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Making communities inclusive for older people

GeoarkGeoark Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,380 Disability Gamechanger
edited March 2019 in Guest blogs

My name is George, I am in my mid 50’s. Most of my early life I worked in warehousing until I could no longer cope due to sciatica. I have since been diagnosed with nerve damage in both hands and restless legs syndrome.

Over the years I have volunteered in many roles including youth work, school parent governor in a school that had gone into special measures, helping in classrooms, a homeless charity in the volunteer management team, and in recent years with the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) which manages the estate I live on.

You can find out more about TMOs at

My experience with the TMO eventually helped me to get a position with a housing association where I now work in the service charges and Section 20 team. I love the work and the people I work with are fantastic and very supportive of each other.  Unfortunately, it is usually very busy, and at points can be frantic.

Finally, I am also a community champion here at Scope, though sadly my involvement has been restricted the last few months due to various workloads.

When I first became involved a lot of the work going on was centred on creating the type of organisation we wanted to be. I knew very little about running housing services or services for a very diverse community. A lot of my time was taken up doing training courses to equip me with the knowledge and skills I needed to understand what was going on and how to achieve a change. 

After the first year, I became the Secretary and the following year the Chair. I took on the job of creating our newsletters improving the way we were communicating and introduced our first resident satisfaction survey. I created the survey to reflect on what was important to us as an organisation and allowed residents to give additional feedback through comment boxes. 

From the various feedback, I began to develop social activities such as bingo, coffee mornings, quiz nights, film nights and improved our open days, all of these were introduced as suggestions from residents. As our elderly residents began to mention that the other community activities they did closed over Christmas, so I made the decision to continue these over the Christmas period. 

two older people sat on a park bench

As the TMO grew and developed I persuaded our board to set aside a sum of money for residents to say how they wanted it spent. The response was various and gave us a good insight into what residents wanted. Many of which were beyond the money we had made available. I soon sourced grants which allowed us to spend £90,000 on improving the environment. We removed two disused and dilapidated play areas and replaced them with a rock garden and community garden. We also installed an outside gym. 

In 2010 the new government was soon causing concerns for many, including us. I soon started working with the office on how we could help support our residents. Working with the manager we sourced a volunteer with experience of budgeting and benefits advice. 

We were approached by one of our local councillors to see if we would be interested in some computers as the council were renewing their stock. Setting aside a small proportion of our own funds I was able to set up a small internet suite and we were soon introducing our elderly residents to the internet, online shopping, email and Skype.  

While a lot of good things were going on and we were achieving a lot it was often the small things I did that often went un-noticed that derived the greatest satisfaction. Helping to find a hairdresser for an elderly resident who was in a body frame and could not get her hair done or just helping to clean out the bin keep of one or two of our elderly residents who could no longer do it. To taking the time to stop and speak to an elderly resident who had recently moved in, discovering she was getting used to a new prosthetic leg and had no one to walk with her to the open day and waiting for her to get ready so I could escort her there and back. The biggest satisfaction though was knowing we were building on what was already there as this was a community that cared for each other. 

Then in 2013, I got a trainee position working in leasehold management with a housing association. After discussing it with the manager I stepped down from the board and concentrated on the opportunity I had been giving. While I maintained some involvement others soon stepped up to continue the activities I started and create new ones. We have a personal trainer who lives on the estate who does weekly exercise classes and an octogenarian who runs a line dancing classes.  

older couple dancing

A new challenge 

Last year I was asked if I would consider returning to the board. I had recently started a new position and moved onto condensed hours so was available when the board met so said yes. Five years had seen a lot of changes, new monitoring and support team in the council, reduced allowances and a steady change in demographics has brought a whole new range of challenges for the TMO. 

I don’t have the time for a more hands-on approach towards residents, but I can at least help to get the TMO back into good shape so the good things can continue to happen. 

I hear a lot about how much communities have changed, often for the worse, but we need to decide if we are victims of these changes or if we can act as agents for changes. We are not unique, there are over 300 TMOs in England and a few new ones being developed. There are more familiar residents co-ops and thousands of organisations, charities and individuals who work tirelessly to improve the communities around us. Many are run by disabled people, carers and elderly people. All that I have managed to do I could not have done without the support of those on the board, the residents who support us and the wider community around us. 

What would be your hints and tips about making any community more inclusive for older people?

As an individual I stood alone.
As a member of a group I did things.
As part of a community I helped to create change!


