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Older Person in Training

Images of Matthew Fellows, departing CEO

Published on 28 February 2024 09:10 AM

My Time at Age UK Gloucestershire...

To grow older and to live well into older age is not something everyone is fortunate enough to do. For those that get that opportunity it can be both a blessing and a perceived curse. With older age comes a greater likelihood of ill-health, of reducing income and of a reduction in social connections. If these are known challenges then why don’t we do more to address them or prepare ourselves for their approach? 

The impact of planning for later life coupled with positivity about that journey are key to ageing well. I have been told many times that “age is just a number” and that “I’m not old, I’m only 90!” (or other great and grand ages). If planning and positivity are so important then each of us needs to take responsibility for building these into our lives in preparation; earlier, with greater focus and with those we love. Ageing well can be affected by our own actions and those of our loved ones. Equally living healthier lives and taking control of our own health outcomes is key. We can experience ill-health at any age and there’s lots we can do to prevent what is often seen as inevitable deterioration. When meeting a lady waiting for a hip operation some time ago, her friend remarked that her condition was “because she was getting old”. Forcibly the lady responded “rubbish, my other hip is perfectly fine and it’s exactly the same age!”. 

I joined Age UK Gloucestershire to get closer to the services being delivered in support of older people, their families and carers and to positively influence them to be more reflective of the real need and demand. I learned quickly that the team were well connected with the need and demand and needed little of my intervention to ensure that they were delivering what was really needed. What they needed from me was time, space and support to do more of the great stuff they knew was important. That became my focus. 

We have an incredible team of passionate, enthusiastic and committed colleagues and volunteers. All doing their very best each day focused on their part of realising our vision of making Gloucestershire the best county in which to grow older. I remain amazed at their tenacity and resilience and importantly just how much can be achieved by so few, the right few, the best few! 

In real terms the challenges faced by older people are similar in many ways to those experienced by other disadvantaged groups. Loneliness, health inequalities, digital exclusion, and financial hardship are not exclusively experienced by those in older age. The responses to these challenges are tried and tested, but they require charities such as ours to work ever more collaboratively with others addressing the same issues. It is only through this collaboration will we systemically respond to these challenges and realise our vision. 

Finally and most surprisingly, at the age of 43 I became the unofficial, but oft consulted ‘Voice of Older People’. Those over 65 make up a population in Gloucestershire alone which numbers almost 40,000. The very fact that society has failed to find a meaningful way to engage with older people, to really hear them and to ensure they are represented, their views respected and their needs and demands reflected in decision making is at the root of the inequity experienced by many older people. If I were to leave a legacy, responding to this challenge would be it. I am most proud of our partnership with Gloucester Older People’s Association and for their unswerving commitment to work with us in creating ‘The Voice of Older People’ a citizens panel of older people who will act as the representative voice of their communities. We are at the early stages but this will be a game-changer! 

The team still need time, space and support to do more of the great stuff they know needs doing. My ask to you would be to allow them that time, create the space for them to do it and importantly to ensure they know they have your support.