Cross-border Learning: Belgian and UK partners exchange experiences

In early November, SIG‘s HAIRE team were delighted to welcome our Belgian partners Sofie Schepers and Katrien Serroyen who were visiting Cornwall from Laakdal. After a weekend of cultural and historical activities – taking in Guy Fawkes’ night and a tour of Falmouth’s Tudor castle, Pendennis – they spent a day exchanging experiences with Feock (one of our pilot sites) before travelling to East Sussex pilot sites and meeting our partners at Rother Voluntary Action and East Sussex County Council.

The East Sussex team were keen to give as broad a picture as possible of their locality and took our Belgian colleagues on a tour that took in the quaint beauty of Rye (cobbled streets and the fifteenth century Mermaid Inn), Tilling Green social housing estate, new housing in Winchelsea, and a relatively new community hub – The Hub on the Hill – which runs many classes and services for the community with an emphasis on older residents.

Katrien and Sofie are smiling, standing in front of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall

Katrien and Sofie at Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, Cornwall

The cultural exhange and sharing is important for Interreg2Seas funded projects. They promote cooperation between regions and countries to enhance economic and social development in our own countries and across borders. Our HAIRE 2Seas partners share the common challenge of supporting people to age well in rural areas, where loneliness and isolation and mobility problems are just some of the themes being tackled. Having had very few opportunities to meet due to restrictions brought about by the Covid pandemic, it was inspiring to share experiences and perspectives from nearly three years of HAIRE action and learning in our respective locations.

The HAIRE teams from East Sussex and Belgium are looking over a vista of housing and fields near Rye

Steve, Sue and Naomi from East Sussex taking the Belgians on a tour of their locality

At the initial meeting in Devoran, the village in Feock parish where the council offices are located, the difference between locations felt quite stark to our Belgian colleagues: Laakdal is a municipality with a population of around 16,000, whereas the population in Feock Parish numbers around 3,700. The larger East Sussex pilot sites felt more familar to the Belgian team. Yet one of the most difficult challenges for all locations has been reaching members of the community who may be in need, or may benefit from HAIRE’s activities, but who are almost “hidden.”

The extended HAIRE team pictured in the "warm space" at Feock parish council

The extended HAIRE team pictured in a community space at Feock parish council

However, as a result of the emphasis the HAIRE toolkit placed on listening to residents, the needs of the older population as a whole can be better taken into account. Now that HAIRE and its ethos of co-creation and listening is familiar to each department and area of responsibility, the views, opinions, needs and ideas of residents are being heard, and this has led to subtle changes in the system. Different methods to listen and co-create products and services have been introduced in all of our pilot sites to ensure their older residents are included in important decisions.

Feock now has an information and help line, originating out of the Covid pandemic, but which has become a staple of the parish. A legacy of HAIRE is that parish-based decisions take into account any impact on the older population in a way that they may not have been so obviously before. It is the same in Laakdal: the planning department, for example, is aware of the way its decisions impact the elderly – and they are now prepared to consult the HAIRE team for information about how they might best move forward with their works.

East Sussex partners have done an excellent job by instigating local and national design innovations after working with the RSA, the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce (“committed to a world that is resilient, rebalanced and regenerative, where everyone can fulfil their potential.”) Their Hastings and Rother Ageing Network meets monthly to network with local organisations, groups and individuals with a focus on how they can work together to make Rother and Hastings healthy and supportive places to grow older in.

From a longer term, strategic standpoint, Feock has made the decision to work with partners to develop a formal age-friendly community as our partners in East Sussex have done. The Guided Conversations in pilot sites illustrated the multiple dimensions of ageing well, which prompted the need for a holistic system response, and the UK arm of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Communities programme is well aligned with the aims of the HAIRE project.

As Katrien and Sofie pointed out, the pilot site comparisons were useful, showing commonalities and differences and making them reflect on what went well in their own communities – and how “HAIRE thinking” could be built into longer term planning.

