What does Age UK Camden do? Find out from Services Manager Sassaka Amena.
“We’re not an emergency service, we’re here to support you – led by what users need and non-judgmental,” says Sassaka Amena firmly, rebutting the idea that Age UK Camden only exists for people having a major health or debt crisis.
Sassaka, 43, who grew up in Camden, has worked at Age UK Camden since 2008. Now a Services Manager, Sassaka, and colleagues, underpin the great things around 9,000 people in Camden have made use of over the past year, such as advice (eg, benefits, debt advice, dementia wellbeing, resource centres, accessing care, things to do); counselling and gadget workshops that help older people gain online skills.
“Lots of what we do is preventive care to help you either care for a loved one, or if you are an older person,” explains Sassaka. “People don’t always realise we’re here for them – it’s a lot to do with pride and denial. No one finds it easy to ask for help.”
Sassaka knows about this first-hand because: “When I was 19, my Dad – a drummer, who played on stage with the Stones in Hyde Park and had a drum factory in Primrose Hill – had a series of strokes which left him with multi-infarct dementia. He progressively got worse and was non-verbal. My mum and I fought to have him cared for at home, which we did for 20 years. He died in 2014 in his 80s. We need to get what’s needed for older people to live in their own homes independently, for as long as possible, with dignity. Often a lot of choice is taken away and you need support navigating what’s available.”
“No one is ever prepared for the ageing process, or suddenly getting ill or having to care for a loved one who suddenly gets ill. When I was in the thick of it all, looking after my Dad, you make do and get through as best as you can. That’s why reaching out to organisations like Age UK Camden – for example our care navigators based in GPs’ surgeries and our advice officers – is so crucially important.”
Studies show that older men can be harder to reach and become more isolated than women, or have fewer people around. Again this is something Sassaka has seen first-hand, both with her Dad and in previous jobs at a Women’s Centre and as an advice worker. She’s also been inspired by memories of her “wonderful Granny who lived in Kent. She was really pro-active – set up a local hospice shop, big in the WI and had huge networks. It was really rural but she always kept social. She had six key buddies, called ‘The Duckies’, and they all looked after each other. It was beautiful to see that.”
Later, when Sassaka was at Camden School for Girls, Year 9s were allocated an older person to visit. “My friend and I went to see Gladys, who had been a wigmaker, every week for four years, just chatting nonsense and having a laugh. Befriending schemes are wonderful and make such a difference to people’s lives. Gladys knew someone was going to pop in, and we found her stories of Camden after the war fascinating,” says Sassaka with her characteristic laugh.
Age UK Camden is one of the largest Age UK’s in London, with around 400 volunteers and 60 full-time equivalent employees working in the two resources centres (Hampstead and King’s Cross), in outreach positions, or based at Tavistock Square, WC1. The building is also the HQ for national Age UK.
“In 2011 Age UK Camden moved into Tavis House to share office space for good reasons,” explains Sassaka. “Previously we were in a residential street in an old building with five levels. But people may get misconceptions about Age UK Camden as a charity because it seems huge. But we like it because it is easy for clients to get to and use. The 168 stops right outside and Euston is a five minute walk.”
It’s also close to Age UK Camden’s boutique in Leather Lane – the only charity shop in the area and the only Age UK shop with profits going directly to its Camden users. “On a good year the shop turns over £90,000 for us,” says Sassaka proudly. Shopping there is a great way to support the charity’s work. It’s also a famously good place to buy one-of-a-kind items. “I have a lovely silk top I bought there,”
“I’ve never stayed at any organisation for this long, but a huge part of this is the dedication and camaraderie between colleagues. They work to make a real difference for older people’s lives,” she says.