East Sussex Conference: Innovations in Healthy Ageing

View from the De Warr Pavilion

19th October 2022 saw our colleagues at Rother Voluntary Action and East Sussex County Council hold a Healthy Ageing social innovation workshop at the De Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea. The conference brought the community up to speed on what the team has achieved so far through HAIRE. It was a thought provoking day, with our partners not only sharing innovations devised so far, but also brainstorming with the community about new place-based innovations for healthy ageing.

Kate Leyshon stands with two colleagues from RVA

HAIRE’s PI Catherine Leyshon with colleagues from Rother Voluntary Action

Collaboration between VCSOs, public and private sector and older people continues to lie at the heart of much-needed changes to the design and delivery of services, and it was exciting to see so many people present who were clearly committed to improving the lives of older people. From the start, there was a lot of energy in the room, and there was a very high level of interaction and ideation throughout.

Four key themes emerged from the HAIRE project’s Guided Conversations and form the basis for innovations in Rye and Robertsbridge and beyond: Loneliness and Isolation; Transitions and Life changes; Planning for the Future and Staying Active.

A tweet describing the Life Transitions service briefly and calling for volunteers

The Life Transitions Service pilot was launched in summer 2022

One result (that crosses multiple themes, in fact) is the team piloting a “Life Transitions Service.” This has, at its heart, the simple truth that the further ahead you can plan, the better the outcome. The Guided Conversations showed that sometimes, the decisions people make when moving to rural areas are not always ideal, as they can fail to take their ageing needs and later life changes into account – and end up encountering loneliness, isolation and other difficulties.

The aim of the service is to help people arrive in later life as prepared as they could be, and to provide a listening ear and a signposting service to help individuals make important decisions that can help make a positive impact on later life. Volunteers have been recruited and trained in using the approach as an example of a new model of service focused on prevention. The volunteer model for the Life Transitions service is being rolled out next year, and the team are considering ways to extend the service beyond their local area.

Designers were asked: How might we create joyful place-based opportunities for people across generations to improve planetary health?

Another innovation scheme in progress is the RSA/HAIRE Design Competition. The RSA – the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce – is all about social impact, and the competition includes factors that go beyond personal, social and community issues. The partnership came up with a competition for design students to combine planetary health and ways to work intergenerationally to inspire healthier communities.

Winning designs will be tested in the summer of 2023, and included in the Age Friendly programme to ensure a long-lasting legacy. In parallel, there will be a community design competition, which was kicked off at the workshop: “How might we create fun opportunities in local communities for younger & older people to come together and improve each other’s health & the health of the planet?” All sorts of ideas were mooted: from Ready, Steady, Cook at the local food bank to a rickshaw club for greener, healthier, intergenerational transport.

Attendees all smiling as they write down their ideas for green healthy ageing initiatives

Kudos to product design student Jacob, who travelled down from Loughborough to hear all about HAIRE in order to better shape his design team’s submission.

Regarding strategic, system level innovation, East Sussex continues to develop a formal ‘age-friendly community’. The Guided Conversation analysis illustrated the multi-dimensional and interconnected dimensions of ageing well, which prompted the need for a holistic system response. The team (ESCC and RVA) worked with Rother District Council  – who are an official observer partner – to write an application to join the UK arm of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Communities programme, as their approaches and domains of interest are well-aligned. The application was approved by the Rother District Council Cabinet and then by the Centre for Ageing Better, who run the UK AFC Network. The HAIRE Project collaborated with Rother District Council, local volunteers, and other stakeholders to develop the local AFC programme, holding a visioning workshop with key councillors and other local stakeholders to identify and agree priorities. These were presented and discussed at the conference, which finished on a futuristic note and a brainstorming session creating innovations 50 years into the future.

It was an inspiring day! 

Paul Bolton standing at the podium at the HAIRE conference

“It was great to bring aspects of the HAIRE partnership together and highlight the wider dimensions of the project. Our aim was to focus on the innovations to boost the momentum around Healthy Ageing going forwards and to set out the HAIRE legacy.” – Paul Bolton

 

Kate’s Grand Tour Part 4: Farewell Belgium

This last instalment of our PI Kate’s travel blog covers her last day in Belgium in April 2022, the final stop of a ‘grand tour’ in which Kate met members of the community through various meetings, lunches and gatherings. Sadly, the popular singer Kate mentions below – Juul Kabas – has since died unexpectedly. You can read a tribute to Juul here. 