“Feock felt very isolated in comparison to Laakdal. The lack of public transport, the lack of shops, the very rural environment, the huge amount of second homes … I would think that building the community would be very difficult. Yet they succeed to organise meetings where 80 people attend and they make the most of small things (the red phone booths made into small libraries). Well done Feock! Rye felt more like Laakdal. What stood out was that both pilot sites are much more in contact with the church. In Belgium the church doesn’t organise much and in our pilot site the church isn’t involved. What was also different is the health part. I think that in the UK the health partners and health “input” is bigger than in Belgium. In Laakdal it’s more community building and well being than health. What I think both pilot sites did very well is thinking about life after HAIRE right from the beginning of the project. I believe that that will make it possible to continue and embed HAIRE better.”

The Belgian team are pictured with people from Feock and the University of Exeter - and the HAIRE mascot, a Corgi called Treacle

The Belgian team with Feock and the University of Exeter – and the HAIRE mascot, Treacle

L’impact du projet HAIRE : un portrait de notre site pilote à Feock (Translation)

Below is the French translation of an earlier blog post in English detailing the progress of HAIRE in the parish of Feock, one of our UK pilot sites. Thanks as always to our University of Exeter intern, Valentine Naude.

Cathy Whitmore, responsable administrative dans la paroisse civile de Feock au Royaume-Uni, est une interlocutrice fondamentale pour les différents membres de sa communauté. Durant cette dernière année, elle a passé le plus clair de son temps à répondre aux appels téléphoniques et à mettre en place des mesures d’assistance pour les membres de sa communauté – tout au long des divers confinements ainsi qu’au terme de ceux-ci. Elle a également rassemblé les points de vue de tous les intervenants qui jouent un rôle dans le perfectionnement et le développement de produits et de services visant à améliorer la vie des personnes âgées – et avant tout, les points de vue des personnes âgées elles-mêmes. Le projet HAIRE a donné l’opportunité aux résidents de parler de sujets qui leur tiennent à cœur.

Pendant cette période difficile, le projet a donné de la motivation, de l’énergie, et de l’assurance à tous ceux qui ont fait du bénévolat et travaillé au sein de la communauté, y compris les commerces, les écoles et les groupes religieux. L’esprit communautaire a été mis à rude épreuve tout au long de la pandémie ; dans un précédent article qui traitait de la bonté des bénévoles au plus fort de la crise COVID, nous remarquions que 150 bénévoles se sont portés volontaires pour venir en aide aux autres villageois. Pour cette raison, Feock n’a pas eu la moindre difficulté à recruter des « Aidants HAIRE » – il s’agit des bénévoles qui viennent à la rencontre des personne âgées pour mieux comprendre leurs attentes et leurs besoins. Il y a même eu un surplus de 50% en matière d’Aidants HAIRE recrutés dans la paroisse civile, ce qui a surpassé toutes les attentes.

Une interview récente, réalisée à Feock avec la bénévole Sue Thomas, est parue durant l’évènement en ligne « Virtual Voyage », créé par Interreg 2 Mers – qui finance notre projet – à l’occasion de la Journée de la Coopération Européenne le 21 septembre 2021. Sue a rejoint le projet dans l’intention de venir en aide à la communauté locale. Dans le cadre du processus de préparation des Aidants HAIRE, elle a suivi des séances de formation visant à inculquer aux bénévoles des compétences d’écoute, d’interview, de protection et d’autres encore, qui pourraient bénéficier non seulement aux individus, mais aussi à l’ensemble de la communauté. Alors qu’Interreg mettait en valeur le travail de tous ceux qui se trouvent sur le terrain à travers la zone européenne des 2 Mers, nous avons eu un aperçu des résultats obtenus par les bénévoles de Feock. Vous pouvez accéder à l’interview de Sue sur YouTube ici.

