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12 Years at Age UK Gloucestershire

Movement For Good

Published on 01 February 2024 09:10 AM

Helen tells us about her incredible 12 years at Age UK Gloucestershire

Introduction and Role: 

I joined AUKG just over 13 years ago on a 6-month contract as a Community Services Manager, looking after the Home from Hospital team, Day Centres and a Community Bathing Project! My contract was eventually made permanent, and I went on to manage and grow the Home from Hospital service as a larger pilot project before we secured any form of contract. Growing from a team of 3 (including me) to a team of 15 when we provided assessment support on discharge plus a short-term cleaning and shopping services for clients. I then moved on to the Information and Advice Service as the “Navigate Manager” and supported our Information, advice, comms, reception and outreach teams supporting older people to “Navigate” every aspect of their later life.  

Over the years I have worked on a wide range of projects both individually and with large and small teams including supporting older Carers, older Veterans and those experiencing particular difficulties via the “Better Later Lives” & “My Care my Plan” projects. I am now Head of Age Friendly Communities and Deputy CEO supporting all our community activities including our social groups, digital and walking projects, outreach and events and Homeshare alongside representing AUKG at various statutory and voluntary sector meetings and panels. 

What initially drew you to work here? 

I am a qualified social worker and had previously working in statutory services providing social work support to older adults living with severe and enduring mental health issues. I wanted to change direction a little and work in the voluntary sector, in an environment where my skills and expertise were valued and would have a real impact on the lives of individual older people. 

My social work values of treating everyone with dignity, care and respect drive me to ensure everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential and has choice and control over their own life.  I feel it is important to share my skills and knowledge with as many people as possible and love being out and about talking to older people, other professionals and my own colleagues helping them expand their own knowledge so we can all help and support as many people as possible.  I believe later life really is something to celebrate and enjoy and I believe our organisational values really help us all work together with older people to achieve this.   

What motivates and inspires you the most in your role, particularly in supporting older people in the community? 

Older people themselves are the inspiration – everyone is unique and has a story, the older we get the more interesting and diverse those stories are.  I think it's important that everyone should make the most of their later life and the opportunities that this stage of life can bring – staying positive and always looking forward to something new is so important.  Members of our community groups are inspirational – getting out and about at every opportunity, learning new skills including getting online and taking up new interests as seen in our walking groups. Many of the older people I have met over the years have been real inspirations including two older colleagues both working to support other older people in different ways well past their 70th birthday.  One even taking on a new project at 78! 

Could you discuss a project or initiative that you've been involved in that stands out as particularly impactful for the community or the organisation? 

How did this project positively impact the lives of older people or contribute to Age UK Gloucestershire's mission? 

The project I enjoyed most in my whole time at Age UK Gloucestershire was the Joining Forces Project.  This was a 3-year project aimed to support local older armed forces veterans. We were one of several local AUKs chosen by the Armed Forces Covenant Trust Fund to work alongside forces charity SSAFA to raise awareness of the support available to older veterans and work together to provide, bespoke support where it was most needed.  We provided individual support to over 300 veterans supporting them to claim everything from a Veterans Badge to Attendance Allowance.  Supporting with housing issues and mobility scooters as well as providing social opportunities and working with the University of Gloucestershire to produce some very special “Veterans Voices” via a digital storytelling project. Many local older people had completed National Service when they were younger but did not identify themselves as “Veterans” and were therefore not aware of the additional support they were entitled too. These National Service Men often looked to AUKG for support but by working with a military charity we were often able to access much needed wider support from military charities and connections.  Working with SSAFA, the AUKG team increased their knowledge of veteran's issues and learnt how they could support individuals to access both financial, medical and social opportunities. SSAFA colleagues were also able to refer veterans to AUKG for the more general and especially financial benefit support needed. We started a new Veterans Breakfast Club in Stroud, which is still going strong today and made many veterans aware of the other clubs and social opportunities available for veterans within Gloucestershire.  More older veterans now attend these breakfast clubs around the county, benefiting from the camaraderie and peer support provided, the clubs continue to grow and are run by veterans themselves.  

