Case Study - Working with the Isolated Elderly
Regenerate-RISE is a successful project that reaches out to the isolated elderly.
RISE, motivated by Kingdom values, seeks to turn the situation of vulnerability and loneliness upside down by deeply valuing its clients, promoting independence, and providing the opportunity to be a part of a loving community.
Mo Smith, the founder and Chair of Trustees of Regenerate-RISE was originally the Manager of a Day Centre in Putney, where she spent time fundraising, networking and improving the accessibility of the Centre for disabled older people. Despite an increase in numbers there was a threat to close the Centre down and following a deputation to the Social Services Committee, Wandsworth decided to keep the Centre open. This was the beginning of good relationships being built between the council and Mo. Soon after, a lunch club for the elderly was closed on the Alton Estate in Roehampton (the second most deprived estate in Wandsworth) and Mo along with her son Andy were asked to fill the gap.
In 2000 REGENERATE.com received a grant from Wandsworth to run a lunch club and start new projects on the estate and they very quickly employed a detached youth worker to relate to the younger generation. RISE (Reaching the ISolated Elderly) was a project initiated by REGENERATE.com in 2001 following a participatory needs assessment of the Roehampton area by the Wandsworth Primary Care Trust. This identified the isolation of the elderly as being the area of greatest need on the estate. In 2005, a second RISE was opened to reach the isolated elderly in Putney, funded by Wandsworth Borough Council.
In April 2006 REGENERATE.com divided into two organisations in order that each one could focus on their specific target group and a new registered charity called Regenerate-RISE was born. In April 2007 Regenerate-RISE amalgamated their two projects into one and is currently working from the Platt Christian Centre in Putney with an outreach work into both Putney and Roehampton.
Today, not only does RISE provide hot, nutritious meals four times a week, it also runs afternoon activities. Members can visit the hairdressing salon, watch a film in the mini cinema and participate in chair-based exercises. It was also considered important to provide outings for the housebound, so there are regular trips to garden centres, places of interest, the theatre, etc. One of the aims of RISE is to see people’s dreams fulfilled and one 90 year old man, for example, wished to go to Dunkirk where he had fought in the war. This was organised, and a group from RISE accompanied him
Enthusiasm and conversation still surrounds the annual “Kings and Queens” event held in the heart of Roehampton, despite it being well over two months since it happened. This is a huge banquet in a marquee for around 350 people, where there is food, music and dancing and it is a fantastic celebration of the project.
When asked about the successes of Regenerate-RISE, Mo was keen to tell me about the transformation she has been privileged to witness time and time again. Housebound individuals, some of whom have not left their sheltered accommodation for over a year, have enjoyed the social aspects of RISE. Where there has been depression and suicidal thoughts, there is now excitement and anticipation of the day and week ahead. When I sat down to eat, there was a tangible buzz in the room. New and meaningful friendships have been formed within RISE, and the volunteers and staff are a part of that.
The vision of Regenerate-RISE is to eradicate isolation across the UK and national RISE projects are beginning to take shape with networking taking place with local churches and organisations in the areas of Sheffield, Nottingham, Birmingham, Kingston and Ealing. Moving into a much wider sphere makes this an exciting time for RISE.
Transformation has not only occurred emotionally and physically, but also spiritually. An Alpha course was run a few years ago and 17 members attended with 12 people responding to become Christians. The inability to attend church through disability after the Alpha course proved a problem. To accommodate for this new found faith, a monthly ‘Praise@Platt’ was started to worship together. Not only has the project witnessed members coming to faith, it has also been able to strengthen and encourage the faith of its members. “We must be creative”, Mo states again and again, and tells me of the new plan for “Praise@ Platt” to evolve into a ‘Connect Group’ for 77-101 year olds linking to Hillsong church, who have been very supportive of the project. This will include a trip to the Sunday service in Central London once a month, which is always enjoyed by the members.
The connection with Hillsong Church has been an important one. An encounter between Mo and a member of the Hillsong leadership set in motion a significant and symbolic relationship between the project and the church. Hillsong Church support RISE with volunteers, dedicated members on the board of trustees, prayer support, and have given practical help in various ways including decorating the Centre. Hillsong Church use the Centre for local meetings in SW15 along with a mums and toddlers group called Mainly Music. The intergenerational work is an important one for Mo, who emphasises how the young people from the church have almost eradicated the fear that their elderly had of young people a few years ago.
