16 Jul 2019
Age UK Camden found that by taking an inclusive approach and creating ‘stepping stones’ for people to be involved in their own way, they were more able to engage with those who might otherwise have been left behind.
“Come along and join us for a cuppa” – Jo Stapleton and her colleagues at Age UK Camden aim to enable socially isolated people seek help with everyday problems they face and be more connected to their communities. Jo, an Outreach Manager, and her colleagues have found older men to be one of the hardest to engage groups in their work.
Research shows that older men are often at greater risk in comparison to women due to their ‘perceived poor help-seeking behaviours, masculine traits, a disinterest in their own health, limited health literacy in marginalised groups of men, and disengagement with traditional models of health service delivery’ (Alpass and Neville, 2003; Macdonald 2005; Smith 2007; Wilson and Cordier, 2013).
In Camden, Jo and her colleagues encourage residents to come out of their homes and do simple things like chatting over tea. Residents sometimes encourage their neighbours to come with them, and Jo often works with local housing associations to host pop up events like these.
Jo says, “We are not running something, we are hosting. We are just really trying to reach and encourage people who wouldn’t normally do things, come and have a cup of tea with us. Once we’ve met them, they will speak to neighbours that they haven’t really spoken to before”.
This work by Jo and colleagues in Camden is part of a six year, England-wide Ageing Better programme, intended to enable older people enjoy more fulfilling later lives, by supporting them with staying connected to their friends and communities and enabling them to overcome everyday problems with technology or health visits and check-ups.
This six year Ageing Better programme is a £78 million National Lottery funded programme set up by the National Lottery Community Fund to address social isolation and loneliness, improve social connections and enable older people to be more engaged in the design of services for their communities. This programme, of which Jo and Age UK Camden are part of, is being delivered by 14 voluntary sector led partnerships across England.
Research shows that loneliness and social isolation can be detrimental to our well-being. People who are socially isolated may be more at risk of suffering from more depression, anxiety or other mental health problems. Social isolation, digital exclusion and loneliness among older men are some of the key challenges in building connected communities.
These challenges in engaging older men, are particularly felt by other Ageing Better partnerships who try to address these challenges using a variety of service delivery models such as Cheshire’s Sporting Memories Café, Sheffield’s Men in Sheds model or Camden’s outreach work.
If we want to support people approaching later life, we have to understand later life needs and priorities and a tailored approach to suit people’s requirements
When Jo and her colleagues host pop up events, their idea is to build “stepping stones” for social participation by “getting people through the door”. They also do street outreach, distributing leaflets and informing people about events happening around them.
Jo says, “We’re not fundraising, we’re not collecting money. We don’t give people masses of information at that first encounter. Older people often rule themselves out of things, they discount themselves from doing things that they want to do”.
Jo and her colleagues quickly learnt that group meetings were avoided by older men because names were taken down, inadvertently denoting a kind of commitment to the meetings. For instance, when Jo used to put Age UK posters in pubs promoting events and offered free cakes, men chose not to go over because it would have meant a commitment and invisible strings to something ‘formal’.
Sharing learning from Jo’s experiences is valuable as it is an ‘out-of-the-box’ approach to dealing with dwindling numbers in membership of services, in reaching out to those who need help but avoid these groups for various reasons and it also has valuable lessons for planners and policy-makers to understand services targeted at older age groups.
What Jo learned was that while older men did not like ‘groups’, they still wanted more access to essential services. The team found clever alternatives to running traditional computer classes, instead running ‘i-pubs’ where the team sat down with their iPads in the local pub. Older men would come and talk to them and find out how to use these devices. Some would take out their mobile phones and seek advice on how to read the news on the phone or use an app.
Jo’s incredible example shows that if we want to support people approaching later life, we have to understand later life needs and priorities and a tailored approach to suit people’s requirements. This understanding of people’s thinking and circumstance helps us achieve our wider goal of enabling older people to live more fulfilling, healthy and connected later lives.
We would love to hear more such stories from you. If you have a story about engaging people for better social connectedness in later lives, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org