Selon Cathy, le projet a créé un point de ralliement pour les personnalités notables de la communauté – celles qui tissent des liens sociaux et celles qui les influencent. Il s’agit de personnes qui faisaient déjà du bénévolat, en proposant et en dirigeant des activités de groupe, et les membres des conseils, par exemple – toutes des personnes qui ont un intérêt direct dans l’amélioration de la vie de nos séniors. Travailler ensemble sur le thème central du bien vieillir permettra à terme d’ouvrir la voie à des solutions plus solides et interconnectées. La paroisse civile de Feock est constituée de plusieurs communautés, et le projet HAIRE leur a permis de se considérer comme une seule famille de villages réunis dans la paroisse civile de Feock, avec des problèmes et des préoccupations similaires, plutôt que des entités indépendantes sur une échelle d’importance et de statut, afin que plus de personnes puissent bénéficier des initiatives locales.

Le projet HAIRE a inspiré ses nouveaux participants et les a incités à présenter leurs idées et proposer leur aide. Un projet intergénérationnel a été lancé par un artiste local qui a découvert le projet HAIRE en discutant avec l’équipe, et ils sont maintenant en train de planifier un « Festival Memory Shanty ». Les séniors de la communauté feront le récit de leur vie et partageront leur point de vue unique avec des écoliers, qui travailleront avec des musiciens pour composer des chansons de marin basées sur les vies réelles de leur communauté. De manière générale, le projet HAIRE a donné l’opportunité aux gens de faire preuve de créativité et d’originalité – il n’y a « pas de mauvaise idée ». Il y a quelque chose de très puissant à voir les idées des uns et des autres se transformer en action positive.

Les conversations avec les participants ont amélioré notre compréhension des changements qui jalonnent le cours d’une vie, et de leur impact à un niveau multigénérationnel. Le vieillissement nous impacte tous, pas seulement les « personnes âgées ». Le danger d’un monde qui se rétrécit au fur et à mesure que l’on vieillit, nous exposant à la solitude, est largement reconnu. Sachant cela, les individus peuvent commencer plus tôt à planifier leur avenir, avec la participation d’organismes d’assistance.

Tous les sites pilotes visent à améliorer les services qui sont déjà en place et qui jouent un rôle important, ainsi qu’à établir un lien avec eux. A Feock, l’importance et la disponibilité croissantes de la prescription sociale permet aux résidents d’être dirigés vers des activités locales pour une multitude de raisons différentes, par exemple la perte d’un être cher, l’anxiété ou la solitude. Les bénévoles du projet HAIRE sont disponibles pour se mettre en binôme avec des membres de la communauté en fonction de leurs intérêts – par exemple la natation, le jardinage ou la promenade. Les bénévoles les accompagnent en leur tenant la main (métaphoriquement) pour les aider à découvrir ou redécouvrir certaines activités sociales, et ainsi développer confiance et relations. L’équipe a développé une liste « Que se passe-t-il ? » et un « Répertoire des groupes, services, et assistances téléphoniques » pouvant être envoyés aux résidents, qui sont plus tard contactés par téléphone et se voient offrir la possibilité de conseils supplémentaires et d’assistance s’ils en ont besoin à l’avenir. Toutes les activités organisées dans la paroisse civile sont annoncées et révisées de façon régulière dans un format accessible et inclusif.

Les ateliers CREATE qui ont eu lieu pendant la période estivale ont rassemblé tous ces individus dans un espace de tolérance pour qu’ils puissent partager leurs idées, exprimer leurs opinions, et se sentir écoutés et respectés. Le projet HAIRE a pu répondre aux remarques et à la demande en solutions rapides qui pourraient être développées sur le long terme. Il faut noter que le travail de vérification autour de la pertinence des services existants et le travail de création de nouveaux services ne s’arrêteront pas quand l’étude touchera à sa fin. Les communautés impliquées sont en train de développer un type de compétences et d’opportunités qui peuvent réellement changer les choses, et qui pourront évoluer avec leur temps jusqu’à garantir une culture d’écoute et d’apprentissage aussi naturelle que florissante, qui engendrera une action positive et adaptée aux personnes âgées.

