Our Volunteer Health Advocates in GP practices talk to lots of older people who are looking for activities that help them stay fit and healthy but also have a social angle. To improve our own knowledge and pass that on to our volunteers Peter and I have been exploring some of the opportunities for older people in Camden.
During the summer we visited Sue Shickle at Millman Street Resource Centre to find out a bit more about their services. The centre is part of Holborn Community Association and offers older people activities like Tai Chi, computers, art and crafts, singing, gardening, yoga … too much to list here!
The age range of people currently enjoying the Millman Street activity programme along with the informal social environment is about 55-90 years. There are 200 plus people during the year with 25-40 attending each day. Some are still in work whilst others have very high needs such as moderate dementia.
When Peter and I arrived a singing session was in progress interspersed with a lot laughter. People were clearly enjoying themselves. It actually turned out to be a quiz but a ‘name that tune’ question had taken the afternoon in a whole new direction. So with raucous singing and laughter coming from the hall next door we attempted to have a serious conversation with Sue about the centre’s work.
Millman Street has been running since 1980– this is important. As Sue pointed out people have benefitted from the community association’s facilities over lifetimes, and indeed generations. People coming to Millman Street now may well have used other Holborn Community Association facilities as a child, teenager and parent. The approach, ‘being part of the community association by building commitment with younger people’, is key to their holistic ethos. This description from Sue has made me think it would be worth delving further – exploring the impact this approach has had on members’ well-being and life chances.
Sue described a ‘continual fight’ in a tight funding environment to keep to this ethos, not bow to pressure to separate activities. The centre increasingly has to charge for services and deal with funding regimes that don’t necessarily recognise the importance of social activity. This could eventually undermine the social value that builds up over years in centres like this. We have heard similar concerns from other community organisations – some also feel they are losing recognition under new social care regimes like Personal Budgeting and Homecare. Inevitably service cuts mean case workers are unlikely to have the time to hone their knowledge about all the great community based options service users could buy in to.
Our volunteer Health Advocates are helping to promote the rich variety of community based activity out there, both to Camden residents and clinicians. But a lot more is needed to embed a more holistic approach to health and well-being. The approach Sue describes in Holborn is one of looking after the whole person, addressing clinical and social need, allowing for prevention and cure. Many people believe that the resourcing of health and social care services needs to embrace such an approach – after all if you are elderly, feeling less mobile or finding it difficult to remember things, then that singalong quiz fun down at Millman Street might be the best stimulus to get you through the week.
To contact Sue Shickle at Millman Street email: firstname.lastname@example.org