  • Sam_AlumniSam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,729 Disability Gamechanger
    Thank you for sharing @Geoark :)
    Senior online community officer
  • Richard_ScopeRichard_Scope Posts: 2,882

    Scope community team

    A great post on an important issue @Geoark

    Specialist Information Officer and Cerebral Palsy Programme Lead

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  • thespicemanthespiceman Member Posts: 6,408 Disability Gamechanger
    edited March 2019

    Hello @Geoark  Thank you for sharing . I would like to add this sounds the sort of community I think everyone would like be part of .

    I live in Housing Association property. Get the pat on the back magazine from them once a month.

    All full of wonderful things that the Housing Association are doing. In certain areas.

    In reality we get nothing. Understand the need especially for the elderly residents to maintain sociable welfare support.

    I am in my middle fifties this year and get into my mind this is going to be difficult living here as I age .

    I know the like hood of me moving too stressful. As many members of our community are having similar issues. Finding the right home.

    Have asked like most people for some additional support for my own needs. In the past get negative response.

    On the shiny sparkling website trying to get some answers are a waste of time.

    Only contacts I get are the maintenance men for gas and boiler .  One time too many the system is failure. Have rung up explaining can not do anything. With my disability.

    Do come but at a late time. Cold and one other time power cut. Had to speak to my neighbour whom I do not particular like.

    We did strike up one similar conversation, the welfare and support we do lack.  I did even ring up but it is pointless.

    One time had Housing Officers visit no existence now. This bungalow is crumbling poor construction.

    Had a new kitchen not very good.  Promises of this and that not good to hear. Waiting for a shower and new bathroom .  Been waiting on that one for a decade.

    The big issues with ageing, disabled members of our community is where do we go. If we have housing inadequate and other associated problems.

    I know this is all sad and tragic but the housing situation for those who require support is becoming a hardship.

    Where you are the exceptional to the rule. You must be very proud of all the achievements and milestones you have done.

    Good to talk to you.

    Please take care.


    Community Champion
    SCOPE Volunteer Award Engaging Communities 2019
    Mental Health advice, guidance and information to all members
    Nutrition, Diet, Wellbeing, Addiction.
  • GeoarkGeoark Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,380 Disability Gamechanger
    Hello @thespiceman and thank you for your response.

    Part of the issue with TMOs is that the law which supports it is for council tenants and does not include housing associations (HAs). Where there are HAs with TMOs these were already in place when the council stock was transferred to the HAs. I am aware of a couple of HAs that did look at introducing their own TMOs but run foul of the OJEC rules and had to drop the projects.

    For general housing issues a good local Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) should be able to intercede on its residents behalf. 

    A massive problem that has been building up is the number of elderly and disabled people living within general needs housing and the lack of supportive housing which would allow for independent living with additional support. 

    Most people I have come across working in social housing do care about their residents and providing a good service, but often there is little they can do outside their normal housing function. Many of the enquiries I get are related to other departments and so often I cannot give a simple response over the phone, but need to refer their questions to other departments to give a response or to investigate. 

    Another problem has been the year on year 1% decrease in general needs rent, great for the government coffers and a benefit to tenants, but these have represented a huge decrease in income. Even as a TMO we are having to look at ensuring we continue to balance our books and this means doing things differently and less able to give the extra help we are currently able to provide, at least until things improve.  One of the changes we are currently looking at is moving from employing our own estate staff and subcontracting these out - cleaning, repairs and gardening. This means we can focus on our contractual obligations with the council, but means the level of support our residents have enjoyed in the past will simply not be there. 

    Some of these we can compensate for by continuing to look for local organisations we can signpost residents too, liaise with council contractors to see if we can get additional support for our more vulnerable residents. An example of the last one had to do with bulk refuge, rules are that you have to put items outside and labled up. This is not possible for some of our residents, especially for those not living on the ground floor. What was not advertised is if you are elderly or disabled and unable to safely put the items outside they will pick it up from your home, but this is reviewed on a case by case basis. This has now been well advertised to tenants who may need additional support, and mentioned again when the office is asked for help to move things.

    A lot will depend on the extra support you are looking for. In home help, adaptations etc would normally need to be sorted from outside agencies from your HA. 

    I know when the council did some decent homes work there were elements we were not impressed with. Nice new windows, balcony door but no new front door. At times you can run a windmill the cold air being blown through our front door. Rewiring was trunked along the walls, something I don't actually mind as at some point we will probably look at having the sockets raised making life a lot easier. The kitchen we actually lost storage as they did not measure up properly. To be fair to the contractor when I spoke to them and explained that I was going to buy a larder cupboard but needed help to secure it to the wall they provided a worker to put the cupboard together for us and secure it to the wall. The worker did tell us that the studs for the shelves were on the small size and recommended where we could get a better set for a couple of quid. So in the end we had more storage and at a level better suited for my wife. The biggest moan though was the loss of some of the sockets we previously had.