Accessibility and Referrals
The success of the project is reflected in the number of elderly attending. In fact there is now a waiting list due to the increasing number of isolated elderly in the area, and lack of similar facilities. However, without the accessible transport, Mo insists that it will be very difficult to reach the people that need it most. RISE now has the use of two minibuses with electric tail lifts fitted. “This has made all the difference and is a very important part of the service we provide.” The local statutory services refer older people whom they consider would benefit from the RISE service. They will normally come from GPs and Social Services. One lady, suffering from depression, was recommended and after becoming a member, she returned to the doctor a few weeks later, skipping into the surgery - she was a changed lady. If you want to get funding from the local statutory services, it is important to build up good relationships with them.
Strong Volunteer Team
The volunteers are an essential part of the project. They are mainly sourced from local churches, but this is by no means exclusive and you do not need to have a specific faith to be a volunteer. The volunteers are used both at the lunch club and for afternoon activities, as well as visiting elderly that are unable to get to the Centre. It is important that significant relationships can be made where possible between members and volunteers. One of the members commented “You can have a joke with them, and they never patronize you”.
Mo is keen to point out the value placed on the decisions of the members. They are very much a part of what is going on. One of the members is a trustee, another leads the chair based exercises, three of them are part of the advisory committee and some visit the housebound regularly. Honesty between members and staff, as a show of respect, is an important part of the ethos of the project. Spending a day at the project, I was reminded of Leviticus 19:32, “Rise in the presence of the aged”. In everything they do and are about, there is a constant underlying theme of respect, and the importance of value being bestowed on the members; they are not simply on the receiving end of some good-will project, but a part of a larger community that includes the trustees, volunteers, and staff.
Linking with statutory organisations
Mo has considered her involvement with the voluntary sector as an amazing opportunity and has been delighted to be involved with consultations with the Centre for Social Justice, the Law Commission and with the local council. Judging by the success of her project and ideas, her voice is one now taken very seriously. The “Compact agreement” introduced between local statutory services and the voluntary sector helps in the sharing of responsibilities and gives her the platform with which to do this and it is something she encourages. The people working at the grassroots need to use their experience to influence those working higher up. If your project works, make sure others know about it!
Funding will always be a problem for the voluntary sector. The council has provided significant financial support for this project from the beginning. However this is a time of change for projects funded by the council, and alongside the imminent public sector cuts, the word ‘creativity’ pops up again and again. The question is how to keep offering such a high standard of service, despite all these changes. Mo has several different ways to move forward, but until future funding is known, cannot be certain of which way she will go. It perhaps seems surprising that this should be the time of national expansion for the organisation into five areas around the UK, but it is a great opportunity. When questioned about this, I am struck by Mo’s obvious trust in God over this whole project. She dares to do more, because she has faith that this is what God wants. Her vision for this project has always been to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these people, and her vision for this expands as she sees what God has done so far.
How might you go about setting up a similar project?
- Ensure you have researched the issues facing the elderly in the area. It is important to address the gaps, rather than trying to compete with something else up and running.
- Be open to doing things differently. You need to be creative and flexible with your ideas and plans. If you’re part of a church, reach beyond the elderly in your congregation to those in your neighbourhood.
- Be committed to what you are doing. It is not about having the right qualifications, but about finding someone with a vision and a heart for the elderly that will sustain the project. Accessibility is a key part of this. You must be committed to providing services to allow the elderly to get to the lunch club or project. Providing transport can be a turnaround in terms of numbers, and reaching some of those that really need it.
- Don’t be afraid of networking with local authorities and statutory services. These are always great opportunities and taking into consideration the targets that may be set - you may need to be more creative with finding ways to present the gospel.
Regenerate-RISE would not exist without the vision of the founder, Mo Smith. It is with this vision that the case study concludes -
We all need to share in the vision of rising to the challenge of eradicating isolation from our communities across the UK. There are many opportunities to provide support and care for the elderly through working alongside GPs and Social Services, by identifying the local needs and finding solutions. Churches have an ideal venue, manpower, commitment and compassion and the combination of these could transform the lives of older people. It is time for older people to be treated like kings and queens, to be brought to the banqueting table and treated with respect, valued for their contribution and loved for who they are. We can be the agents for change and bring light into the darkness of isolation and loneliness and by providing lunches, transport, activities, outings, friendship and the basic requirements of life, we are providing warmth, support, care and love. In so doing, we are providing a pathway for many older people to have a better quality of life and above all, the opportunity to come to know Jesus.
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