In a world where the Covid-19 epidemic hadn’t happened I would have spent yesterday morning (30th March) with colleagues and around 200 older Londoners listening to the candidates for the next Mayor of London answer questions about how they would make the capital more Age-friendly. When we decided to cancel our Hustings on 4th March it briefly crossed my mind that we might be being too cautious.
A life in lockdown would have been entirely alien for most people three weeks ago but things change fast and they will continue to do so for some time. One constant over the past few weeks has been the determination of local Age UK staff and volunteers across London to be there for the most vulnerable older Londoners at a time when the needs have never been so great. In the past two weeks the 23 local Age UKs in London, which cover 30 boroughs (and the City of London) have transformed their existing activities, started to deliver new action plans in a matter of days and risen to the unprecedented scale of the challenge. They’ve done this under enormous pressure and their leadership has been inspiring.
London already had the country’s highest proportion of older people living in poverty who struggle to access the food they need. One third of all London households in fuel poverty have at least one person over 60 living in them and there were already around 200,000 older Londoners that could go a month without being visited by a friend. For those already facing such challenges the crisis has made things a lot worse. Age UKs already support many of the most vulnerable in their communities but are now taking hundreds of phone calls each day from people that may never have contacted their local Age UK before.
Delivering food and essential items
From Barnet to Westminster Forest 14 local Age UKs are delivering food and essential items directly to older Londoners. Sometimes this might be an extension of an existing shopping service whilst in other cases volunteers have been packing emergency food parcels and care packages to ensure people get what they need. Age UK Wandsworth’s army of volunteers have already delivered over 300 food parcels and in Camden, where around 10,000 older people live alone, Age UK Camden delivered 600 emergency food parcels last week. To life spirits these parcels were delivered with accompanying notes written by local school children.
Age UK Croydon have launched a food and essentials hub and Age UK East London, Richmond and Enfield are just some of the other Age UKs supporting people with shopping and delivering essential food items donated by members of the community. People from across the community have donated food and other items which have been prepared for delivery by hundreds of amazing volunteers. In Enfield, no less than Tottenham Hotspur Manager, José Mourinho, volunteered to pack parcels.
It’s not just food that is being delivered. Volunteers at Age UK Waltham Forest picked up 57 prescriptions for people staying at home on last Wednesday alone.
Staying connected and having someone to talk to is important all of the time but when we cannot physically meet staying in touch, really matters, especially for older Londoners that live alone.
Most local Age UKs in London have telephone befrienders and as I write befrienders will be chatting away to older people across London. Whether it’s Bexley, Merton, or Lewisham and Southwark, conversations will be taking place. People might be discussing their worries about the current situation or simply chatting about the weather, what’s for lunch or last night’s episode of a period drama. A lot is spoken about new technology to connect people- but what about those that have never used a smart phone let alone Zoom? Age UK Hammersmith and Fulham are one example of an Age UK providing one-to-one classes over the phone to help people feel more confident using new technology.
Information and advice
Across 30 boroughs Age UKs are providing information and advice over the phone. Now more than ever these calls are a crucial way to signpost people to essential services and provide answers to questions that people have as the situation changes. In some cases, the number of calls to these helplines has doubled or even trebled.
The past week has seen a range of social activities that might normally take place in the community move online. Age UK Camden have launched an online book club and livestreamed music recitals into people’s homes. Language classes, coffee mornings and even a pub quiz are just some of the social activities that Age UK Kensington and Chelsea have moved online.
A coordinated response
It is vital that efforts to support the most vulnerable are coordinated with a range of partners to ensure that people don’t fall through the gaps. Age UK Sutton and Age UK Lambeth are two examples of local Age UK’s leading the whole-borough coordinated community response in partnership with the local Council and Volunteer Centre.
We’re incredibly proud of the work being undertaken by Age UKs across London. The teams have been working tirelessly seven days a week, showing resolve and amazing fortitude so they can be be there for their communities. Age UKs need all the support they can get so please consider making a donation to your local Age UK. To find your local Age UK visit https://www.ageuk.org.uk/services/in-your-area/ and see how you can donate and volunteer to support people near you.