    Something I would recommend, and know there will be those who disagree with me, is the need to fill in surveys. In particular the consensus which the UK does every ten years, and especially the personal information like disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity etc. I would say the same again for your landlord. The reason for the consensus is this information is used by government to allocate funding for the next decade and helps councils to shape their services.

    I will give an example why I believe it is important for landlords. I was given the opportunity at work to see their plans for a new development which included a high rate of social housing. I asked what proportion were designed and designated for disabled people. Answer - none, there is no demand for it.  A statement I found questionable considering this was in a large London Borough.

    We have 169 homes, mainly older people but I do know we have 3 young people who are autistic. Visiting a TMO with over three times the number of homes and proportionately more children I asked how many autistic children and adults they had again the answer was none. Statistically I would say this was very dubious. Just as dubious as our own claim that we have no residents who identify as LGBT. Yes these are personal pieces of information and it is their right to decide who they declare this too, but without evidence it can be difficult to justify spending time or resources in promoting services and inclusion, but it doesn't normally stop me. However when applying for funding for projects we have to identify the need. We can rely on statistics provided by the government, usually from the consensus and household surveys among others, but identifying more local needs goes a long way as it is usually justifies the need.

    Sorry my friend for the long reply.

    As an individual I stood alone.
    As a member of a group I did things.
    As part of a community I helped to create change!

  • thespicemanthespiceman Member Posts: 6,408 Disability Gamechanger

    Hello @Geoark Thank you for the reply. Please do not apologise for long post. I do understand. This needed to be said .

    Also may I add like anything you write because it is bringing to attention relevant points as a community. We need to hear.

    The sad, tragic truth my story . I am not alone with these issues. Plus if you read so many members of our community here.  Have similar.

    Another serious problem is the rural area I am part of here. I live in the North East a small village.

    No one wants to be a community.  We all live side by side on an estate where no one talks to you.

    I live most days never ever knowing or ever see any one.  One time had this idea of getting involved with the Housing Association.

    The Housing Association has a charity which deals with mental health. Having been involved with that myself as a volunteer. Saw myself getting somewhere to help my own issues as well.

    Got instead intimidation, bullying from service users and lots of issues, problems with staff who had no interest in helping any one.

    Asking for support and some guidance when  no one is listening. Is not only became a difficult situation.

    My friend who worked for the charity was the only time he had to ask for his wages. Borrowing off my self.  Having to leave as well many others.

    This made my reluctant to get involved.

    I think what is important to me is to try to cope the best way I can. As I age older have concerns.

    Whether the Housing Association takes full responsibility or is ever aware we exist . Used to do Estate walk arounds never see any body at all. From the Housing Association .

    I believe they were stopped because staff and the rest were getting a loads of complaints from neighbours. They identifying them selves.

    Only recently had the misfortune to speak to my neighbour. Not because I self centred or selfish. Like people . She is the sort of woman who constantly goes on if that is the right word. To moan and groan about every thing.

    Wrong with her own property.  I of course listen do have time but if I make sensible practical suggestions.

    Let the both of us inform the Housing Association.  Instead of saying good idea in fact becomes hostile to wards me and ends up angry.

    For no apparent reason. I am tired of them and rarely speak to them.

    Every little nuisance she perceives to be .

    Had a go at my garden over tree branches over hanging. Of course if she had approached me with kindness and sensitivity . Would have got the job done.

    Not so.  When your ill with mental health your are always wrapped up in your mind. Notice nothing did not know.

    Eventually got the job done.

    All I can add the situation with many Housing Association is finance the lack of finding solutions and practical ones to do work is for ever an issue.

    I do read the magazine they send us.  Do recognise the whole property market and the whole other reasons many Housing Associations have a housing stock. Archaic and crumbling.

    Often get the feeling that this Housing Association will be taken over.  One other point was had I mentioned a Kitchen fitted.

    Got a contractor.  Who were paying they workman poor wages. So much so my Kitchen is falling apart.

    I did know that the lack of finance in many Housing Associations means they have no desire to do any additional work that needs doing.

    I have done which does not help.  Contacting Housing Association by phone even Email.  Getting zero response to anything I have a problem with. 

    Always engaged the line. Reason used Email. Spoke to then by phone, if I can.  In fact they say that use Email.  Non urgent.  Still waited a few days for reply.

    Had cold water in a bath.  Problems with taps. Asked by phone to get it fixed took a week. Suggestions by the call handler boil a kettle.  Which infuriated me because when he arrived had not the right taps.