On Wednesday it’s time to meet the Mayor of Laakdal, Tine Gielis, and Alderman Gerda Broeckx. Gerda has specific oversight of HAIRE and is keen to hear about progress and successes, of which there are many. We meet for lunch with a group of older people who gather regularly for a subsidised meal and conversation. The atmosphere is very convivial.

The Mayor, Alderman, Laakdal Team and I discuss the familiar issues of community engagement, encouraging younger volunteers and making sure that everyone’s voice is heard. We also explore how new models of service design and delivery can bring together the public sector and the local community groups and volunteers. I also meet Freddie, Laakdal’s Super Volunteer, who does a great deal in his community. He is part of HAIRE and has conducted several Guided Conversations. Stalwarts like Freddie can be found in every community, and are greatly valued.

My last day in Belgium sees me attending the Seniors’ Party, a twice-yearly event which, pre-Covid, used to attract 600 older people from the municipality for entertainment, drinks and a sandwich lunch. About 250 people attend this lunch, seated at long tables set out in a sports hall decorated with fairy lights around the walls. There is a stage, lighting and an impressive sound system. Alderman Gerda Broeckx makes a speech about HAIRE. The entertainment is provided by Juul Kabas who sings popular sing-along classics and gets everyone clapping. Freddie is also volunteering at this event and tells me that Juul was badly affected during lock down, unable to do shows. Juul signs off his set with the phrase “If you lose your smile, you lose your heart”. The Seniors’ Party was a model of community action, with everyone working hard to create a joyous atmosphere.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to East Sussex and Belgium. I met people who I have only previously met over Teams, and I relished seeing them in action at the various events I attended. Everyone worked hard to make me welcome, which I really appreciated. There’s amazing work going on in our pilot sites and I am really looking forward to a few more trips before the project ends in March 2023. A huge THANK YOU to everyone involved in planning and making this trip a reality.

Kate’s Grand Tour, Part 2 of 4: Arriving in Laakdal, Belgium

Professor Catherine (Kate) Leyshon, our Principal Investigator, was able to travel for the first time since our project launch in early 2020. She referred to her trip as the “Grand Tour”! We asked her to write about her journey to East Sussex and subsequent visit to Laakdal in Belgium, and give us a writerly flavour of what those places look and feel like, since we’ve been unable to visit. Here’s part two: her first glimpse of Laakdal. More to follow!

I arrive on the Eurostar in Brussels and pick up a hire car for the drive to Diest, the town where I am staying about 25 minutes away from the municipality of Laakdal, in the province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises the towns of Eindhout, Veerle, Vorst, Varendonk and Vorst-Meerlaar, all of which are involved with HAIRE. Diest is a pretty, well-kept town with narrow cobbled streets and new buildings tastefully blended into its historic town-centre. I take a walk up through a leafy park and back through the town square, lined with canopied restaurants where diners are enjoying the warm spring evening.

The next day, I drive to Vorst in Laakdal. Initially my car’s sat nav wants to take me to Vorst near Brussels but I realise this is in completely the wrong direction! I drive out of Diest and I’m quickly into the flat, farmed landscape of this part of Belgium. The road is straight and quiet. As I reach Vorst, I notice how quiet and tidy it is. We are meeting in the fantastic Gemeentehuis. Recently constructed and serving the whole municipality, it contains the library, a post office, meeting rooms, the only bank machine in town and some local council functions.

I meet four volunteers who have some fascinating insights into their experience of using the HAIRE toolkit. They are very generous with their knowledge, and – with a retired Alderman amongst their number – we have an in-depth discussion about new models of service design and delivery. The issues in this part of rural Belgium are familiar across the project: people growing older sometimes become less confident and stop going out as much. They become isolated and suffer some consequences to their overall wellbeing. The Guided Conversation has helped to reconnect them to the community. The partners are especially looking forward to taking ownership of a new minibus; transport here is very limited – it’s no surprise that getting around is a problem in all our pilot sites.

Kate’s Grand Tour Part One: A Visit to Rother

Professor Catherine Leyshon, our Principal Investigator, was able to travel for the first time since our project launch in early 2020. She referred to her trip as the “Grand Tour”! We asked her to write about her journey to East Sussex and subsequent visit to Laakdal in Belgium, and give us a writerly flavour of what those places look and feel like, since we’ve been unable to visit. Here’s part one, starting in Rye, East Sussex. More posts to follow!

