Age UK charity marks 70 years of caring for elderly

Heather Osborne refers to the first minutes of what was then known as Shropshire Old People’s Welfare Committee, which was launched 70 years ago today.

 Heather Osborne, left and Anne Wignall
Heather Osborne, left and Anne Wignall

“They were talking about the concern that the new welfare state was coming into being, and how that needed to be explained to older people, who didn’t know how to use it,” she says.

“They also identified a need to talk about isolation and loneliness among older people.”

And that in a nutshell is what Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin, as it is known today, has been doing ever since.

The committee, initially led by Viscountess Boyne, who lived at Burwarton House, near Bridgnorth, was set up on November 11, 1950, after the Second World War brought to the fore many of the problems the older generation were experiencing.

Back in 1940, independent MP and social reformer Eleanor Rathbone founded the National Old People’s Welfare Committee (NOPWC), raising £2,000 through a radio appeal to help with the wartime emergency.

Visiting schemes for elderly evacuees were established, along with the Old People’s Homes Advisory Service.

After the war it was decided that every local authority should set up its own welfare committee and Shropshire was no exception.

“The committee would have been made up of the great and the good of the county at the time, and also the local authority,” says Ms Osborne.

The charity eventually broke away from the local authority, and was renamed Age Concern Shropshire in 1971, although it always retained autonomy from the national charity. In 1998, it was renamed Age Concern Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin in recognition of the new unitary authority that had been created to cover Telford new town.

Viscountess Boyne was the first chairman of Shropshire Old People's Welfare Council

In 2011 it was renamed Age UK Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, to follow the change of name of the national charity following its merger with Help the Aged.

To mark the platinum anniversary, the charity has set a target of raising £70,000 over the coming year, and is encouraging people to help by organising their own fundraising activity.

Ms Osborne will today be taking her own ‘platinum challenge’ when she is joined by chairman of trustees Sue Robson for a climb up the Wrekin.

The original plan, when the platinum challenge was launched a year ago, was to raise £150,000 over two years, but sadly the pandemic put paid to most of the events planned for much of this year.

Ms Osborne is now urging people to organise their own small fundraising events, such as sponsored walks, running, cycling or rowing events to raise much-needed funds for the organisation. While much of the work the charity does is similar to what it was in the 1950s, the scale has grown considerably.

In the early days, when life expectancy was much shorter, it would have catered for a small number of people, mainly in their 60s or 70s. Today it caters for thousands, and the average age of people are attending its day centres are in their 80s or 90s.

“It is not unusual to have people at our day centres in their 100s,” says Ms Osborne. “The number of 100th birthday parties is growing.”

And the number of people on hand to help has grown exponentially. As recently as the late 1990s, the charity employed just three staff, whereas today it has more than 240, as well as 850 volunteers.

Greater life expectancy has also brought with it greater complexity in the range of conditions the charity has to deal with. Back in the 1950s, little was known about dementia.

Heather Osborne

“At that time not much was known about dementia,” says Ms Osborne. “But as people live longer, it has become one of the big growth areas.”

Today, approximately 7,000 older people across the county are living with dementia to some degree or another.

But the earlier principles which led to the charity being founded in the first place still remain. Providing information and advice about the benefits system is still a major part of Age UK STW’s work. The charity helped local older people claim over £3million of additional benefits last year.

Ms Osborne says isolation also continues to be a problem with some 10,000 people across the county feeling desperately lonely.

“The pandemic has made this much worse, with really large numbers of people shielding, or affected by the lockdown,” she says.

During the spring lockdown, Age UK STW’s volunteers in the county gave 1,300 hours of their time as part of the charity’s telephone befriending scheme. To those people, the telephone befriending services we run is a real lifeline.”

For more information about how you can get involved with the Platinum Challenge visit ageuk.org.uk/shropshireandtelford/get-involved/platinum-challenge/

Alternatively, you can make a £5 donation by texting PLATINUM to 70480. Or to make a £10 donation, text PLATINUM10, or for £20 PLATINUM20.

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