The last year has been difficult for all of us, but particularly frightening and isolating for older people. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, one of the best bits about my job, as Stories Manager, was being able to meet older people all around the country, hear their stories and help share them with others. And while I look forward to doing that again in future, things remain a little different for now.
Adapting our way of working
We’ve had to adapt the way we collect stories, given that we’re no longer being able to visit storytellers face to face to adhere to guidelines and ensure older people are kept safe. Cups of tea around the kitchen table are therefore on hold for now, so video and phone calls have become the norm.
While things have changed, the remarkable storytellers we collaborate with continue to inspire Age UK and the people who support us.
Building on our story principles that we introduced last year, stories are now truly at the heart of everything we do. At the height of the first lockdown, we told the stories of the fundraisers who sprang into action, finding new and innovative ways to raise money. And then, later in the year, our Christmas appeal featured experiences of loneliness, with personal reflections from Roy, where he told us, “To know that Age UK are there for me to reach out to if I’m feeling down, or miserable, it means a lot. The telephone friendship service really helps.”
I really hope that you have felt inspired by the individuals who have generously shared their experiences in support of the work of Age UK over the past year. There have been so many incredible stories to choose from, but here are just a few that we’ve found particularly stirring and a powerful way of highlighting the topics affecting older people right now.
Now, more than ever, it’s so important to be there for one another.
Rajinder: the fundraiser skipping to success
Rajinder’s fundraising efforts during lockdown have been incredible. Rajinder is no stranger to rising to challenges, though, having arrived in the UK in the 1960s and adapting to a completely new way of life. His enduring love of sport and fitness has helped Rajinder raise thousands of pounds for charity. With such a warm, positive outlook and strong sense of community, Rajinder has inspired so many people to fundraise for Age UK.
“Now, more than ever, it’s so important to be there for one another. During lockdown, I’ve started doing lots of skipping challenges, and have become known as the ‘Skipping Sikh’. Many people have got involved in the challenge, from young children through to grandparents. I think they’re inspired seeing someone of my age doing a challenge like this.”
“As a Sikh, one of the principles is to serve others and this is what I continue to do. I want everyone to stay active and healthy, as health is wealth.”
“I’ve been brought up to always respect and help others wherever I can. No matter what we look like or where we come from, we should always look out for each other. This country has given me so much, so I wanted to give something back.”
There are a lot of frightened older people out there at the moment with the coronavirus crisis. I just want to have a chat with them, reassure them and let them know that they will come through the other end of this.
Ellie: the volunteer helping to save lives
Ellie’s story gives an insight into the amazing work done by local Age UKs up and down the country. Having to adapt the ways in which she volunteered for Age UK Redbridge, Barking and Havering, Ellie became a firm favourite as a telephone befriender on their Forget-Me-Not befriending service.
She has helped so many vulnerable people during this crisis, but an older gentleman she supported really sticks in her mind.
“There are a lot of frightened older people out there at the moment with the coronavirus crisis. I just want to have a chat with them, reassure them and let them know that they will come through the other end of this. At the end of the call, you really notice the difference. Their mood is really lifted.”
“I remember one day I was talking to a man called James on the phone. He told me that he was watering down his milk to make it last longer and said that he was getting very short on supplies. I told him that if he told me what he was short of, Age UK might be able to help. He refused and told me that he didn't want to be a nuisance.”
“When I rang James the next day, he told me he'd found a packet of cheese biscuits in his cupboard. The date of expiry was 2015. The alarm bells were really ringing when he then told me that he was eating them and that he was cutting them in half to make them last longer.”
“I contacted Age UK and within 24 hours, they’d manage to find a volunteer who would become James’s go to person to do his shopping and get his food.”
“When I spoke to James the next time, he said “I can eat tonight! Ellie, I can’t thank you enough, you’ve saved my life. I honestly thought that I was going to starve to death and die alone.”
I’m very keen to highlight the challenges that carers have faced over the last few months, and the problems I’ve faced trying to organise getting a vaccine for both of us.
Elaine: giving a voice to overlooked heroes
Elaine cares for her husband, Michael, 7 days a week with carers' support. They have family and friends who live nearby, but the pandemic has meant they've been shielding in isolation for much of the last year.
Throughout the pandemic, Elaine has had significant concerns about professional carers entering the house and posing an infection risk. She therefore decided to stop them visiting the house and take on all of Michael's care herself. This has been exceptionally tough on Elaine both physically and mentally. This hasn’t stopped her tirelessly campaigning for change, though, including her involvement in our campaign for the Government to reform the care system.
“Caring for the man I adore is an honour, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But this year has been incredibly difficult for us. There have been times where I’ve felt completely alone and under immense pressure. My life is on hold.”
“I’m very keen to highlight the challenges that carers have faced over the last few months, and the problems I’ve faced trying to organise getting a vaccine for both of us.”
“A better care system would make the world of difference to us. If I was given the help I need, I could carry on looking after Michael at home, where he belongs.”
[Keith] knows I’m going to call, and if he hasn’t had anyone else to talk to that week, he knows we’re always going to have a chat.
Tim: the friend who’s always there
For just over three years, Tim has volunteered as a befriender for the Age UK Telephone Friendship Service, calling his telephone friend Keith on a weekly basis. The coronavirus pandemic has really highlighted the need for services like this, with many older people feeling lonelier than ever before.
“I think the service has grown to mean more to me the longer I’ve done it. I was very enthusiastic about signing up, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Like everyone, I worried about an awkward silence or that we might not get on. But the team do such an amazing job behind the scenes to match you up with someone you’re going to get on with. Having done it for over 3 years now, I can’t say enough good things about it.”
“I think the calls do make a real difference to Keith. I’d like to think they do. He knows I’m going to call, and if he hasn’t had anyone else to talk to that week, he knows we’re always going to have a chat. I wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth, but he still picks up the phone to me which is always a good sign!”
“My experience using this service is overwhelmingly positive. I’ve made a new friend, a friend I would never have made otherwise. I’ve celebrated Keith’s 100th birthday with him. I’ve heard 100 years’ worth of really interesting stories - first-hand accounts of life through everything that’s happened over the last century. That’s invaluable.”
“The coronavirus pandemic, restrictions, isolation and anxiety have no doubt had a great impact on us all – especially older people. This service really is a lifeline for many and it’s impossible to overestimate its importance. The need to be there for others, both now and in the future, has never been greater.”
Share your stories with us
Have you got a story about how Age UK has supported you? Have you had the COVID-19 vaccine and want to share your experiences and the hope it's given you for the future? We want to hear from you.