Not-for-profit organisations looking to reduce social isolation among older people will soon be competing for a share of £6m. And it is the borough’s older residents themselves who will decide who gets the money.
The scheme, known as Connect Hackney and run through Hackney Council for Voluntary Service (HCVS), has received a grant of £6m to disperse among charities and other non-profit groups who propose projects to improve the lives of elderly people, either by offering new services or by delivering existing services in new ways.
Which proposals get funded will be decided though a system called ‘participatory budgeting’, whereby people who will use a service have a direct say in whether it goes ahead.
“It’s a more democratic system,” says Shirley Murgraff, chair of Connect Hackney’s steering group.
“It isn’t just a committee – however representative or even in some cases elected member of that committee are, it’s still a small group of people and this is deciding about some big projects over quite a long term.
“Participatory budgeting involves people, making them know more about what’s going on but also making them feel a kind of ownership of a really good service that’s going to help older people.”
Any Hackney resident aged 50 or over will be able to vote on proposals made, with postal voting available for those unable to get to meetings. Projects will bid for anything from £10,000 to £100,000 over two years.
Connect Hackney will shortly be publishing details of meetings in September and November at which residents will be able to hear proposals and make their own voices heard.
One particular target group is the 15,000 older people in Hackney are estimated to be socially isolated, meaning they receive less than one visit per month. They were cited by the Big Lottery as a key reason for awarding Connect Hackney its grant.
Murgraff is proud that her team was awarded the money. “It didn’t drop out of the sky,” she points out. Nearly 100 groups applied for the money, mainly local authorities across the country. “It was a very competitive bidding process,” reflects Murgraff.
A successful 15, including Connect Hackney, were funded in the end. The Connect Hackney bid was put together by Hackney Council, HCVS and the City and Hackney older People’s Reference Group (PRG) working together as a team.
Murgraff, a self-described “life-long Hackney citizen”, is a former teacher, now involved with a number of voluntary groups including PRG. She believes that “people living in a society need to make some contribution to what it is.”
Now mainly involved with older people’s issues, Murgraff hopes that the projects Connect Hackney funds will increase the visibility and influence of older people across the community. “We want to be where the decisions are made on services or aspects of life that affect older people – it’s part of ‘nothing about me without me’,” she says.
“If they’re making decisions about what is going to impact on the lives of older people, we want to be there, and we think in the process that we’re going to improve those decisions.”
Connect Hackney will also be training older people in internet and campaigning skills, including digital photography, web management, social media, newsletter production and audio production. Those involved will then have the chance to contribute to the project’s web presence and communications work, much of which aims to slay myths about older people.
One of the most pernicious of these, says Murgraff, is that old people are too old and too rich: “One of the big myths is that older people are living too long and that all pensioners are well-off – but that at the same time they are a drain on resources,” she explains. “Some pensioners are well off but many aren’t. We think older people have a huge range of experience to offer, and that’s an untapped resource that society doesn’t use anything like enough.”
Information about how to get involved in the project, either as a proposer or to cast your vote, is available at www.hcvs.org.uk.