Colchester Age Concern Charity History
2016 – 2017:
Winsley’s House High Street Colchester CO1 1UG
From 2015 the charity was staffed by a team of five part time employees and 25 volunteers working hard to keep Age Concern running from a smaller premises. The new Colchester office prided itself on being a fully-fledged locally based charity and were determined that it would continue to do so. A variety of services were run for the benefit of the pensioner community which included benefits advice, a befriending service, care and health advice along with guidance on energy and consumer issues. 30,900 people aged 65 and above were now living in the Borough, which represented about 17 per cent of the population. Much of the fundraising element relied on generous volunteers holding buckets outside major public concourses sometimes in appalling weather, plus annual school fairs, church bazaars, and the highly publicised green token scheme to help boost funds. However, clients often remarked that they often felt grateful especially for those odd act of kindness which had occurred over the years, such as the supply of Christmas Hampers or maybe the delivery of a baking tray of food presented to a vulnerable resident, a demonstration that this was an organisation who cared about their community. The staff were likewise happy to offer a listening ear if clients wanted to discuss the problems they had encountered on a daily basis, which tended to happen while they were taking enquiries from clients over the phone. So it is not surprising that those working for the charity had compared Age Concern to a family of colleagues who supported each other come what may.
Information, Advice and Advocacy
By now the over 60s population had broadened considerably since 1964, so a fully comprehensive service was required staffed by experienced advisors to help with social and health care so that many more could remain independent and in their own homes. For those who came to Age Concern, each came with a fresh enquiry ranging from seeking financial support after classifying benefit entitlement through to the calculation of care home costs from community care provision. The total benefits secured by Age Concern were made in excess of £1.2 million straight into the pockets of the residents which at the time outclassed many similar services anywhere else in the UK.
Each caller was treated as an individual, some with their own story to tell. Members of staff appreciated that they would rely on the organisation to be there for them when in need, or as in some cases a sense of companionship during difficult times for example depression etc. There was a general consensus that they all felt extremely privileged to work with those who lived during the war having shown great resilience over those years and the determination to live life to the full.
The Legal Surgery provided a free 30 minute consultation session with a solicitor attending the offices on a regular basis so that with Age Concern’s support, any problems arising with utility suppliers could then be tackled with much greater confidence. Similarly, those who had bought defective goods or had received a poor service could be provided with the correct information without being overburdened with legal language or complicated instructions.
Age Concern had quickly realised that it was important to protect their service users from fraudulent behaviour. A detailed list of local companies was then published containing a growing number of services which included: home cooked meal providers, providers of vital equipment, care home providers and transport services. Clients could be assured that these services would be comprised of trusted trades people who would be be properly vetted before making it onto the list.
Health and wellbeing
One of the abiding themes most relevant to our current time is loneliness in old age. Age Concern was keen to ensure it was not backwards in coming forwards from addressing this issue on behalf of the local residence.
While computer technology heralded more sophistication, particularly in communication and social media, the IT courses had evolved to reflect this trend. Users would learn how to network with others on the world wide web, to write e-mail and also contact their friends and family across long distances. Clients were told that once they were online and using a computer/laptop they could receive help one-to-one from a friendly instructor.
Coffee mornings were as popular as ever and well attended mostly because of an open door policy that allowed clients an opportunity to meet new people or possibly catch up with existing friends. Some of the other established groups were modified to follow the latest philosophies on well-being in old age to bring the organisation up to date into the 21st century, such as the Chairobic Club which took exercising to a new level. Health and beauty sessions and a foot health clinic were a fresh take on the former Toe Nail Cutting Unit and of course the now refined befriending service continued to tackle loneliness and social isolation. About 20 people were matched with volunteers who visited them on a regular basis. For some housebound residents these visits became a lifeline, contact with the outside world while for others simply the chance to enjoy a good chat. In response to fuel poverty, the organisation set up the winter warmth campaign as they were becoming concerned about the numerous stories in the media about pensioners turning off their heating in order to save money. Safety checks were made on electric blankets and free advice made available to prepare for an impending cold snap. “Men in Sheds” is a more recent example of how a favourite activity could bring many people together passing the time of day. So those retired men who wished to put their practical ingenuity to good use for the community, now had a chance to learn new skills and create friendships at the same time. A permanent workshop was later sought for a viable base where they could all meet on a regular basis.