I arrive at Rye station in afternoon spring sunshine opposite Jempsons, which looks to be a well-stocked grocery store/deli with attractive displays. It’s a short walk to the Ship Inn through the historic redbrick town centre. It’s rush-hour in Rye, with children eagerly getting on the train home from school. The offices of the Bluebird care agency remind me that Rye has an aging population, many of whom suffer from isolation and loneliness. This is why Rye is part of HAIRE, along with the nearby town of Robertsbridge, both in the county of East Sussex.

I turn off the delightfully named Wish Street onto Wish Ward in the direction of a disused factory, a piece of industrial heritage referencing the area’s past. A former bakery, it now houses a pottery. I walk past picturesque redbrick and half shingle houses. The pretty townhouse along a cobbled street with a new Jaguar parked outside tells a story that I’m only too familiar with from Cornwall where the picturesque rural setting can hide great disparities in wealth. Mermaid Street, with its ancient, rounded cobbles, opens up to my left. The Ship Inn – my destination after 7 hours traveling from Cornwall, sits in an attractive riverside location. After dumping my bags, I go for a run along a levee between the river and a nature reserve. It’s a lovely part of the world – startlingly flat compared to Cornwall.

The next day, I meet four volunteers from HAIRE and the team from East Sussex County Council, Rother Voluntary Action, and Lorna Ford, the new Deptuty CEO from Rother District Council. We all feel thrilled to be able to meet up after two years on Teams. In that time, 16 volunteers have been recruited and trained, 76 Guided Conversations have been held and more than 200 hours of information about health and wellbeing have been used in the research analysis. Key themes prioritised through the innovation process are loneliness, accessing information, life transitions, and staying active.

We have a great meeting, discussing the volunteer experience of using the HAIRE toolkit – especially the Guided Conversation – and the legacy of HAIRE which will be felt through the pilot projects in Age Friendly Rother, now officially a part of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Community programme.

The eight domains of Age Friendly Communities are illustrated. They are: Communication and Information, Community and Healthcare, Transportation, Housing, Civic Participation and Employment, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, and Respect and Social Inclusion. 

Above: the eight domains are Communication and Information, Community and Healthcare, Transportation, Housing, Civic Participation and Employment, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, and Respect and Social Inclusion. 

 

 

The Latest News from Poperinge

The following article, translated from the Dutch, appeared in the local publication, Stadskrant (“the City Newspaper”), in Poperinge, Belgium in February, 2022, informing local citizens of the work undertaken so far by Poperinge’s HAIRE team.

Poperinge is a partner in the HAIRE project, which stands for Healthy Ageing through Innovation in Rural Europe. The project aims to improve the wellbeing of seniors in Poperinge and its sub-municipalities, and to break through isolation and loneliness in the countryside. Numerous volunteers and professionals in healthcare have been involved in the project.

75 people over sixty were interviewed in Poperinge and smaller surrounding areas. The interviews mapped out the wellbeing of each participant, and allowed the drawing up of an individual action plan. The interviews are also part of a developing ‘community report’, with suggestions for all kinds of areas for improvement for the neighbourhood. Wellbeing is a word that is important in everyone’s life and at every age; meaningful and fun activities for the elderly help create a positive community atmosphere.

Four volunteers from Nestor services, the Local Service Center De Bres, WZC Huize Proventier and the Social Service went out with an extensive questionnaire asking about general well-being, what seniors think of their neighbourhood, what activities can be organized to help them age better and how everyone can benefit from this. A number of questions about the individual’s social network were also discussed.

The interviews lasted one and a half to two hours. The interviewee could choose from telephone or face to face sessions in person to complete the survey. Of course, all safety measures regarding coronavirus were observed during personal visits. Participation was entirely without obligation and participants were able to choose between a thank you gift voucher of 20 euros or two free meals delivered to the home by WZC Huize Proventier.

“Although I was armed with a mouth mask, safety screen and hand sanitiser, I was warmly welcomed everywhere by the fifteen interviewees despite Covid,” says Luc, who is 68 years old and volunteers at Local Services Center De Bres and WZC Huize Proventier. “Many older people found it a pity that services such as banks, post offices and shops are disappearing from their local areas. It’s vital for them that the city invests in basic services like neighbourhood salons or shops, which then become the beating heart of the village.”

MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES

The person-centred topics in the survey addressed the emotional well-being of the seniors. It emerged that they need a listening ear for emotional problems and for things that are not going well in the specific care of older people. An effort is needed to enable more people to grow old with good mental health and well-being. Luc clarifies: “Participation in meaningful activities such as volunteering, culture promotion, computer education and in some cases staying longer at work are here clearly reflected in the answers.” Concerns about caring for later, dementia and early care planning were also discussed. Many seniors want to age actively. “Local cooperation is of great importance. It is important to gain insight into loneliness in all its aspects. Everything starts with making contacts. As a result, all of a senior citizens’ associations, including community workers, the police and the postman, are of great importance,” said Luc.

TO STAY INFORMED

Regular contacts with neighbours, friends, family and caregivers are crucial. Luc concludes: “On average, we noticed an increase in the number of relatives in the social network of seniors, but at the same time a decrease in the number of non-relatives. As you get older, your world becomes smaller. People around you die or become less mobile, so that they disappear from your social network. It is important that the seniors are provided with resources so they can stay informed and be involved in the world around them.”

You can read the article in its original language below:

HAIRE is about “a good old age”: project progress in Laakdal

Thanks to our colleagues in Laakdal for sending us a news article which was published after a large stakeholder event discussing the co-creation and prioritisation of local social innovations. Below is a translation into English of the article by Annelies Frederickx published on Wednesday 20th October, 2021. You can read the original article at source here.

The seniors of Laakdal debate four themes: mobility, leisure, caring for tomorrow and communication — © AF

Laakdal is the first municipality to undertake the European participation project HAIRE.

HAIRE’s pilot site in Laakdal involves a partnership between the local government and Welzijnszorg Kempen, an organisation specialising in the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable in society, including older people. In Laakdal, 28% of the population is senior, so the municipality is ideally suited to explore the possibilities of co-creation with older people. There is also interest from adjacent areas, Mol and Herselt, in working with HAIRE.

Katrien Serroyen of Welzijnszone Kempen takes an active part in the debate. — © AF

The first part of the started in September 2020 with a neighbourhood analysis (a mapping of resources with residents in the neighbourhood; see this earlier blog post for an overview of what this entailed in Feock, UK, one of our other pilot sites.) Volunteers were then recruited to carry out “Guided Conversations.” Sixteen volunteers set out from the community to interview 71 older people. The respondents were 60, 70, 80 and 90 years old and they lived all over Laakdal. The Guided Conversations contain place- and person-related questions, as well as a section on personal empowerment. The results yielded a long list of more than a hundred action points. In consultation with the municipal council, the project team has filtered four priorities from this: mobility, leisure, care for tomorrow (dementia and early care planning) and communication. The older people surveyed all expressed the wish to rename the HAIRE project ‘A good old age in Laakdal’, as the English acronym did not resonate as strongly.

Sofie Schepers is an expert community-oriented care provider in Laakdal. — © AF

During the kick-off in the local meeting centre, some thirty people over sixty set to work on the four priority themes. In each domain, they identified the most important difficulties and looked for possible solutions. Rosa Wilms took an active part in the debate as she has been involved from the start: “When I read the call in the municipal information sheet, I immediately applied to be a volunteer”, Rosa Wilms reveals. “I was alone and this seemed to be an ideal pastime for me. I like to chat and through the project I was also able to make new contacts. I had a total of ten conversations, four online and six at home. They were all intense but wonderful conversations.”

Rosa Wilms has been involved in every phase of the project. — © AF

“My chats showed that older people in Laakdal struggle with a lack of respect from neighbours, young people and from traffic”, Rosa Wilms adds. “Of course there’s not much a municipal council can do about that; we all have to work on that together. I completely agree with the four chosen themes. Choices must of course be made and it seems realistic to me that the municipal council can achieve things in those four domains. The most important thing for me, however, is that we are being listened to.”

Difficult points to resolve or improve were noted for each theme. — © AF

Sofie Schepers, who leads the project for the municipal government, had good news for the participants. “The municipality is buying a van and it will be available to all older people in Laakdal. It can be used to provide transport to activities in all boroughs and we are also looking at the possibility of, for example, providing transport to the local market. The aim to provide ‘A good old age in Laakdal’ has only just started, but we are well on our way.”

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.

Kindness and Coronavirus: Building Relationships using HAIRE

This article was first published on the University of Exeter’s Research and Innovation blog on 20th October, 2020. 

