SPECIAL REPORT - Providing a voice to older people across Harrogate district

John Dorman and Christine Boxall, from the Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service (S).
John Dorman and Christine Boxall, from the Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service (S).
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Though much of the help available for older people is hidden, there are groups across the Harrogate district working hard to bring to light the issues facing the elderly in our region. Reporter JAMES METCALF finds out more about the people dedicated to making a change.

The vital work carried out by groups such as Dementia Forward, Supporting Older People (SOP), The Carers’ Resource, and others in the Harrogate district is well-used but often rarely known about.

Whether this is due to lack of funding, staff shortages, or cuts to services and budgets, elderly people throughout the region are often struggling with loneliness and isolation unnecessarily.

The Harrogate Over 50s Forum is made up of a team contributing to turning this around, and allowing older members of the community to have a say in the policies affecting their daily lives.

The committee organises lunches and trips for its members, though its focus is fixed on representing the views of older people to health and social care providers, bus companies, the county council, and those able to make a change for the betterment of the elderly population.

With a membership of 130, there are now moves to expand the forum further afield, reaching the elderly in Ripon.

Chair of the forum committee Ann Hill said: “We are here to represent older people and to get it known what our concerns are.

“We are really pleased that we are going to be heard in the right places.

“We think we are doing extremely well this year.”

Making decisions on adult social care, holding focus groups on transport and access to health care, and meeting with North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), the Over 50s Forum is paving the way in representing Harrogate’s larger than average elderly population.

They also provide their members with much needed information, on legal affairs, security in the home, door step crime, and keeping warm in the winter.

The combination of these services provides older people in the Harrogate district with a direct line to what is important to them, and this is becoming increasingly important as the elderly population grows and people battle with the devastating effects of loneliness and isolation.

Bridgit Dawson, a volunteer with SOP who spoke at the last annual general meeting of the forum, recognises that there are many problems that greater communication with others can help alleviate.

She said: “We live in a changing society, and there are lots of things that have disappeared from our own communities.

“Communication is difficult and complicated. For an older person a simple phone call has been replaced by something really quite complex.

“I belong to the home visiting scheme, where clients are often lonely and isolated because of illness, if things have gone wrong, or if there has been a bereavement.

“It is good to go out and socialise, but there is also a benefit for someone to go on and sit with them and have a conversation.”

This is the aim of the Over 50s Forum - a conversation where older people are heard and can put across their needs and have a voice in a world where they are very much still a part.

Ms Dawson said: “Lots of older people have no family at all, or they are hundreds of miles away and during the day their neighbours are out at work, so they haven’t got people coming in.

“We are putting back the regular social contact and providing the link with the outside world.

“It is helping people to be positive about what they have achieved and not to regret too much what they can no longer do.”

To contact the Harrogate District Over 50s Forum, call 07804464411, email them on mail@hgdover50sforum.org.uk or visit their website at www.hgdover50sforum.org.uk

John’s story:

At the age of 84, John Dorman lost his wife Jean to heart failure after six years of care.

The last time he saw her she told him she was dying, and he said he would see her tomorrow.

Shortly after he said goodbye to his wife, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer - lymphoma of the eye.

“It was very traumatic. It was bad enough losing Jean,” he said.

“In the end she couldn’t walk, so she was in the bedroom for three years. Her mobility just went because she had so many things wrong with her.

“She contracted a urinary infection and a younger person wouldn’t worry about that, but an older person does.

“We had to rush her to hospital and the doctor said in a person like my wife it could be fatal.

“In the end it was heart failure, and to top everything I got a lymphoma. I just can’t win.”

John, who is now 86, is in remission and takes that as a positive sign. His concern now is having to live alone.

He said: “It never leaves you. I live in a bungalow and I talk to her. Sometimes I feel she is with me. I’m sure I have heard her calling for me.

“You never know what is round that corner. We used to go on quite a few cruises, and I am always glad that we did because you never know.

“People ask me if I am going on holiday and now I say no. It just hits you. I have been to the seaside with my children, but it is not the same. You see people together and you are on your own.

“In holiday brochures, things are based on two people sharing, and that is where it hits you. It is like losing your right arm.”

Being part of the Harrogate and district Over 50s Forum, where he is treasurer, John is able to put the worries of his community to those with the power to do something about it.

He can put the views of his generation forward and as part of the group he is able to get himself heard.

Beyond that, it helps him to get out and about and meet new people that he would otherwise never have got to know, and this is the most valuable thing to John.

The campaign so far:

The Harrogate Advertiser series’ campaign to confront the issues of elderly loneliness and isolation.

So far, we have spoken with Supporting Older People, where elderly people meet to have tea and cake, have a chat, sing together, and go on trips to unlock their loneliness.

We also featured Dementia Forward - where people feeling isolated because of their condition - gave us an insight into tackling isolation through an understanding atmosphere and a place where laughing is a top priority.

And now the Harrogate Over 50s Forum, where a committed team of people spend their free time making the voices of older people heard, are shining a light on the issues facing the elderly right across the district.

Many people have got in touch with their stories and the groups, organisations, and teams of people in the Harrogate district that are making a change for older people.

To share your story, call reporter James Metcalf on 01423 707526 or email james.metcalf@jpress.co.uk