George Street: Globe House 6 George Street Colchester Age UK CO1 1TP
The Baby Boomers are Coming
Globe house was identified as the next home of Age Concern. Previously the building had lain empty providing 3 floors of open space with a handy stair-lift made available so that the aged clients could access the whole building. Legend has it that a county councillor had to call for help when they became stuck between floors. Fortunately, they were rescued and the lift promptly fixed.
Over this period of time, Age Concern was amalgamated into Age UK and were now able to provide a vast array of support within the community, headed up by a comprehensive selection of Advice and Advocacy services often signposting its user-base towards achieving a better quality of life.
Advice and Advocacy
A free half hour consumer and legal advice service was offered to those who needed help and advice from the local Solicitor who regularly attended a weekly surgery. This information service subsequently became a reliable source of knowledge concerning welfare rights and benefits, health promotion and ageing well. The general public were not to be excluded from accessing this information which arrived via those advertising and publicising campaigns intended to draw attention to local events and charitable fundraisers. Moreover, Age Concern would in whatever capacity, represent the community by passing on information to the policy makers on their behalf. A band of volunteers known as the ‘A Team’ helped resolve antisocial problems or consumer disputes, maybe an unreasonable claim for money on a bill. Many of the issues they covered were most likely to cause the clients more distress if left unattended for too long. By 2015 a staggering 4,115 enquiries were handled by staff and volunteers.
Although there is nothing new about the ethos of supporting one’s elderly neighbour, the Home Support Service formally recognised the sterling contributions volunteers had made over the years to care for those who found mobility a problem by helping them with their housework, collections of prescriptions and doing their shopping especially when they were poorly.
Another innovation, the Home Services Directory, still exists to this day as a general information hub offering confidential and impartial advice, including a list of trustworthy local services such as gardeners, home hairdressers, plumbers who would be reliable and honest, professionals that did not ask for too much money in return for their skills.
In the fullness of time a computer whiz reaching a certain age became affectionately know as the ‘Silver Surfer’ which had a kind of ring to it, not just as a promotion of the rise of ICT and digital media, but a demonstration that computers were playing a greater role in the lives of those over the age of 60. Computer classes were comprised of 4 tutors with an active computer provided to support all-comers, some of whom knew close to nothing about how to operate them. These new ‘silver surfers’ were offered 1:1 tuition by an experienced tutor who would teach them everything they needed to know. This kind of activity was soon to be nick-named ‘Catching the Mouse.’ Age Concern was leaving no stone uncovered so that the local digital roadshow understood that it would be cool idea to hold a special ‘Silver surfers Day’ in recognition that the next generation was adapting to new technology.
For those who needed help with their personal grooming, the toe nail cutting service proved to be very popular while the mobile unit travelled via Colchester, Tiptree and Mersea areas on a regular basis. Access to a physio session became free to many service-users who travelled through the doors of Age Concern. Those who were identified as physically vulnerable could now exercise under supervision with regular eye and foot checks so that accidents could be prevented in the future.
Baby Boomers Are Coming
It’s now 2010 and the charity was reflecting on their future direction. The generation who were born after the war were now applying for their pensions and contemplating retirement just like those before them, the difference was that there were many more at the age 65+. By now a total of 19 percent could be counted as part of this demographic. It was also perceived that by 2031 this would rise to a quarter of the local population with over 75s doubling in number. Loneliness was a growing concern with many more older women living alone. Charities such as Age Concern now found themselves in demand even more than at any time before.
The organisation subsequently recognised that those born between 1945 – 1965, known as the baby boomers were a little different from the previous generation. They were increasingly determined to live at their own behest and make their own choices, think for themselves and most of all more likely to be computer literate. They knew their rights and expected a proper retirement with some sort of dignity.
Friendship, dancing, singing and laughing are a few of the words used by the clients to describe an event at Age Concern, a vibrant place one would want to go to have fun and find company, not usually associated with the traditional vision of old age half a century ago. Many of the memorable moments recounted by those who came into contact with Colchester Age Concern had indicated its positive attitude towards old age which goes to show the organisation was continuing to make a large contribution to the lives for many more elderly residents of Colchester and its environs.
So in the spirit of community solidarity, vulnerable Colchester senior citizens were chosen recipients of special food hampers during the Christmas period and judging by the many letters of thanks sent in from the grateful recipients, this act of kindness was a special highlight of their year.
