Amidst all the gloom about cuts and the economic prospects, starting United for All Ages has provided some grounds for optimism.
Not that we haven’t stirred it up about closures of facilities and frontline services disappearing. It is happening and very rapidly. And as we have pointed out elsewhere, it threatens to create division between different generations.
Only last week we had Age UK and Child Poverty Action Group on the Today programme pitching against each other as to whether older people or children and families are worst affected by the cuts. Social policy consultant Donald Hirsch wisely commented that the cuts are disproportionately affecting people on low incomes, regardless of their age. Same old,same old.
We also know that the cuts really do highlight councils’ (and government’s) real priorities. If you want to protect a particular service, you can. There are councils which have made a commitment for example not to close children’s centres but to do things differently to keep them open.
So some pockets of good news. But just as exciting have been the unsolicited approaches we have received from people whose organisations are planning new approaches or already doing exciting things to bring different ages together.
A couple of examples. Learning for the Fourth Age is a social enterprise that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to go into care homes and teach things to older residents. Most of their volunteers are under 25 and most of the residents are over 85. And Whose Shoes? is another social enterprise getting people to think about how health and social care really can become personalised – the name alone gets you thinking.
We’ve also had a couple of service providers approach us about how they could work with other age groups for mutual benefit. A council-run youth club in a rural village is seeking to increase community involvement and generate income - their latest idea is to run a 'young at heart' club at lunchtimes using the same principles as a youth club but for adults. And a voluntary organisation providing daycare for older people is talking to a local school about re-locating to the school site and offering classes for younger and older people together.
So despite the cuts, there’s plenty of appetite and enthusiasm for doing things differently. 31 January 2011