Transport delight for Falkirk senior citizens

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For a charity involved in providing services for older people, the WRVS is surprisingly youthful with its eye on the future.

A pensioner itself, the organisation celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

But far from taking retirement, the WRVS is evolving and trying to change its image as an institution for older ladies who wear cardigans and pearls.

Nationally there’s been a focus on recruiting more men into volunteer roles to help more older people across the country. And in Falkirk, new services coming from the WRVS are making a difference to senior citizens who had found basic tasks such as going to the shops or even just having a chat extremely challenging.

The whole ethos is about tackling isolation and loneliness, things the charity believes can contribute significantly to depression or even illness.

Funded through the Falkirk Change Fund and Partnership Innovation Project, the Good Neighbours and Community Transport Scheme, which began in the town less than a year ago, has made a big impact by helping older people do little things.

The Fund is part of a multi-million pound plan to revolutionise how Scotland cares for its growing number of elderly people.

Shifts in the country’s demographic make-up mean that older people are living longer, and the Government wants people to live independently for as long as possible.

It means that services provided by groups like the WRVS, who are committed to giving practical support to older residents, have become much more important.

The charity groups provide assistance up to the point of medical and physical ill health. Grahame Rose, area manager for the WRVS, said: “A lot of what we do is about keeping people in contact and preventing isolation.

“We ask our service users to give us a list of 10 things that would make a difference to them, things that they feel may get their life back on track after some time in hospital.

“These things can be anything, some times people just want a chat with someone which we can do through our befriending service. Or they may need transport to the shops or an appointment, which we can also arrange through the Community Transport Service.

“The Change Fund has allowed us to offer services in Falkirk that just weren’t here before.”

In March alone, more than 530 activities were delivered by the WRVS in the Falkirk area.These range from giving an older person help with writing letters, holding and running reminiscence groups, setting up a telephone chat, driving people to an appointment or an event, or helping with the shopping.

Morag McRoberts, WRVS’s Falkirk-based service manager, said an open-door approach worked well with Falkirk’s service users.

She said: “We do have a lot of self-referrals and that’s great because it gives us a chance to chat to people to find out what would make a difference to them.”

And older residents are already feeling the benefits.

Falkirk’s Letti Kelly said she still used her car for transport but needs someone with her as she has trouble walking.

She said: “I could get places, but I needed help for things like going into church, and getting into the hospital.

“I now get that help and I’m very happy.

“It’s a wonderful service, and it makes you feel at ease because someone is there.”

Another service user, Violet Cowie found herself stuck at home for six months, and was struggling to get to the shops on her own.

She said: “It’s one of those things ,you don’t appreciate the simple things until you can’t do them anymore. It’s something you just take for granted.

“The volunteer I had, John, couldn’t do enough for me. It was great to get out and pick up your own shopping, it made such as difference.”

The project has also highlighted the benefits for not just the clients, but the volunteers themselves.

Research carried out recently investigating health inequalities found that volunteering could help create a more healthy sense of belonging, social coercion and a happier community.

David Muir, a locally-based volunteer who drives people to appointments and shopping trips, said: “I enjoy volunteering. I’m a people person, I’m used to being involved with people and it gets me out and meeting people.

“I’m very happy to drive people around.

“When it involves taking people to a hospital or a doctor’s appointment, sometimes it’s just the fact that there’s someone waiting for them in the waiting room.”

Last week, the successes of the new Community Transport and Good Neighbours were praised by Falkirk MSP and minister for public health Michael Matheson.

On a visit to the WRVS’s Falkirk base in Callendar Business Park last week, he told representatives that he was very impressed by what had been achieved so far.

He said: “What’s being done is really impressive and encouraging.

“Giving someone support through these kind of services can make so much of a difference.

“What this service does is help people with the kind of things that others tend to take for granted.

“And it’s this kind of service that will help people live longer independently and in their own homes.

“Studies show that by the time we reach the age of 65, 70 per cent of us will have one long-term illness, so services like this can be part of the glue that keeps communities together.”