Great royal occasions were celebrated and the Golden Jubilee celebrations 2nd June 2012 was no exception. Guests who had turned up had a great time, many of whom from sharing memories of the original Coronation in 1953 reliving the merry-making and the street parties, not to mention the enormous amount of cakes that were eaten all in one day. On Royal Ascot Day, fancy hats were worn straight from the shop near the Tiptree walk-in centre, some of which were quite striking looking at the photos taken at the time.
Other activities that proved popular were arts and crafts: making cards, Faberge eggs, and glass painting. Many had shared experiences of Dominoes, Scrabble and Draughts who found kindred spirits ready and waiting to pit their wits against a willing opponent. Those who attended the walk-in centres had much to talk about, making new friendships and sharing interests in common.
Age Concern Colchester were proactive in preserving memories and bringing communities together. The mayor made a presentation at the launch of ‘remembering WWII project’ which was completed in 2009. Local schools worked closely with Age Concern on this project while Fordham All Saints designed a teacher’s guide covering the events of WWII. The RBL worked in partnership with Age Concern on behalf of ex-personal and their families along with the SSAFA and the Royal British Legion. On behalf of the service users, veterans and their families were only too happy to share their stories of battles fought, ships sailed, ambulances driven through the blitz. Staff reported that this was a privilege and felt humbled listening to them speak. The intergenerational program was one of the most significant aspects of Age Concern’s work at the time and across Colchester, local schools welcomed face to face presentations so that memories of the war and experiences of the wartime generations could be passed on beyond the pages of the history books.
Drop in Centres and Friendship Clubs
With a change in name to Age UK Colchester in 2010, the charity focused on increasing its coverage over the local area so service users could benefit from socialising with others under one roof, though now they would meet in venues which were increasingly further afield, like The Active Living Centre at Tiptree URC Church Hall. Furthermore, there was an intent that carers and old people could take a break from their weekday routine. Lunch clubs were again popular which had been Age Concern’s original intention during the 1960s. Curiously, those who were there at the time remembered that people were so busy talking with each other, there was always the danger one of the diners would end up eating someone else’s meal by accident. Days out on the bus were arranged and for some reminded them of excursion days out when they were at school. Getting back to the right bus stop and on time was an issue for the organisers, so a back up plan was often needed to retrieve those who were lost. Other walk-in centres included: Tiptree Grymes Dyke Court: Social contact clubs; The Autumn Leaves Club; Wivenhoe Lunch Club; Fordham Lunch Club and Rowhedge.
Back at Globe House, the ‘Dining Out club’ occurred on the first Friday of every month which was was a well attended event. So much so that it was observed that guests tended to congest the bar by lining up for their drinks in single file! Coffee Morning provided further opportunities for friends to meet and mingle over a cupper. On some days a speaker would appear and enthral the crowd with a topic of the day.
Friendship clubs were a staple component of the Age Concern programme to combat loneliness. There were certainly a great many activities on offer whatever people felt inclined to do. At the same time, ‘Activ Eight’ met once monthly as a multi-activity group aimed to help those in their later years to stimulate both body and mind which reflected a more holistic approach to mental health and physio therapy. Clients shared a long list of pass times which included games and quizzes and crafts. Many others had been doing gentle seated exercises with help from a therapist. Alternatively there were those who would prefer to relax reminiscing amongst contemporaries or perhaps listen to talks given by experts on relevant subjects. Some of the service users could request the use of a computer to look up their family tree – Though in some cases more of a general twiddle on the internet. Of course, Knit and Knatter speaks for itself: Lots of happy people having a good old chin wag whilst doing something they love.
1976 – 2005
Eld Lane Walk in Centre: Renamed Age Concern
Stockwell House, East Stockwell Street, Colchester
A Time of Expansion
From about 1976 the centre was renamed as Age Concern. They were now eager to take on the challenges of a growing elderly population who increasingly needed extra help and support to enjoy a much-improved quality of life. As the Brambell room was being shared with other organisations at the time, it was felt more space would be needed to expand and there were a series of moves until a suitable base was found at Stockwell House.
