In the seventh of a series of articles looking at the work of Age UK Redbridge, Barking and Havering, Janet West explains the operation of their user involvement service Voices of Experience
Voices of Experience is Age UK’s user involvement service, which has been established in Redbridge since 2004. It was set up to enable older people to have their say on a number of issues that affect their daily lives. The service consists of a questionnaire group and a citizens panel of 15 members, who meet monthly for discussion and to hear from speakers from the council, Clinical Commissioning Groups and other statutory and voluntary organisations.
The coordinator of the service engages with older people through questionnaires, face-to-face discussions with groups of older people, as well as one-to-one phone discussions, so people get the chance to have their views heard in a way that suits them. It might be about a current local authority consultation, for example, and their views can be given back to the council to ensure their voices are heard. Discussions are also held at the Allan Burgess Centre in Wanstead with older people who have popped in for a coffee and a chat or for lunch.
In fact, Alex Wilde and the Redbridge Rhymesters, who frequently attend the Allan Burgess Centre along with children from Snaresbrook Primary School, first got to know us through a chance discussion with me when I was the coordinator of the service. I had come across a poem of Alex’s and contacted her to ask permission for the poem to be used in the Voices of Experience newsletter. Alex was delighted and thereafter a wonderful relationship between Alex and Age UK Redbridge, Barking and Havering was established!
Sometimes, the group participates in Age UK’s campaigns, most notably on improving social care, accessible transport and tackling loneliness. The panel has met with MPs at Westminster and been given the chance to question them on their plans for social care. The photo shows panel members Pearl and Bert – both very active members of the group for many years – during the campaign ‘On the Buses’, which was aimed at making bus travel safer for older people by providing appropriate training for drivers to help prevent falls on buses. (Bert sadly passed away recently, but remained an active member up until the end of 2019.)
Members of the group have said it makes them feel valued and listened to and some have been with us for many years. There is now a new coordinator in post, Pat Fitzsimons, as I have moved on to another role in the organisation. Pat has some new and innovative ideas for the service and is looking forward to 2020 and new ways to include older people and give them a voice.