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Blog: Adapting and connecting with older people in Dundee

Published on 16 April 2021 12:20 PM

Age Scotland’s Community Development Manager Elizabeth Bryan speaks to Older Peoples Services Development Officer Nicola Mitchell about Dundee Volunteer and Voluntary Action’s work during the health pandemic.

How have you managed during Covid-19?

I’ve been older people's services development officer with Dundee Volunteer and Voluntary Action for the past five and a half years. My job involves actively promoting the involvement of older people in the development and provision of services for the over 50s. But this has been a year like no other. I’m incredibly proud of how much we achieved and the number of different projects we were able to put in place.

What has Dundee Volunteer and Voluntary Action been doing to help older people through this difficult time?

Through calls to Dial-OP, our information line, we had a good understanding of some of the things that older people were finding difficult and needed a hand with. Some people didn’t like to ask neighbours to go to a particular shop or to get specific items, others were worried about not having any cash at home.

We set up a shopping by invoice service where volunteers used prepaid cards which put control over shopping back in the hands of older people. When you’re on your own it’s sometimes easier just to make a slice of toast if you can’t be bothered cooking. Our volunteers delivered hot meals and puddings made by the Thomas Franks Foundation each Wednesday evening for 10 weeks. We found people looked forward to the doorstep chats with our Come Dine With Us volunteers as well as the ‘home cooked’ meals.

Organisations really came together to help. When we first went into lockdown, the council’s library service closed and people didn’t have access to books and things to do. We worked with Grey Lodge Settlement and Helping Older People Engage (HOPE) who took in donations of books and jigsaws, sorted them by genre and arranged for volunteers to deliver them to people who requested them.

We followed up with three activity packs and newsletters for 100 people including information on services, mindfulness activities, local history articles, bird feeders and a Move It or Lose It DVD of exercise tips. We also distributed a Christmas goody bag too. We constantly tried to adapt our activities to suit the needs at the time.

When the announcement came that masks in shops were compulsory, people who were shielding had no time to prepare. We distributed 660 Everyday Packs comprising reusable face masks, hand sanitiser and wipes – the essentials people needed to go to the shops. We also developed a local solution in response to concerns raised by people who couldn’t wear a face mask and worked with Dundee City Council to provide exemption letters for people who required them giving 330 people the comfort they needed.

How do you think the health pandemic has affected older people in Dundee?

For many it’s meant a loss of independence and control. They’ve been forced into a position of having to ask for help and for many that’s been hard. There’s been a loss of contact and connections. People have missed the friendship and support of their peers and groups and the regularity of someone to chat to.

Working from home has made keeping in contact with my network of 500 older people and organisations to keep them informed a challenge, so connections with older people especially those who aren’t online, has been disrupted.

Tell us about Dundee’s Year of the Older Person – how did this come about?

The United Nations Day of the Older Person (1 October) has always been an important date in our calendar. While we couldn’t organise our usual events we were determined to mark the date. We were concerned that everything in the media about older people seemed so negative. Older people were constantly being presented as vulnerable and frail and that is certainly not the case.

We decided to celebrate older people for who they really are through their stories in our ‘See Me Hear My Voice’ campaign – using photos and information about their lives such as the jobs they did, their hobbies and interests and an interesting fact to show people that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The local press ran an article for us on 1 October, 2020, but we are still collecting stories to showcase later this year. Cllr Lynne Short, our Older Person’s Champion took things a step further by putting forward a motion to Dundee city council to dedicate the year from 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2021 as Dundee’s Year of the Older Person.

We’re currently developing our plans and will be using the year to showcase the positive impact older people have on our city. We are looking at putting together a book and even a touring exhibition when we are allowed out again!

What are you most looking forward to coming out of lockdown?

I’d like to see further investment from Connecting Scotland to provide face to face IT classes for the over 50s. There has been a push recently on helping to distribute devices and get connected, but remote learning over the phone for a complete novice is extremely challenging. People need face-to-face help. I’m also really looking forward to being able to get together with people again for a blether and a cuppa, even if it’s only in small groups. That will do me nicely!

Find out more about Dundee Volunteer and Voluntary Action at www.dvva.scot 

Advantage Magazine

Advantage is the Age Scotland magazine that provides information, inspiration and ideas to empower Scotland's older people, their families and carers.

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