Telephone befriending woman

Update: Action to support old Londoners by Age UKs in the capital

The network of 23 local Age UKs in London will be a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of older Londoners over the next few weeks and months.

We recently wrote about the launch of emergency activities implemented by local Age UKs to reach those hardest hit at the start of the crisis and the numbers of people in need continues to rise. Age UK Camden are set to support up to 30,000 people in their borough alone. Behind every number is a person. Some vulnerable people may have lots of people worried about them whilst other may be feeling more alone than ever.

New and ongoing activities

Loneliness and anxiety about access to food and medicine are among the main reasons why calls to Age UK Information and Advice lines have doubled or sometimes trebled. Whether it’s through an Age UK shopping service, the delivery of food parcels and in some cases hot food, Age UKs across London are making sure that older people, particularly those living alone and without support networks, are getting what they need.

An army of telephone befrienders are making thousands of wellbeing calls a week and staff and volunteers on Information and Advice lines are providing vital advice and signposting to support. Age UK services are needed more than ever and teams are still providing safe home-based care and have organised a huge programme of social activities online.

Rising to the challenge

Age UKs have redeployed staff into new positions, adapted and scaled up existing activities, redesigned services and implemented completely new activities in a matter of days or even hours.

The Easter weekend

The energy and determination of staff and volunteers has been awe inspiring and many services ran throughout the Easter Bank Holiday weekend with teams spending all hours working at food distribution hubs, calling older people from home or queuing at cash and carrys for food parcel items!

To help people self-isolating over Easter, Age UK Camden distributed 500 Easter Eggs with their regular food parcels whilst Age UK Kensington and Chelsea held an Easter Egg decorating session during their online Easter Party.

Helping people to access food and other essentials

As increasing social distancing measures turned into lockdown the emergency, food parcels delivered by local Age UK volunteers and staff have been crucial. A good diet is vital to our physical and mental health and the parcels are being received by people who have no other means of getting shopping.

In Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets Age UK East London are focussing their food parcel delivery on older people that have recently been discharged from hospital. Age UK Wandsworth had delivered over 800 food parcels by early April; Age UK Kensington and Chelsea are delivering around 600 parcels per week and Age UK Camden over 100 per day!

Many Age UKs are also delivering hot food, largely thanks to the support of local restaurants and catering companies. Age UK Barnet and Age UK Hammersmith and Fulham are just two of the Age UKs delivering hot nutritious meals to the most vulnerable. Age UK Richmond and Age UK Croydon also have food distribution and many of the Age UKs are providing shopping services as well as dropping off prescriptions and medicines. Age UK Waltham Forest volunteers dropped of 57 prescriptions on a single day at the end of March.

Shopping deliveries are also an opportunity to check in with a vulnerable person to see how they might be coping whilst self-isolating. Age UK Sutton, who are co-leading their borough’s emergency response, are one of the Age UK’s doing wellbeing check-ins during their shopping delivery rounds. Supporting access to healthy food isn’t just about shopping and delivery. Many Age UK’s such as Age UK Hammersmith and Fulham have brought their cooking and social activities online. One of these activities is Age UK Richmond’s brilliantly titled ‘Man with a Pan’ sessions for older men.

Information and Advice

The Information and Advice lines for all 23 of the Age UKs in London remain open and in many cases the numbers have increased three fold or even more. Among those making the calls to these telephone lines are older people that have taken part in Age UK activities before, people that have never previously been in touch with their local Age UKs, relatives concerned about an older family member and GPs, Councillors and a range of service providers calling to refer clients to Age UK services. Age UK Barnet received the equivalent of six months’ worth of referrals in the space of 10 days whilst Age UK Lambeth’s advice line was used for 13,000 minutes in just one week!

Telephone befriending

No one should feel like they have been left alone and telephone befriending services have never been so important. All of the local Age UKs are providing calls to check how people are feeling and if they have the support they need. Age UKs small army of volunteers are providing telephone befriending to over 400 people.

Social activities

Maintaining social connections despite social distance is crucial for both our mental and physical health. Social activities are a chance to catch up with friends and an opportunity to ask questions, learn important information but also to take our mind off things.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is currently being read by Age UK Camden’s online book club members and they are also hosting a series of livestreamed concerts. Folk, classical music recitals and more recently jazz concerts have all taken place as part of the concert series. Age UK Enfield’s choir for people with dementia has gone virtual and their livestreamed exercise classes are very popular.

Age UK Kensington and Chelsea have organised a range of social activities from Italian classes to virtual quizzes. Most recently members of the Holland Park Opera performed for their virtual coffee afternoon. Tai Chi and ukulele sing-a-longs have been among a vast number of social activities arranged by Kensington and Chelsea.

The above is just a snapshot to give a sense of the scale of Age UK activities in London and none of this would be possible without the amazing teams of staff and volunteers. If you would like to find out more about your local Age UK you can find their details here. Please consider visiting their donation pages to support their incredible work.

John McGeachy

John is Age UK London's Campaigns Manager.

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