Le projet HAIRE fait appel à ses intervenants à intervalles réguliers et de façon différente tout au long du projet, tandis que nous continuons de promouvoir un changement global et durable du système ainsi que d’amorcer et de développer des modèles innovatifs de prestation des services. Dans cette perspective, nous organisons régulièrement des réunions de groupe pour établir une ligne directrice, par exemple la « HAIRE Action Group Meeting » de la paroisse civile de Feock, qui a eu lieu en Septembre 2021.

The impact of HAIRE: A profile from our Cornish pilot site in Feock, UK

Cathy Whitmore, HAIRE’s administrative officer in the Parish of Feock, UK, is a key point of contact for community members. Over the last year, Cathy has spent her time fielding phone calls and organising support for community members throughout the various lockdowns and beyond, and collating points of view from all stakeholders invested in the improvement and development of products and services that aspire to support and enhance the lives of older people – most importantly from older people themselves. HAIRE has offered residents an opportunity to speak up on matters close to their hearts.

The project has provided a sense of purpose, energy, and confidence during a difficult period for those volunteering or working in the community, including businesses, schools and faith groups. The spirit of community has been tested throughout the pandemic; in a previous post discussing the kindness of volunteers at the peak of the covid crisis, 150 volunteers come forward to help their fellow villagers. Because of that, Feock had no difficulties recruiting “HAIRE Enablers” – these are the volunteers who meet with older people to understand their needs and service desires. In fact, there was a 50% over-recruitment of volunteer HAIRE Enablers in the parish, which exceeded all expectations.

A recent interview with volunteer Sue Thomas in Feock featured in our project funder Interreg 2 Seas‘ “Virtual Voyage” online event, which was created for European Cooperation Day on September 21, 2021. Sue joined the project in order to help and support her local community. As part of the HAIRE volunteer preparation process, Sue took part in training sessions designed to provide skills in listening, interviewing, safeguarding and other skills that not only benefit the individual, but the community as a whole. With Interreg showcasing the work of people on the ground all over the 2 Seas area in Europe, we were given a glimpse into Feock volunteers’ achievements. Sue’s interview can be accessed on YouTube here.

Cathy said the project has created a rallying point for key figures in the community – social weavers and influencers. These are people already involved in volunteering, offering and running group activities, and council members, for example – all people who have a vested interested in making the lives of our older people better. To work together on the central theme of healthy ageing will ultimately enable stronger and more linked up solutions. Feock Parish is made up of several communities, and HAIRE has enabled them to envisage themselves as a family of villages within Feock Parish, with similar issues and concerns, rather than separate entities on a scale of importance and status, so that more people can benefit from local initiatives.

HAIRE has given inspiration and motivated fresh personnel to come forward with ideas and offers of support. An intergenerational project has been initiated by a local artist who discovered HAIRE through conversations with the team and they are now putting together plans for a “Memory Shanty Festival.” Older people in the community will share their life stories and unique points of view with schoolchildren, who will work with musicians to produce sea shanties based on real lives in their community. In general, HAIRE has provided people with an opportunity to be creative and innovative – there is “no such thing as a wrong idea”. There is something very powerful in seeing one’s ideas turn into positive action.

The conversations with participants have provided a better understanding of life changes and their impact on a multi-generational level. Ageing impacts us all, not just “older adults”. There is widespread recognition of the danger of a shrinking life world as we age, which puts us at risk of loneliness. Knowing this, it means individuals can start to plan for the future earlier, with the involvement of supporting organisations.

All pilot sites aim to improve the services already in place that have value and link in to them. In Feock, social prescribing’s growing importance and availability means that residents can be signposted to local activities for a range of different reasons, including bereavement, anxiety or loneliness. HAIRE’s volunteers are available “buddy up” with community members depending on their interest – such as swimming, gardening or walking.

The volunteers provide a guiding ‘hand-hold’ to help people discover or return to social activities, developing trust and relationships. The team has created a ‘What’s On’ list and ‘Directory of Groups, Service, and Helplines’ which can be sent to residents, who are later contacted by telephone and given the offer for further advice and support if required in the future. All the activities in the parish are advertised and reviewed on a regular basis in an accessible and inclusive format. They even advertise opportunities in a community phone box.

