Big Lottery Fund staff connect with older people in Newtownabbey

By Funding manager Beth Bell

Communications manager Caroline Hanna and I took some time out of the office to visit the Getting Out There project run by Newtownabbey’s  Senior Citizens’ Forum.

Getting Out There was funded by our Connecting Older People programme and delivers a brilliant range of activities and support for older people in Newtownabbey.

We arrived during the weekly men’s club and after a quick chat with Robert, who manages the project, were taken inside. We could hear from outside that there was a fierce competition in progress and were soon roped into games of boccia and new age curling (both of which we’re now keen to buy for the office). The ‘lottery girls’ won the boccia competition (I think they went easy on us), but were roundly beaten in the new age curling. I was then invited to have a go at Wii Darts, but the less said about that the better.

We also got to talk to the men about what they get out of the club. The responses were both hilarious and moving. They talked about the pharmacist who comes in to talk about common health issues for older men and stays for tea and a chat so that the men can get individual advice and support. Mainly though, they just wanted to tell us how important the group was in giving them something to get out of the house for and that it was a lifesaver.

We were really impressed by the range of activities on offer and how these have developed and expanded. An afternoon spent helping the men fill out forms for free travel passes has resulted in some of them organising a day out to Portrush. A trip to Dublin is also on the cards, organised by a gentleman who joined the group five months ago. He was isolated after his wife passed away, and had tried a couple of other clubs which didn’t suit him. He was referred to Getting Out There and spoke movingly about the change it has made to his life.

As well as the men’s activities, there is a walking club, knitting and crochet circle, line dancing, tai chi and digital photography, indoor bowls, boccia and two Living Well groups. The project also provides coaches to deliver activities within local care homes and Fold Housing associations.

This project shows so clearly what a committed group can do for a relatively small amount of money. £250,000 over four years has made such an impact on the lives of older people in Newtownabbey, who have been consulted and involved in the project every step of the way.

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