CAMPAIGN: Providing essential personal connections for older people in Ripon

Ripon Age UK locality manager Catharine Green and three service users.
Ripon Age UK locality manager Catharine Green and three service users.

Every year increasing numbers of people are becoming isolated. Government austerity and the related council cuts to essential services such as transport make this situation more difficult. JAMES METCALF discovers out what charitable groups are doing to help in Ripon.

With a population of more than 16,000, Ripon is undoubtedly a busy market town, but with its sparsley populated outlying villages, such as Grewelthorpe, Lofthouse, Myton-on-Swale, and Tholthorpe, all with a population of less than 400, socialising can be an issue.

Coupled with budget cuts to transport - part of the millions hoped to be saved over the coming years - older people throughout the Harrogate district have to stay at home. While there, however, services are available to provide comfort, stability, and companionship.

Many of these are carried out by Age UK North Yorkshire, whose office in Ripon runs a whole host of activities and schemes designed around the needs of older people, including a social group for older men, exercise and walking clubs, lunches, telephone befriending, and a home secretary service.

Locality manager for Ripon Catharine Green said: “I link up with GP practices and also the local police in trying to ascertain how many people are wanting services and how they can get access to them.

“We are doing quite a bit in trying to identify older people who aren’t taking part in things and what we can do about that.

“It is all about helping people value later life and make it fulfilling. We like to link people up with each other and we like to see friendships develop between people who come to groups.”

An essential element to these services is the friendship that can often be a result of the groups and clubs people join - something Ms Green feels is very important.

“Prolonged social exclusion and isolation can lead to ill health and people can become very low and very unhappy and that is very sad. That can happen with all of us but we are particularly aware of it for people in later life,” she said.

“People will have moved to be closer to relatives and they find it hard to make new friends and people are in a strange town in a new flat and don’t know a soul. It is a difficult time for them.”

After launching her website last year with a view to bringing about friendships between people who may find it difficult, for whatever reason, to make friends themselves, campaigner Helen King also realises the vital need of friendships in later life.

She said: “I think loneliness and social isolation is a big issue, particularly for older people but also if somebody moves to a new area or get divorced or there is change it can be hard for them.

“There are all sorts of reasons why people might feel isolated. Sometimes a group of friends just aren’t available and it is through no fault of their own.

“Friendships are so important. I have got a husband and a family but I still need my friends because they can really give you a boost and if you live on your own you need some social contact.

“Sometimes there are people you wouldn’t say are lonely, they are just wanting to broaden their friendships to give them a more fulfilling life.”

Though several projects in the Ripon area are actively targeting the needs of older people with this exact aim, the lack of transport is often felt very keenly.

Ms Green said: “The situation in Ripon is different to Harrogate. We are a small market town with a lot of sprawling small settlements surrounding us. We have quite specific needs in this area.

“The main thing that we come across in the rural area is the lack of transport and the availability of tranport for people to move readily about the area.

“It is a large rural area with a lot of outlying villages and people on occasion do struggle to get into Ripon or to get to Harrogate.

“We are currently aware with a lot of older people that transport is an issue, particularly if people have mobility problems as well..

Audrey, who is 94, uses Age UK as much as she can, but she misses the trips and wishes she was able to get out more.

“Without transport to get to these placaes it’s a real problem. My bus is every two hours and I can’t walk to the town centre, it takes me all my time, then I either have to pay for a taxi or wait, and it is that that’s holding you back,” she said.

“There used to be coach trips and all sorts when I first moved to Ripon but there is nothing now. It’s the trips that I like to go on, it is just getting to them.

“I would like to go on these trips but my body won’t let me and I have nobody around me to take me.

“Everything seemed to be closed down because of the cuts. A local cafe that was great and reasonably priced and you always met someone there is gone now.”

Yet without the lifeline of Age UK, Audrey readily admits that her life would have been very different.

There are, however, other services that people struggling to make friendships and travel further afield can benefit from - sometimes only going as far as their local library.

North Yorkshire library services are hosting volunteer-led craft workshops, IT sessions, conversation and reading groups, and several other opportunities that allow older people to leave the house and make friends while taking part in activities designed to be engaging and fulfilling.

It is free, voluntary schemes like this that can tackle the problems facing older people, including transport cuts and disappearing services, and help them enjoy later life.

For a schedule of the groups at North Yorkshire libraries, phone your local branch: Harrogate Library (0845 0349520); Starbeck Library (0845 034 9525); Knaresborough Library (0845 300 5112); Bilton and Woodfield Community Library (01423 564630). To learn more about Age UK in Ripon, call locality manager Catharine Green on 01765 606872