By encouraging each other to contribute to society in a meaningful way, we can create a richer and more vibrant Camden community with older people playing a vital role. It’s the difference between being listened to and being heard.
You may be familiar with the terms age quake or the grey tsunami. Disappointingly, debate about our ageing society is typically conducted in terms of the problems and costs of supporting growing numbers of older people. Older people are most often portrayed as a bundle of problems and service-needs. A drain on resources. A frail and vulnerable burden to future generations.
But what this short-sighted scaremongering fails to recognise is that older people have a vast amount of skills, knowledge and life experience, which they are actively using for the benefit of their communities – to enhance and build, nurture and enrich. Rather than a drain, they are significant contributors – as workers, volunteers, entrepreneurs, carers for adults and children, consumers, community leaders and activists. In fact, older people in the UK contribute an estimated £61bn to the economy through employment, volunteering and caring.
There are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18. The number of people aged 60 or over is expected to pass the 20 million mark by 2030. Increased life expectancy means that women aged 65 in Camden can expect to live on average a further 24 years (the UK’s highest life expectancy). Rather than viewing this as a threat to the fabric of our society, we need to recognise and embrace this fantastic potential community resource.
PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE
When we think of a productive old age, one of the core ideas is being a connected part of the community, where our active contribution is valued and recognised through supportive networks of friends, neighbours and family. Without it we risk becoming isolated and lonely. And loneliness is bad for our health – as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day according to a study of three million people conducted by Brigham Young University, significantly increasing the risk of conditions such as dementia, high blood pressure and depression. In short, connecting with people and contributing not only helps to make a better society, it helps to make a better, happier, healthier you.
FROM SOAPBOX TO SANDWICHES
You can get involved in a way that best suits you and your circumstances. You may want to change the world around you or lend a helping hand to feed a friend in need. Whether politically motivated or compassionate in nature, there is no right or wrong way to express your community spirit and your options are endless. What is important is that you get involved. It may seem daunting at first, but the benefits reaped will have you wondering why you didn’t act sooner.
To help you think about ways you can get involved, we’ve put together some options that may be of interest. If you’d like to discuss further, please feel free to call Age UK Camden. We’re here to help.
By making the most of ourselves, we can create a society where people aren’t so worried about getting old, where there’s less stereotyping of older people, less exclusion from decision-making, and more opportunities to see older people as valued assets. What a world that would be.
Anyone can volunteer. It can be very rewarding and is a great way to meet new people, gain new or use existing skills and make a big difference to your community.
There are lots of easy ways to give your time to help others – from having a cup of tea with an elderly neighbour, to helping out in your local area or making a regular commitment to volunteer with a charity or community group.
Do-it is a database of UK volunteering opportunities. You can search more than a million opportunities by interest, activity or location at www.do-it.org. You can also volunteer with Age UK Camden, we have a range of different roles.
Our charity shop at Leather Lane needs reliable, motivated people, to assist in its day-to-day running. Or have you ever considered becoming a befriender to a person living with dementia or an isolated, housebound older person from our NW3 Good Neighbour Scheme? A few hours every week can have a huge, positive impact on someone’s life (see our befriending article in Faces & Places).
Visit www.ageuk.org.uk/camden for more information and to download role outlines.
More voices make more noise and campaigning can make real change happen. Age UK campaigned for older workers to have the freedom to choose when to retire. This led to the Government abolishing the Default Retirement Age in October 2011.
As well as helping to achieve lasting social change, campaigning can help you build local relationships, as well as protect vital services that older people rely on. Campaigning can often also be great fun, helping to build a sense of purpose.
There are many ways in which you can get involved in Age UK campaigns, from providing a case study to sending a letter to your local MP or attending a lobby. To see how you can get involved, visit www.ageuk.org.uk.
Age UK Camden also has a Campaigns Action Group, created for and driven by older people eager to highlight and campaign on the topics they care about. The group meets quarterly, takes up campaigning issues and acts as a reference group for Age UK Camden’s own services. If you’d like to get involved please email [email protected], or call us on 020 7239 0400.
Older people face many challenges when navigating the urban environment. Whether ensuring there are plenty of benches, campaigning to stop public toilets being closed or getting traffic lights timed to enable an older, or less able, person to cross the road, there are certainly plenty of issues that need to be addressed.
If you’re ticked off about fly-tipping and unsafe pavements, why not think about joining our friends at the Kilburn Older Voices Exchange (KOVE). To see how you can help make Camden a more accessible place for older people visit www.kove.org.uk
CONSERVE AND PROTECT
The London Borough of Camden is arguably the greenest of the inner London boroughs. This is largely because it contains most of the extensive swathe of land that is Hampstead Heath. But there are also many smaller green spaces and beautiful Primrose Hill. If you’re passionate about helping to preserve green spaces for all, why not support the environment by engaging in conservation activities and ecological monitoring of wild species?
A great place to start is the Heath Hands website, where you’ll find opportunities to become a Hampstead Heath conservation volunteer, wildlife monitor or arrange community groups for you and your friends to join. Visit www.heath-hands.org.uk
BECOME A BLOGGER
You don’t need to be a tech-wizard to start your own blog. You just need access to a computer, smartphone or tablet and an idea about the kind of blog you’d like to create. It could be a memoir, a selection of local stories, your thoughts on the ageing process or raising local issues you’d like to see changed. As your blog grows, you’ll find that you connect with more people to create your own community of like-minded friends.
If you are unsure about how to get your blog up and running online, Talk to Age UK Camden about attending a computer course. You’ll be posting your social commentary in no time.
FOOD IS LOVE
Foodbanks provide nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to local people who are referred in crisis. Camden Foodbank is a vital service for individuals and families and is always looking for support. You could help out at the foodbank or arrange a fundraiser.
If mobility is an issue, why not invite friends or neighbours to a ‘pot luck’ party where they get to share favourite recipes with you and bring non-perishable food for the Camden Foodbank at the same time. Just no tins of beans please – apparently they have bean inundated. Visit www.camden.foodbank.org.uk
Do you have a particular passion, hobby or interest you would like to share? Could it be turned into a regular Get Together at Henderson Court Resource Centre? From pottery making to portraiture, why not speak with us if you have a particular skill or idea you think would make a great group activity.
A fantastic example is Clair Chapwell’s campaigning choir, Bolder Voices. Be inspired to think of ways you can make a difference by visiting their website at www.boldervoices.org
We live in an ageing society where people are living longer and the balance of life is changing. Most older people can now look forward to many more years of healthy life after retirement than ever before.
By being proactive and thinking about the positive ways we can connect with our community, older people can shape an environment in which they can thrive and live life to the full for as long as possible.