The CREATE workshops held throughout the summer months brought people together in a safe place to share ideas, voice opinions and feel listened to and respected. HAIRE has been able to respond to comments and requests to make quick wins in the short term with opportunities to grow in the long term.

We are all thankful for the work of the amazing volunteers involved in this project. During June’s National Volunteer Month, service users were asked for any comments they would like to pass on to Feock’s volunteers as well as posting on Facebook pages for anyone who would like to thank a member of the community for their support. A beautiful “thank you tree” was put together by a talented resident and used as a backdrop to the CREATE workshop sessions.

Importantly, the work to look at the relevance of services and the creation of new ones won’t just “stop” when the research comes to an end. The communities involved are developing the sorts of skills and opportunities that can really make a difference and can evolve with the times to ensure an organic, thriving culture of listening and learning for positive, age-friendly action with the voices of residents at the fore.

The HAIRE project involves its stakeholders at regular intervals and in different ways throughout the project as we continue to pursue widespread, sustainable system change and to initiate and support innovative models of service delivery. One element of this is to hold regular steering group meetings, such as the Parish of Feock’s HAIRE Action Group Meeting. This took place in September 2021.

Neighbourhood Analysis: Research in a Tea Garden

The Neighbourhood Analysis is one of the three tools being used in HAIRE to help us understand healthy ageing in rural places. The University of Exeter research team were able to visit a local pilot site in Feock parish and listen to what people had to say.

Feock’s neighbourhood analysis took place outdoors in Linden Hey Garden Tea Room in August. Linden Hey has been an important meeting place for people in the Feock parish, and for that reason might well provide a future site for other activities and meet ups. We were able to safely social distance, with three round tables at which community members were seated.

It’s a beautiful setting, and during the session we were joined by small birds, mostly robins, flying in and out of the garden. In one session, a vole even peeped out at us. We talked about the neighbourhood as we drank tea from red and gold floral china cups and ate lemon drizzle cake made by the owner of the tea garden (there may or may not have been scones with cream and jam. Local tip: jam first in Cornwall!)

Feock’s HAIRE Project Co-ordinator and Administration Assistant, Bex and Esther, put the session together. Bex put a flip chart on the glass windows of the cafe and the analysis began. This is a tool developed by our Dutch partners at Solidarity University and will be used by all the pilot sites in the HAIRE project. It involves the creation of a “rich picture” in words through brainstorming and mapping the neighbourhood. People were asked to talk about:

  • Local people who share knowledge, skills, experiences, offerings and expertise with others in the parish,
  • Physical elements of the community such as community buildings and meeting rooms where activities take place and where people organise gatherings and meetings,
  • Networks in which people can communicate in a less formal manner and the physical places where people can meet to discuss local problems and challenges,
  • Collaborative forms of organisation and local partnerships connecting the community and its members – for example, connections promoting and supporting positive change,
  • Associations, community groups, recreational groups, clubs, tenant organisations, and other services run by institutions, such as schools, health centres, general practitioners and emergency services,
  • Economic connections in the community, including local companies, business leaders and entrepreneurs, such as supermarkets, local shops and tourism related companies,
  • Identifying important places, traditions, and activities that are of cultural meaning to the community, and
  • History and heritage, including places and stories of particular local interest as well as past processes, plans, and efforts in community development.

There are many individuals who support others in the parish of Feock already. The trust and relationships within the community are important to recognise. This exercise helped us gain an understanding into these relationships as well. Questions and comments flowed, and during a break, people asked more questions about the project and chatted about local planning, who was moving into the area and other local issues.

The resources collated during the sessions will be used and and built on during the rest of the project. The information collated will provide a useful starting point to link and support, wherever possible, individuals to activities, groups and organisations they may not have been aware of and identify venues or spaces that may be appropriate for new activities, groups and organisations.

We continue to learn so much about our pilot sites from the communities themselves. It is an integral part of making sure that any innovation, new product or service is relevant, because it will come from the very people it is designed to serve.