Penistone could be used as a test-bed for plans which could ultimately see Barnsley become an ‘age friendly’ town with facilities geared towards ensuring older residents remain fully integrated members of society.
Age UK has been running a social inclusion service in the district since January last year and that is expected to continue for the full two year duration of the contract.
But after that it is now expected organisations will be encouraged to bid for grants which would be used to meet specific objectives for combating loneliness and social isolation, replacing the ‘commissioned’ contract at present, where Penistone Area Council which pays for the service has direct control over its performance.
The scheme uses two Age Concern workers, who have been involved in work to identify those at risk from loneliness and isolation, to offer help in getting them involved in activities to improve their circumstances and other projects such as volunteer car scheme, with drivers taking people on journeys for no more cost than the expense of running their car.
It is regarded as a pioneering scheme and has been closely watched both by the local authority and Age UK, which has now set up similar schemes in Cudworth and Wombwell using some of the experience gained in Penistone.
Penistone Area Council’s manager, Elaine Equeall, told councillors: “With Age Friendly Penistone, there is scope for us to pioneer this idea.
“A number of cities have adopted this, putting older people at the heart of planning and design and development of the city or town.
“We would be in an ideal position. We have been looking at Barnsley becoming an age-friendly town and we could trial that.”
Coun Dave Griffin said: “I think on a smaller scale, it would be a good start.
“I am interested in reshaping the High Street and making it age friendly. Improving the town centre for everyone who uses it.”
Penistone Area Council is expected to bid for funding from a £5m fund being made available to the borough’s ‘principal towns’ for improvement works to help prevent them being overshadowed by the regeneration of Barnsley town centre.
Coun Griffin said: “I think it fits in brilliantly with the principal towns initiative, looking at things like accident blackspots.”
More work will now be done before the area council next meets, in July, to draw up proposals for taking the social isolation work forwards.
Age Concern have been regarded as highly successful, with 81 per cent of those who have had contact with the scheme saying their wellbeing had improved as a result.
Sixty three per cent said they had experienced a reduction in their perception of loneliness, but with surveying work done in winter that was likely to have pushed the figure down, though the manager said: “The figure is still commendable.”
Work done by Age Uk so far has been credited with making a "massive contribution" to the area council's objective of getting early intervention on health matters.
One of the trends identified through research as the project has progressed is that it is predominantly women who take up the offer of help, with men apparently more reluctant to do so.
Part of that may by connected to the demographics of the district, but future work could focus on involving more men, potentially by replicating projects such as the 'Men in Sheds' scheme elsewhere in Barnsley, which brings men together through practical tasks.