In the past year, my team and I have met with more older people than ever before, travelling over 20,000 miles to reach out to over 200 groups and more than 5,300 older people.
These Engagement events have taken place in settings such as day centres and social clubs, care homes and extra care housing complexes, support groups, dementia cafes and in people’s own homes.
Over the past month alone, my team and I have met with older people from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures. Recent engagement events have included a visit to Cwmbran, where we met with 55 carers attending a special celebration to mark Carers’ Week.
Most of those attending were older women who care for dependents including children with mental health issues, parents or husbands.
While events such as these provide carers with an opportunity to socialise, make new friends and learn about support available, they are also a wonderful way of recognising the huge impact and contribution they make to the Welsh economy.
It is estimated that older people contribute over £4 billion to the Welsh economy each year as unpaid carers, providing essential support to loved ones and friends, often to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing. This is something that is often not recognised.
As the South Wales valleys have changed so much in recent years, the huge role the coalmines played in the lives of many older Welsh people is often overlooked. They were often the glue that held communities together, with social clubs, events and excursions for workers and families consolidating the strong bonds that were created among those that worked underground together.
While most closed down in South Wales over 20 years ago, the Coal Industry and Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) is helping to fill the voids in communities where their closure had a massive impact. I visited a group inNewbridge recently, where members spoke with me about the importance of the link CISWO provides to the area’s coalmining past.
In total, CISWO now runs 15 clubs in former South Wales coalfield areas, which give members a chance to socialise with other women whose loved ones worked underground, as well as providing support, advice on a variety of issues and regular excursions.
Other recent Engagements have included a visit to Monmouthshire, to learn about work being carried out in the Local Authority area for people living with dementia.
Council staff are trialling a person-centred approach, which aims to increase the independence of individuals living with dementia, with the aim of saving money on the cost of formal care packages.
This kind of important work will increase awareness of dementia and help us to build communities that offer the right support and make Wales a better place to live for the 45,500 people living with the condition.
My team also attended the launch of a report that captures the voices of older Chinese people living in Cardiff and its surrounding areas.
The survey, conducted by the Cardiff Chinese Elderly Association, recorded concerns over access to and knowledge of social and public services in the city and problems organising things like eye tests and GP appointments because of language difficulties.
Another long-held wish of Chinese people from the area is to have a sheltered accommodation for Chinese-only residents in Cardiff.
It is important that all older people are allowed to have their say on the issues that matter to them and the survey results will play an important role in ensuring that older Chinese people in Cardiff have their voices heard.
I was joined by many of the older people from across Wales that I have met and spoken with as part of my Engagement Roadshow, as well as stakeholders, politicians and First Minister, Carwyn Jones, for the launch of my second impact and reach report at the Senedd recently.
‘Driving Change for Older People’ highlights the action I have taken during 2013-14 to make Wales a good place to grow older.
The report provides details of wide range of work my team and I have undertaken during the past year and the support I have provided directly to older people. Through my Enquiries and Support Team, for example, I have provided help and assistance 795 older people, often individuals who require complex case support who are in distress and in situations of high vulnerability, where only my intervention can assist.
The most common subjects my team were contacted about over the last 12 months were Residential Care, Healthcare and Community Services.
Older people have also consistently raised with me the need for a stronger focus on key local and community-based services and facilities, such as buses and community transport, public toilets, public seating, outdoor areas, libraries, leisure facilities and community and day centres.
My impact and reach report outlines the steps I have taken over the last year to grow understanding about the importance and impact of these services, and the strong case I have made for protecting community services, which are essential to the health, wealth and wellbeing of older people.
This work will continue this summer, when I will publish a toolkit for older people which will help them to engage effectively with Local Authorities and influence the decisions that affect their lives. Alongside this, I will publish guidance for Local Authorities to ensure that they understand their duties around engagement and consultation with older people and fully involve them as decisions about the future of essential community services are made.
You can download a copy of my impact and reach report at www.olderpeoplewales.com or request a copy by calling 08442 640670
By Sarah Rochira