We move on to 40 years on from Age Concern’s inauguration to find it is still going strong, the proud owner of a beautiful Grade II Tudor building within the historical Dutch Quarter of Colchester. The building had a large terrace overlooking an attractive garden lying next door to a picturesque graveyard, which made this an idyllic spot to sit outside, a place to reflect especially during the warmer Summer months. The inside was no less appealing with a sumptuous lounge for functions, particularly for the Friday Coffee morning group where the gatherers would be serenaded by a man playing a small organ. Staff felt that the building was a real legacy that could be put to good use and this is what the organisation would do by setting new trends and developing existing services year in year out for the benefit of Colchester.
2004 marked the 40th Anniversary of Age Concern and this special event was celebrated with a special service held at St Peter’s Church when the Colchester Mayor and Mayoress were present and accompanied by local MPs from the surrounding area. Apparently the party afterwards ‘went with a swing’ which as you can see by the picture, made the local newspaper on the day. Such a prodigious occasion couldn’t be left just to chance.
It is during this time we begin to hear about the wonderful camaraderie which existed amongst the Age Concern staff who were well used to marking birthdays, special events and making a thoughtful gesture for someone which on many occasions had made their day. Many friendships would flourish, so they could rejoice and weep with each other as life dictated. During the Stockwell House era, one member of staff specifically remembers that because she was an American far from home, her manager brought in a Turkey for Thanksgiving with all the trimmings to eat for their lunch.
Many visitors had praised the Advice Service which had now reached its first million-pound year from helping service users to identify the benefits of which they were entitled to receive. Similarly, Age Concern frequently provided advocacy for their elderly population by fighting bureaucracy and officialdom on their behalf. Many of them were a diverse set of individuals each with different sets of needs. One such group, were the Brigade of Ghurkhas who arrived after they were finally given their status as residents in the UK under the watchful eye of their leader Captain Umesh Pun.
Age Concern’s portfolio steadily grew in response to an increase in demand for its services so it had now become a much larger organisation in comparison to the Welfare Commitee back in 1964. Likewise, the over 60s community had risen to about 23,000 around the borough, especially Mersea where 1 in 3 people had reached the qualifying age alone. Along with 19 staff, at any one time the charity deployed as many as 70 volunteers into running several drop-in centres around the community. With the support from Essex County Council, Age Concern also managed two separate Day Centres at Tiptree Day and Grymes Dyke Court in Stanway. Lexden and Highwoods were each designated as new venues to host a community social club so that clients could mingle and swap information once a week. In response to the rising number of people reaching old age, the charity was convinced that a period of development was necessary in order to provide the necessary support for the vulnerable and to raise awareness around the local community at large. For instance, the new digital revolution was still quite young and Age Concern felt it necessary to ensure that service users would not be left behind. By now the charity had pioneered its first computer club with further developments to follow which occurred after 2005.
Brambell House: Social centre of Colchester Old People’s Welfare Committee
The origins of Colchester Age Concern go way back to 1964 though in those days their official title was the Old People’s Welfare Committee. However, with a base in Church Street it was more commonly known as the walk-in centre. This was made achievable with the help of government funding since the welfare state had significantly increased since the war. Many other such committees were set up around the country of a similar nature to the one in Colchester.
Wilfred Brambell, who is remembered as the celebrated Steptoe from the television show ‘Steptoe and Son,’ officially opened the centre on 29th July in the appropriately named Brambell Room Colchester. The intention was to create an appropriately comfortable environment for senior citizens to literally drop by and engage with others. The centre was somewhat unique to Colchester at the time and perhaps an acknowledgement that older citizens were becoming more independent living away from their families. The council reported that the elderly people were delighted with their brand-new resource and the public reception of the new centre was generally described as a positive one.
Around 1965, the Welfare Committee requested funds for a subsidised holiday scheme so that some of the service users could afford to go for a week’s holiday later in the year. They would all pay £2 towards the cost but the rest of the expenditure would be subsidised by the people of Colchester and a council grant. An amount of £100 was agreed and duly paid out. By now, Brambell House was the recipient of Council funds in order to keep the building in good order and allow the preparation of meals for clients on the premises. So begun a lengthy process of surveying other buildings in order that the organisation could move on after their lease had run out at Brambell House. Towards the 1970s newly acquired staff were employed to work in a new building the Welfare Committee had agreed to rent. Around 1970, plans were finalised to move to the Health Centre on Trinity street and the next stage in the evolution of Age Concern would begin.