. In the beginning they included finding housing, organising group holidays, arranging cheap bulk purchases of Marmite, lending out heaters to prevent hyperthermia and a chiropody service. Today, the housing, holidays and Marmite orders have gone, but through grants to help with heating bills the charity still helps people stay warm in the winter. It provides a toenail cutting service to about 1,200 people and offers a befriending service to help those suffering from loneliness. It has an information and advice service (based in its Taunton office but also available over the phone or by email) for queries like how to choose a care home and where to find a trusted tradesperson. The charity offers benefits claims support with volunteers helping to complete tricky forms and it runs more than 110 ageing well exercise and activity sessions across the county every month. Most of the services are offered free of charge.
The charity has a team of over 370 volunteers who help provide many of its services; that equates to about 27,000 hours of help, so you can see how important these helpers are and how without their support the charity would have a hard time operating.
The charity is constantly looking for new volunteers and there’s a variety of interesting, satisfying and very worthwhile roles with something to suit anyone, regardless of how much time they have to spare. Volunteers receive full training, out of pocket expenses and are often repaid with cups of tea, smiles and invitations to social events during Volunteers’ Week and at Christmas.
Despite the voluntary help, funds are needed to run the services. It costs an average of £10 for a volunteer to make one visit to an older person struggling with loneliness and it costs on average £15 per session to run each of the ageing well classes.
Chief executive Phil Dolan says: “With Age UK Somerset, as in life, there is a lot to celebrate about getting older, but there are also challenges. With the reality of Somerset and North Somerset older populations growing at a much faster rate than the national average, and with deep cuts locally to social care, there is a huge and growing demand for our services. We want to reach and help as many older people in need as possible but to continue to do so we really need the support of the public through volunteering, donations, legacies, sponsorship or supporting our fundraising events.”
To find out more, visit ageuk.org.uk/somerset/.