MAKING EXTRA TIME FOR THE ELDERLY

jamie pollock

Those who use the London underground on weekday evenings will likely have encountered the strange sight of the tube-taking five-a-side footballer.

The appearance of someone so ready for action, head-to-toe in their chosen footballing colours, is difficult to reconcile with the decision to remain sedentary on the Metropolitan line for 40 minutes at a time. The lengths to which many of us will go for a stint of sociable exercise are great.

For a vast number of old people, such opportunities are simply not available – this is as much a loss for mental as it physical health.

A Demos report published this month, ‘Ageing Sociably’, seeks to address the loneliness felt by those at the top end of our increasingly ageing population. The report praises the work of businesses which have engaged in projects offering social activities for older people.

A good example of this is seen in the appropriately named ‘Extra Time’ programme, which targets people over the age of 55 (23% are over 80) with social inclusion and physical activity projects – small-sided football, tai chi, yoga and chair-based exercise are all on offer.

‘Extra Time’ was initially set up through a pilot scheme funded by the Football Foundation and Sport Relief – it financed the running of various schemes by different football clubs across the country: some of the clubs ran ‘Extra Time’ events in football stadiums; other clubs took the activity directly to care homes. Residents at Crompton Court Care Home, an HC One home, enjoyed 10 weeks of a health programme run by Everton Football Club as part of ‘Extra Time’. The clubs have offered coaches’ time, free stadium time and organisational support to make the scheme work.

After the initial two-year pilot, participating football clubs were encouraged to seek funding themselves. Watford Football Club, for example, received sponsorship from John Lewis Watford. There is clearly a role for businesses here, and the growth of an expanding ‘golden market’ of elderly people clearly incentivises investment in these CSR projects.

The successes of such projects, which are still relatively small-scale, should be held up to exemplify what can be achieved when communities interact with an often unnoticed section of the population. That 89 per cent of participants felt they had more people looking out for them as a result of ‘Extra Time’ is evidence of the progress that can be made towards curbing the trend toward loneliness in old age.

With continued closures of those public spaces traditionally offering social interaction for the elderly (libraries, pubs, post offices), there is a danger of increased isolation. Programmes such as ‘Extra Time’, which seek to pool the resources and aspirations of businesses, voluntary organisations and care homes, offer the prospect of positive change – any notion of a ‘Big Society’, if it is to have meaning for the elderly, is reliant upon the expansion of such schemes.

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