John: Welcome Susan to our Speakers slot and can I start by asking you a little about yourself and how you became involved with AGE UK.
Susan: Hi John. I am married to a C of E vicar and last September we moved from our parish in Kent to the Minster church in Warminster. I had been working for a charity in the south east supporting older people, helping them to remain living in their own homes. So when it came time to find a new job here in the south west, Age UK seemed a good choice. We have 3 married sons and 5 grandchildren who just helped us celebrate our 40th anniversary!
John: I am sure we have all heard of AGE UK but most have had no direct experience – YET! What would you say is the main reason for people needing your help?
Susan: I believe most people contact Age UK with a need for advice about many things, from how to apply for Attendance Allowance to how to get a Blue Badge. Out of these conversations our advisors can pick up other issues, such as loneliness, and that is where my role as a Befriending Support Worker comes in. I am one in a team of 5 support workers who go out and do assessments of older people living alone and who experience less than 7 hours a week social interaction (not including carers – min age being reassessed at the moment). We then try and match up the client with a volunteer living as nearby as possible who then visits the client, usually once a week for a few hours.
John: What interest do you have outside your work?
Susan: Work, family and my role as a vicar’s wife takes up a lot of my time, but I love walking and exploring new places in the beautiful countryside around us. Our dog Rowan, a working cocker spaniel usually accompanies us. I try to write and love a good movie.
John: How do you feel Rotary can help promote AGE UK
Susan: By encouraging as many people as possible to think about becoming a Befriending Volunteer. This doesn’t always just mean sitting chatting over a cuppa. It can mean taking a client out to the garden centre or even the pub! We especially need male volunteers. And of course we need referrals of clients, so if anyone knows of someone who fits the criteria, we would love to know about them. The tricky part is finding enough volunteers for the number of clients. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing!
Part of my role is also as a Partnership Worker. I am trying to work with other existing organisations and statutory bodies to help tackle the problem of loneliness and social isolation in their communities. The biggest problem I keep hearing is that the activities and events are out there, but people can’t get to them. Either due to mobility problems, geographical isolation or just a lack of confidence, many older people cannot get to their local fitness group or lunch club because they have not got the transport. What I would love to see in every local community in Wiltshire is a charity (Rotary?) funded minibus that would pick up these people and take them to these social activities. If this is not possible (yet!) I would encourage your members to become volunteer drivers. LINK is a useful source of transport, but many people can’t or think they cannot afford it.
John: Loneliness is perhaps a big problem older people face. I visit two Care Homes each month purely to talk to people who do not have “Visitors”. I was asked by one Care Home if I held a CRB (now DBS) Certificate. How common is this and does it stop people being involved?
Susan: All our volunteers are DBS’d before they start visiting their client. This is for the safety of our clients and their families and is paid for by Age UK. I am sure none of your members would be happy with someone basically walking off the street and starting a close relationship with their mothers or grandmothers with out someone takin g the responsibility of checking them out first. On the other side of the coin, by volunteering through Age UK Wiltshire, our volunteers are insured and supported by us. I am sure there are those who don’t want to go through this process, but hopefully most people who are serious about volunteering understand the need of a DBS check.
John: Susan many thanks for speaking to us and I am sure all of us could spare a couple of hours to help in this worthwhile cause, after all one day we might just need someone to care for us.! More info can be found at http://www.ageuk.org.uk/wiltshire/ Please do look.