Last year was a year of change for Sheffield’s Wellbeing Centre.
It had to be - explains chief executive Steve Chu.
“After all,” he says.
“We’re living in a environment that’s becoming more and more financially challenging - with services under constant threat, pressure to reduce spending and intense local competition for the charity pound.
“And through all this turbulence we have to be able to continue to offer our frontline service, enabling more older people in Sheffield to retain or regain their independence and enjoy a higher quality of life.
“We need to make sure we’re there for your mums, dads, grandmas and grandads, when they need us. We need to ensure we are there for the 11 per cent of older people who see their family, friends and neighbours less than once a month, and the 49 per cent whose main source of company is a pet or the television screen.”
Dad comes to life when he’s there, flirting with the ladies and telling jokes.Jon Parsons
It’s a tall order but that’s just what the Wellbeing Centre, which has been based in Norfolk Heritage Park for the past two years, is doing.
It provides a day service for people living with memory loss and dementia, allowing them to socialise, take part in activities and enjoy a hot meal with people like themselves.
Among those who attend one of the five sessions a week is ex-steel worker Gordon Parsons, of Frecheville
Gorden, aged 80, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly before the death of his wife and receives one of Sheffield City Council’s 75-funded places. Because he enjoys his time there so much, his family also pays for an additional day.
“He comes to life when he’s there,” explains his son, Jon.
It isn’t easy getting dad out of the house - he can’t be rushed and he has his routines - but once he gets to the centre, he becomes sociable again. If there are ladies around, he even has a little flirt and he loves telling jokes,
“He gets a meal at the Wellbeing Centre so we know he’s eating, which is important too as in the past he’s told carers at home he’s not hungry or will eat later.
“After he had been going to the centre for a few weeks, his sister and I went with him and were stunned to see him just walk in, grab his usual chair and start reading the paper, before asking one of the staff for a cup of tea.
“The activities at the Centre are never forced either, people aren’t corralled, but they do encourage dad to get involved in things and he always has a whale of a time. We see a completely different side of him to the one we see at home.”
And while the day service is hugely important, Steve reveals that one of the centre’s key services is its Independent Living Coordination Service, which sees staff go into people’s homes and work with them to help them regain and rebuild their confidence to allow them to continue living independently as long as they’re able.
Steve adds: “This is all about supporting people to be the architect of their own lives and live their lives to the full, at and beyond the centre.
“We’ve got 16 support workers and, last year, this team worked with 1,625 people locally to help give them their independence back. Perhaps this is someone who is becoming more frail at home, perhaps they’re having falls, maybe they need their bath converting to a shower and wet room, or they’re getting more isolated. We liase with GPs and the council to sort finances, make adaptations and put them in contact with local activity groups.”
And last year the centre worked with 553 older people in the city to help them claim an additional £2.5m in benefits.
Steve explains: “We estimate that as many as half of the people eligible to claim benefits in this area, don’t. We were seeing people who didn’t have the funds to heat their homes and, in some cases, we were able to help those people receive as much as an extra £800 a month - that’s huge. We know people are proud and many don’t like to accept benefits, but this is money they’re completely entitled to, and could really use.
“We know there are certain challenges to have a growing older population - less daycare and residential care available - and that’s why we’re working hard to to keep people where they want to be, living in their own homes for longer. Obviously that means there need to be good support networks in place to help them do that. That’s where we come in, helping them liase with relevant agencies, ensuring they have what they need, and that they’re receiving what they’re entitled to. We’re keen to maximise independence for as long as we can.”
Age UK Sheffield offers a variety of other services in the city, including:
* HOME FROM HOSPITAL:
Getting people home from hospital quickly is better for them and better for the NHS. Age UK Sheffield believes this is a key area in which they can improve outcomes for older people, while significantly reducing costs to the NHS.
* MACMILLAN CANCER SUPPORT PARTNERSHIP:
This has been running since 2011. Age UK Sheffield provides support, examining how a person’s illness is affecting their finances, ability to socialise, their confidence and their family and carers.