Connecting isolated older people in Birmingham’s communities

Birmingham: the UK’s second largest city is a bustling and vibrant home to over a million people. A melting pot of cultures, in Birmingham people from all over the globe come together. What’s more, our central city makes us the UK’s meeting point for friends, families and co-workers and last year we welcomed 6,000 new people from London alone. It’s hard to imagine that this energetic and inviting place could be isolating for anyone. Yet, for many older people in Birmingham, isolation is a daily reality. 37% of people aged over 65 in Birmingham live alone. For those on income support, of which Birmingham has some of the highest numbers in the country, isolation is even more likely – and tougher to face.

This is where Ageing Better in Birmingham comes in. Ageing Better is a six year programme and two years in, we’re already making an impact by connecting and empowering local communities of older people. With a budget of £6,000,000, the aim is to lay the foundations for a wide variety of groups to provide sustainable services and activities for older Brummies well into the future. Along the way we refer to our Age of Experience team – a team of experts comprised of older, local people. This way, we ensure that the voices of older people are consistently listened to and their perspectives and knowledge are at the heart of the programme. Our experts give us vital insight into what older people want and need in our city.

For our volunteers, it’s a chance to really make a difference to their neighbourhoods and to create a friendlier place to live for all ages. If you want the same for your community, it couldn’t be easier to get involved. You can begin by starting your very own Ageing Better network. Networks are groups of people that provide opportunities for older people to get out of the house, to share their skills and get to know others. To support you, we have five different, hardworking ‘hubs’.

The City Wide hub supports volunteers across Birmingham and the other four hubs are operating in our priority areas where we’ve identified a high risk of isolation. These are: Sparkbrook, Tyburn, the LGBT community and Older Carers. Choosing the right hub is the starting point for any volunteer, so how do you know which hub is right for you? Are you thinking of starting a book group for 50+ LGBT people? Contact our LGBT hub. Want to plan a weekly walking football game for older people living in Balsall Heath?  Our Sparkbrook hub will be on hand to help. If you’re a carer for someone and you want to start a coffee morning to meet more people outside of your demanding schedule, our carer’s hub can give you advice. For anyone looking to connect older people throughout Tyburn, we have a specific hub to provide you with assistance.

The driving force behind each hub is our network enablers. They are on hand to help you with any advice you need and you can rest assured that they’re well trained and friendly professionals from established Birmingham organisations. There are also loads of helpful resources on our website. Here you can find information on setting up an Ageing Better network, details about current events happening in Birmingham as well as the all important application forms and guidance on applying to our Ageing Better Fund!

The fund can help bring the network’s ideas to life and your network can apply for up to       £2,000. Our fund panel looks over applications once a month to check that activities will serve older people’s needs, will attract new older people to join and that they have the potential for sustainability. So far, we’ve awarded grants to over more than 100 successful applicants. Activities funded range from weekly lunch clubs, gardening workshops, sessions on how to use a smart phone to exercise classes and art and craft sessions.

The Birmingham Centre for Arts Therapies has put Ageing Better funding towards their Step On workshop. Step on is a creative lunchtime session for over 50s who want to keep fit and learn new skills and it’s proved to be invaluable to the older people in the area. Rita, 73, says it has “changed our lives” and Jean, 82, goes to Step On “to make new friends because I live on my own and it is something to look forward to on a Monday”.

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Over in Sparkbrook, the Sunshine Women’s Group have replenished their gardening supplies and have spent time planning and drawing ideas for their new garden, just in time for spring. Members Jahan and Fahrin value the group for the opportunity it gives them to ‘meet people and build friendships’ as well as making them feel happy and closer to nature. Nusrat said the workshop makes her feel cheerful and she can’t wait for the next one to come along.

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The winter holiday time can be especially isolating, but thanks to the Ageing Better Fund, many of our networks were able to hold celebrations to bring people together – older and younger. The Apna Ghar Housing Association threw a party for over 100 family, friends and locals who ate delicious food together, listened to traditional music and played games. The event was a great success and offered isolated older people in the community a chance to get to know their neighbours, and get involved in existing activities.

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And there’s many more networks popping up across the city. If you want to be part of a movement to make your local community a happier, less isolating place, Ageing Better is a great place to start. Existing groups are also welcome to become Ageing Better networks, just visit our website and get in touch with a hub of your choice. The process is simple and the programme is set to make a positive, lasting difference to the quality of life for the older people of Birmingham. In the words of one of our participants, ‘experiences like this really make me feel like I am ageing better’.

www.ageingbetterinbirmingham.co.uk

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