An example of the holistic support the two charities provided together is illustrated when an army veteran approached SSAFA for a grant towards some new fencing caused by severe weather conditions.  At the initial assessment the SSAFA case worker suggested a benefits check from the AUKG team while she was processing the grant claim with his regiment.  The client agreed and was awarded both Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance.  When the SSAFA case worker revisited the client, he told her he didn’t need to go ahead with a grant application as he now had enough of his own income to pay for the fencing and wanted someone else to have the opportunity to access a grant.  An outcome which would not have been achieved if the 2 charities had not worked together. 

We were also able to host a number of important events for veterans and their families including a Remembrance Day lunch, a visit to the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum and a visit, with afternoon tea, to the Jet Age Museum in Staverton which featured on the local television news.  This project was successful in number of ways including the opportunities of working collaboratively with SSAFA and across all internal teams but also working with AUK national and other local brand partners sharing opportunities and learnings. Many Veterans and their families were supported by the different aspects of the project, and this continued into the first COVID lockdown just before the Joining Forces Project ended. We were able to continue offering support by providing telephone friendship calls to veterans we had previously supported, and new veterans identified for an additional six months.  This meant AUKG support continued to be available to these older people at an especially difficult time and for some is ongoing today.       

Is there a personal story or experience that has influenced your passion for working with older adults or supporting this cause? 

I could not pick one story, but every time someone learns more about the support available to them and has increased knowledge of how to improve their own wellbeing or finances makes me feel it’s a job well done – providing information and sharing my knowledge I think is a privilege and one I will continue into the future.  Helping people navigate the social care and welfare benefits system is a minefield and every little bit of information shared can make a massive difference to an older person. 

Can you share a valuable lesson or insight you've gained while working at Age UK Gloucestershire? 

Every contact really does count, every one of our colleagues has a role to play in sharing their knowledge and insights in our area of expertise with older people, their families and carers and other professionals.  We all need to continue learning from each other and use all our shared knowledge to improve the lives and provide opportunities for the older people in Gloucestershire by working as one team.  I always try to remember that we don’t know what we need to know, until we need to know it, and this is something everyone at AUKG can help with. 

Have you received any feedback or stories from clients or their families that have resonated with you? 

A couple of stories which stick with me are the conversation I once had with a client's son who was a vet and an older veteran who was attending a breakfast club for the first time.  

The vet, whose mum was in hospital, told me he was struggling to navigate the whole care system, knowing what he should do now and knowing where to go to access the right support for her.  He said “Helen, I am Vet, if you ask me anything about a cat, a dog or even a horse I will know what to do but this is all completely new to me, I haven't got a clue, but I am so glad I have spoken to you; at least I  know where to start now and I know that you are there and able to guide me, and people like me, to know what to do next”. 

Alan, a National Service Man, who hadn't identified himself as a veteran, before the Joining Forces Project, sat in a café in Stroud where we were holding one of our first Breakfast Club meet ups said to me “Well, I don’t know what I am doing here but it's all right isn't it!  When can I come again!”.  Alan then joined the breakfast club meetings regularly and was delighted with the Veterans Badge we were able to secure for him, wearing it with pride at every opportunity feeling like “one of the lads”.  Alan joined all our veterans' activities and was supported by several other AUKG projects including Community Circles for those Ageing without Children and Homeshare.  Alan sadly, passed away earlier this year aged 87 and it was wonderful to see his fellow veterans providing a guard of honour at his funeral and the videos created as part of our veterans' voices digital story telling project being shown to his family and friends. Especially as he didn’t think of himself as being a veteran, saying “no, I only did National Service”. 

How has your experience at Age UK Gloucestershire contributed to your personal or professional growth? 

As a social worker I was taught to “actively listen” and be comfortable with silences, allowing opportunities for individuals to express themselves in their own way.  This was something I struggled with, but over my years at AUKG I have learned the value of these important skills.  While I love sharing my knowledge I have learned to listen and value my time with our older people allowing them the time and space to tell me what is important to them as individuals.  Older people are certainly not one homogenous group but unique and inspirational individuals who often have the solutions to their own issues within themselves if allowed time and space to communicate them.  

What are your hopes or aspirations for the future of Age UK Gloucestershire and older people in Gloucestershire? 

That the organisation will continue to grow and diversify the support offered to be there to support more older people and that our wonderful an inspirational colleagues will go on doing what they are doing now knowing what they do really matters, makes a difference and is so important to older people and their families.