When I first came into the charity sector, I had so many questions. How do you create change in society? How do you actually help older people? How am I actually going to manage to get out of bed every morning to tackle my first 9 – 5 job?!
Thankfully the latter was easily solved simply by setting two alarms to get me out of bed in the morning and, more importantly, ensuring I had enough “desk snacks” to get me through the day.
The other two questions however, were a bit more difficult to answer…
When I first started with Age UK London, I travelled around a London borough asking people to help with a project that aided older people. I was naïve enough to assume everybody was as eager to make a difference in society as I was. Sadly for every person that said “sure, I’d be happy to help”, there were 5 people who would say “oh no I can’t help you sorry” (and some who just would not respond at all).
Over time this really began to take its toll. It made me realise that in order to tackle the problems facing older people, you must first tackle the general apathy in society towards helping other people, as well as providing people with the necessary time, resources, and information to help others too.
When people are in direct connection with a cause, it’s easy for them to help. Yet when they can’t see the immediate benefits of a campaign, it’s harder to get them on board with the idea of creating change.
My early work at Age UK London made me realise that creating change was a longer battle than originally anticipated. But with my work, every “yes” gave me hope. Every “yes” made me realise that people will be willing to fight for change if you can just prove why it’s the right thing, or (as bad as it sounds) if you can prove it’s something that is beneficial for them too.
This initial experience was part of a long journey that helped me to realise that the “change” I sought doesn’t always happen overnight. “Helping older people” isn’t something we can do as a one off if we want to make a permanent difference.
Luckily there are large numbers of people who are willing to effect change. I see this as I walk about town, I read about it in the news, and I work alongside such people every day.
Yet if we really want to help older people we need to find ways to group together in order to make personal and structural changes to our society. And the best way to do this?
Be the example of the change you want to see in the world to demonstrate the need to fight. Then share your story with others.
We need to fight to stop cuts to funding from much needed services. Ask companies to give more employees more “volunteering days” so we can take time from our busy work weeks to help older people in need. Use our voices to address any injustices. Make time to engage with more charitable causes and politicians who make the important decisions.
And, most importantly, make time to visit your older friends and relatives.
Do all of the above and we might just have a shot at making a society that is inclusive for all older people, as well as changing society for the better generally too.