    This is going to be another few days he stated.  I said need a bath have not had one for a week. Please begging to get it sorted.

    I am not surprised by any of the staff and workmen's attitude. 

    I do blame outside influences like the Government. Not helping.

    I am grateful for you to replying to my post.

    Always happy to read anything you sent.

    Thank you for being a friend


    Community Champion
    SCOPE Volunteer Award Engaging Communities 2019
    Mental Health advice, guidance and information to all members
    Nutrition, Diet, Wellbeing, Addiction.
  • GeoarkGeoark Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,380 Disability Gamechanger
    Hello @thespiceman

    I do understand your frustration.

    I deal mainly with leaseholders, as part of my training I had to work in various departments dealing with leaseholders. The relationship is very different as they are responsible for so much and often do not understand what they have taken on. I was speaking to leaseholder over a period of months regarding an old leak in their ceiling and trying to get some answers so that the insurance company would repair the damage. While I was not supposed to do so I eventually arranged to visit the flat. It was incredible, there were rows of minature stalagtites hanging down above the ceiling. I took photos and went back to work to show the manager. There was no way that these were from a single leak. We did manage to get the surveyors to take it seriously and it was eventually resolved.

    When I started doing estate inspections I would back up everything with photos which I included in my reports. Yet sometimes it was like trying to get a tooth extracted. On one inspection I took a couple of photos, one of a concrete bollard sitting on the grass and the second showing the stump of where it should have been. A month later it was still there and when I checked why the job had not been raised I was told I had failed to state exactly where it was. I had mentione it was at the front of the block, the picture made it clear that it was at the car entrance to the block. You could walk the length of the block in a minute. When I expressed my frustration to a colleague they pointed out that they did not have the time to produce such good reports as they inspected many blocks during a month and struggled to get work done. Fortunately the company used their get out clause to get rid of the company eventually.

    I would hate to think what service our tenants were getting. Thankfully things have improved.

    With regards to loss of income and doing additional things I was not including their core functions like repairs, but rather the additional things they do to support tenants, welfare officers, tenancy sustainment etc. An amazing amount of what the government does affects the work of housing associations, sometimes these can be good, but can also backfire on some tenants. We do a lot of work on helping to get tenants back into work and offer a wide range of apprenticeships. This is in line with the government drive and also in helping to safeguard our income and reducing rent arrears. 

    I am aware as cities and towns outgrow themselves the starting building up local villages which can then be attractive to those in work as the prices tend to be cheaper. However the infrastructure can take years to even begin to catch up. Even though people buy their homes, they are so often seen as disposable as fridge freezer or some other large purchase which will see a number of years use and then replaced. Often there is no real attempt at investing their time or energy within the local community, but will kick off when they realise the internet is not what they expected.  Or they have a bad winter and cannot understand why motorways or major road can be cleared of snow but they cannot get onto them as the local roads are not. Or they have romantic ideas what village life is like in rural areas but then get upset when the crow from the farm next door begins to crow early in the morning or the smells of farming life begin to upset them. They are more interested in what village life can provide to them rather than what they can do to contribute to community life.

    To divert from the topic slightly, I have been meaning to ask you if you have ever considered writing a cook book? I love the simplicity of your recipees and also your tips on how to change them for personal taste. I say slightly because one of things that surprised me when my daughter was little was how little  many parents understand about basic cooking. Even to the daughter of one friend calling the wife and asking how to do beans on toast for her daughter. I don't get to cook often these days, and when I did it was sometimes hit and miss. My daughter loves it when I cook as I will usually try just mix up what we have. I did make her salmon fish cakes this week, which she loved. What I am not good at is putting together basic sauces to build on.

    As an individual I stood alone.
    As a member of a group I did things.
    As part of a community I helped to create change!

  • thespicemanthespiceman Member Posts: 6,408 Disability Gamechanger

    Hello @Geoark Thanks very much. Once again I wonder why there is not more people like your good self in the housing and social sector.

    Doing good things for every one.

    I also thank you for mentioning cook book.

    I have considered this. Got aspiration a few times.  Might one day. Who knows. 

    I am one of these gents very much like yourself. Just glad to help and advise, offer guidance.

    Not make an issue but in the background .

    One of my pleasures. Being there and just quietly helping and advising those with basic needs.

    Which is preparing and eating a meal.

    Always happy to advise, help offer solutions.

    Please let me know.

    Your friend


    Community Champion
    SCOPE Volunteer Award Engaging Communities 2019
    Mental Health advice, guidance and information to all members
    Nutrition, Diet, Wellbeing, Addiction.
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