HAIRE (Healthy Aging through Innovation in Rural Europe) is an Interreg 2Seas funded project, which commenced on 1st Jan 2020.  The project is a partnership of 14 Local Authorities, academic institutions and voluntary and community service organisations. Partners are located in the United Kingdom (UK), France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and the University of Exeter’s Social Innovation Group (SIG), based at its Penryn Campus, UK, is the project’s lead partner. Overall, the HAIRE partnership is collaborating, co-designing and testing a person-centred, place-based toolkit, recruiting volunteers to join service providers in supporting people over 60 in rural and often isolated communities.

Before Covid-19 hit, there were already global concerns about rising levels of loneliness, particularly among older people, which is what HAIRE was designed to tackle. With increased levels of isolation, fear, local lockdowns and a second wave of the virus well underway in Europe, HAIRE’s plan to harness the power of volunteers and community kindness has become more relevant than ever. The project is all about building connections and relationships so that communities are empowered to make change.

One of our partners, East Sussex County Council, led a series of online talks with the public through September and October as part of a digital Healthy Ageing Festival. These talks provided a platform for people to share their thoughts on aspects of healthy ageing and community action at a time when the awareness of what communities can do is at its height. In all our partner countries, we have seen a significant rise in voluntary, local authority and community action. The HAIRE project’s toolkit has been developing alongside the Covid-19 response in our eight pilot sites, and its use has been started early in some locations because of its relational approach.

Our colleagues in Le Nord, France, telephoned every person over 60 living in their region during the lockdown period to check on their wellbeing and to track their needs. The parish of Feock, Cornwall, UK, saw 150 volunteers come forward to help their fellow villagers. According to the Carnegie Trust, 20% of the UK population were giving between two to four hours a week helping people cope with the pandemic during the emergency phase – going shopping and picking up prescriptions, or talking to older people over the phone so they had some human contact during months of isolation.

The levels of voluntary participation have naturally subsided as people have gone back to work, reverted to old or taken up new responsibilities, but Covid has reminded many of what’s important. We’ve had no difficulties recruiting “HAIRE Enablers” – these are the volunteers who will go out and have Guided Conversations with older people to understand their needs and service desires. Our colleagues in Feock have had a 50% over-recruitment of volunteer HAIRE Enablers, exceeding expectations. East Sussex is also ready to go forward with its brand new team of HAIRE Enablers. As the project relies a great deal on the goodwill of volunteers, this is good news.

Early action was taken in the Netherlands too. During lockdown, social workers were enthusiastic about trying one of HAIRE’s tools, the Guided Conversation, ahead of schedule. The Social Work and Welfare Foundation Eastern Scheldt Region (SMWO) is a broad welfare institution in the Netherlands that provides services in the fields of social work, welfare and sports and exercise. Their social workers went out to talk to people using the Guided Conversation tool predominantly via telephone and, where possible, in person. They felt that doing the conversations strengthened their network in the community and made their position stronger. The project has helped SMWO and the social workers to renew their connections in the community. Their activities have over the years moved away from establishing individual contact to overseeing general service delivery, meaning less interpersonal contact. With the Guided Conversations they renewed relations with individuals and gained new insights into the community. This has been an important impact of HAIRE.

The Guided Conversation’s key strength is that it is a social tool. For example, one of our partners in France, Unis-Cité, works to link younger and older people through a variety of intergenerational programmes. The HAIRE project team has linked up young people with over-60s to begin a social relationship and build trust. This trust will be key in completing Guided Conversations where older adults can openly talk about what is important to them. In order to reach these objectives, the volunteers visit older people who feel lonely every week. They do whatever the elderly participant feels able to: chatting, going out, taking part in “allowed” activities and even meeting new people. They also help elderly people who have difficulties with the internet or their computer – an increasingly important means of connection in Covid times.

Most importantly, HAIRE’s Guided Conversation is not a finished tool – it is evolving, organic, responsive to individuals and their places and uses a variety of techniques to elicit responses. We are learning as we go, but in every instance, nurturing an individual relationship is key to its success. In Laakdal, Belgium, one of our partners tested the Guided Conversation outdoors with two elderly participants who were good friends. With a Duvel in hand (a typical Belgian beer), they were encouraged to talk about themselves. Both participants agreed they learnt things about each other as a result. They reflected on life’s strains during the pandemic. All activities for elderly people have been taken away and the Guided Conversation was “the most fun they’d had in months.” Indeed, the tool itself not only helps to unpick unmet needs and identify potential solutions, it is a means of connection in and of itself – an antidote to the isolation that Covid-19 can bring.