A visit to the first Neighbourhood Older Persons service in Leeds

It’s a simple and effective idea; set up a charity that knows the older people in a neighbourhood, put on social activities and provide simple services that reduce the barriers to living a full life. In fact it’s so simple and effective that Leeds has a network of 35 projects across the city doing exactly that…in 1986 Belle Isle Elderly Winter Aid (BIEWA) were first….

It’s probably not news to anyone that as you get older it can become harder to keep up a social life; for some people it can be a challenge just to get out of the house. Let’s face it, for lot’s of us (not just older people) it’s that contact with people that keep us going, so BIEWA work hard to make sure that they offer at least one activity every day, with a lot of things focused on their ’59 Club’. There’s exercise classes, shopping trips, crafting, men’s and women’s groups, and a gardening club that look after an award winning garden. Every year for eight years a coach load of BIEWA people have gone on an annual holiday to various seaside locations.

A while back BIEWA noticed that fewer people were coming to the 59 Club and they reckon that this is to do with some older people being more socially isolated -  it’s a big jump from seeing no-one to walking into a big room with lots of people – so they’ve developed a volunteer befriending scheme and they’re planning smaller, local groups and activities that will be less intimidating.

BIEWA have got social activities sorted, but they also offer a package of services that prevent ill health and enable older people to live independently in their homes. They have a handy person scheme which reduces falls by levelling access and installing smoke alarms and subsidised dementia friendly clocks. They broker and manage bookings for a gardener and they provide subsidised winter clothing and an emergency shopping service if the weather is really bad.

When Sarah’s stairlift jammed with her on it over the Christmas period her relative called Stannah who quoted a minimum of £300 to attend. Sarah doesn’t have that kind of money and was really distressed. She asked her relative to call BIEWA, who put time into finding a local engineer who could attend quickly and only charged £80.

They’ve recently started a micro social enterprise providing shopping and cleaning services.  At £12 p/h this service is great value, but they haven’t been overwhelmed by demand. They’re getting a bit of help from Ideas that Change Lives to work out how they can market themselves better.

BIEWAs pride and joy is its Outreach Service. Their outreach worker visits around 400 older people each year (about half of BIEWAs database). She has a cup of tea and a chat, and asks a few questions about how the person’s coping and what help they have. Then she goes back to the office and ties everything together, making the calls to all sorts of charities and agencies to make sure that the person gets the right service. It’s not rocket science – but having that someone to bring everything together is incredibly effective at keeping people independent.

In the end though, it’s not the individual BIEWA services that matter, it’s that personal service that you get from a small organisation where everyone knows one another. Sonny, the Chief Officer was talking to some family carers one day and they were saying how frustrating it is when you drive right across the city with a pint of milk only to discover your brother’s already dropped one off. Sonny’s simple answer; show the family how to set up a What’s App group so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

About this blog

At Third Sector Leeds (TSL) we know that the most important thing we can do is get to know as much as we can about the great things that third sector organisations in Leeds are doing, and then share the good news as widely as possible. This is the first in a series of blogs about our visits to get to know organisations of all shapes and sizes.

If you’d like someone to drop by, please contact richard.warrington@val.org.uk

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