Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day. As well as reinforcing the importance of a more gender-balanced world – thanks to this year’s campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter – it’s an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements made by women every day and everywhere.
For that reason, we’re shining a spotlight on seven remarkable women who are doing incredible work relating to age. That might be living a productive later life that acts as an inspiration to others. Or channelling skills into raising awareness of the challenges facing older people. Or someone giving up her time to help those most in need.
The committed carer
Londoner Rasila, 67, has cared for family members for 40 years. Having cared for both of her parents, who have since passed away, Rasila is currently looking after her younger sister, whose advanced Alzheimer’s requires around-the-clock care, resulting in Rasila having to retire from a much-loved career in 2013. “I had to choose between my family and my career,” she explains.
Rasila's many responsibilties have been intensified by her struggle to navigate the care system, which has seen her wait seven months to see a social worker and not be able to get respite support.
The 86-year-old volunteer
Eighteen years ago Jenny Williams began volunteering at the Age Cymru shop in Bangor. She started after her husband died and her children left home. “I volunteer here so that I can be around people,” she explains. “I like the company, and I meet a lot of people who keep me young.”
Jenny still travels into work four days a week, despite the 7-mile journey from the high hills of Snowdonia. In rain or shine, and sometimes even snow, Jenny makes sure she’s able to get to the shop. She's dedicated to her role, considering it a “home away from home”. One of Jenny’s favourite sayings is that she was 6-foot tall when she joined the team, but is now only 5-foot tall, as she’s walked up and down the shop so many times.
Jenny is diabetic, arthritic and lost a lung when she was 21, but she remains full of life. “I have a positive personality and I love doing things for people.” This is why in her spare time she keeps an eye on her older neighbours, baking them treacle toffee and bringing them newspapers in the morning.
The stylish blogger
Suzi Grant’s diverse array of interests and professional experiences have served her well in her latest venture as a blogger. Now a self-proclaimed “Vintage lady [with] vintage style”, for the majority of her working life Suzi worked in TV and radio. In her forties, she trained in nutrition, resulting in the writing of three books, the most recent of which, Alternative Ageing: The Natural Way to Feel Young Again, was published (in a new handbag size) by Penguin at the end of 2018.
Aged 60, Suzi was lucky enough to be financially independent enough to retire, though quickly discovered ‘full’ retirement wasn’t for her. "By 64 I was bored rigid,” says Suzi. “I did a course on scriptwriting and tried to write a novel, but nothing gave me the joy and excitement I needed to make me spring out of bed in the morning.”
Following the advice of her two godchildren, Suzi decided to look into blogging, and quickly realised it was right up her street. As well as incorporating Suzi’s lifelong passions for photography, travel, health and fashion, and allowing her to showcase her skills in writing and filmmaking into practice, her blogging played another key role. “There are an awful lot of over-50s bloggers in the US, but not so may over here,” explains Suzi. “The majority of the ones in the UK just stick to fashion, which bores me witless. I’m not interested in fashion – I’m interested in style!”
Suzi’s broad focus is certainly of interest to her many followers. Since starting the blog at the tail end of 2014, Suzi’s blog and social posts have cultivated a loyal audience of more than 50,000 people, largely made up of women aged 50+, which she affectionately describes as her “tribe”.
The national treasure
Dame Penelope Wilton means different things to different generations. To many, she’s Anne Bryce, the patient wife of Richard Briers’ blustery Martin in BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles. Younger viewers, however, will likely associate her with her role as Simon Pegg’s mum in 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, or as the Queen in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster version of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. All can agree the 72-year-old remains a charming, calming presence on stage and screen with an enviable work rate.
Today (8 March) sees the release of After Life, Ricky Gervais’ dark comedy series for Netflix, which features Penelope in an ensemble including Game of Thrones star David Bradley, plus comedians Joe Wilkinson and Roisin Conaty. And later this year, she’ll star in the film version of Downton Abbey, reprising what is arguably her most famous role as Isobel Grey, Baroness Merton.
Here’s Penelope discussing the importance of Age UK’s work before last year’s Love Christmas, our annual celebrity Christmas carol concert, where she did a reading.
The marathon-running doctor
Helen McWilliams seems like superwoman. As well as fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a doctor, working as a GP in Leeds, she’s mum to three young children. But however busy her day is, Helen always sets aside at least 30 minutes to indulge her passion for running, which she describes as a valuable way to “de-stress, decompress and take time out – a bit like meditation.”
As well as supporting her community in her day job, Helen is no stranger to using her hobby as a way to help people too. She ran her first ever race in 2015 to raise money for a cancer charity, after her sister-in-law was diagnosed with the disease. And seeing that same sister-in-law running alongside her inspired Helen to keep it up, later taking part in her first 10km just 10 weeks after giving birth to her son.
Since then Helen has run three marathons, four half marathons and four 10ks. Given her work as a GP and the insights it’s provided into the importance of protecting older people, Helen has done the majority of these races in aid of Age UK – encouraging friends to get involved too. “I tell them you don’t have to athletic to start running,” explains Helen. “You just have to plod one foot in front of the other and keep going!”
Fundraise for Age UK just like Helen
There are so many ways you can help raise money for Age UK. You could run, like Helen, or you could walk if a slower pace suits you better. Why not bake cakes or skydive or knit - or all three! Have a look at our fundraising page for more ideas.
The lifelong devotee
When she was 16, Jo Boseley asked her local social services if there were any lonely people in need of some company. She was subsequently set her up with a nearby lady, who she would pop in to see once a week. Jo soon realised she was the older lady’s only visitor, but their conversation flowed and they became fast friends. “It taught me a lot about the importance of treating other people the way you’d want to be treated yourself,” explains Jo.
Now 55, Jo has become a teacher. In the intervening years since her first care experience, she’s worked as a nurse, and spends much of her free time caring for others too by ensuring none of her friends and neighbours spend Christmas alone. Having seen an Age UK TV advert that resonated with her, Jo signed up to our befriending service. “I’ve been lonely and I know how horrible it feels, so I hate to see anybody else feeling like that,” explains Jo.
She continues: “Time is invaluable – if you can spend just five minutes extra having a little chat you can make someone feel like they’re the only person in the world.”
Become a befriender just like Jo
Help combat loneliness in later life through our befriending services, whether that's our Call in Time telephone befriending or face-to-face befriending.
The woman keeping her husband's memory alive
Angie Beales volunteers with the Joining Forces project at Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland. Joining Forces helps veterans born before 1950 as well as their families and carers. Angie’s late husband, Flight Lieutenant Jack Beales, was a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain, having originally joined the RAF at 17 (after lying about his age to do so!)
Jack died almost two years ago at the age of 93. “It is still very early,” says Angie of Jack's loss. “Helping here has actually helped me through – to keep his memory alive and help me through a very difficult time. I know meet other people, and it gives me an opportunity to talk about my husband and listen to other people’s experiences as well.”
Angie continues: “I enjoy it, and I hope it can carry on for a long time.”
Joining Forces is an Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust-supported project to support veterans (anyone who has completed at least one day of military service born before 1950). You can get updates on services, stories of veterans and more by signing up to the Joining Forces newsletter.