Happy New Year wishes and a very warm hello from the Age Scotland U lab hub. We are a very small hub based in Edinburgh. There are 3 of us; Jenny Ackland, Yolanda Strachan and Jenni Inglis. Our shared interest is older people and the very positive contribution they make within our society. We would like to share with you our U Lab journey and story so far which has resulted in two interlinked prototypes.
Reflections on our U Lab Experience
Yolanda and Jenni met at the U Lab Scotland event on 1st September in Edinburgh. By this time Jenni had been working on Wellderly, with the assistance of volunteer strategy advisors for some time. It had been really hard to make progress at times, with many people misunderstanding Wellderly as being about addressing older people’s issues and with nobody yet being prepared to fund a challenge process to see how it works. Similarly, Yolanda and Jenny had found the development of their idea challenging with retired AHP’s finding it hard to develop a volunteering role working with health care colleagues.
We all came into U Lab 2.0 with an open mind to go on a journey of discovery together about positive ageing and how our ageing population can be an opportunity and not just a problem. We had planned from the outset to go out afresh into the community and inquire together with older people, e.g. in sheltered housing about positive ageing. It was not possible to achieve this during the course but we are looking forward to taking up an invitation from a Housing Association in 2016.
It is a surprise to us that the experience of sharing the live sessions together and reflecting on our journeys did not result in a new idea. It has however made it clearer to us all just how important our existing ideas are, and enabled us to “unstick” many issues. We realised we had already been acting from a strong sense of an emerging future that all people are valuable and can be creative, which boosted our confidence. We also realised that we have in fact two got two complementary ideas which both harness the skills of people in retirement in different ways. Seeing it in that light has led to the will to support each other to succeed. The support we gave each other to develop our practice in light of inspiration from course materials means we have formed strong relationships and expanded the range of skills and resources available to develop our ideas. One of Jenni’s posts on social media also attracted a new strategic advisor for Wellderly. In summary U Lab Scotland has given us a shared language, enhanced existing practice, and a highlighted a wider community of change makers.
Our two Prototypes for Positive Ageing
This is something that we feel passionately about and we felt we must surely be able to do something that could bring about even a small change. Statistics about Scotland’s increasing older population sometimes result in older people being viewed as a drain on scarce resources and a burden on society. Our view is that older people have a wealth of experience and skills to offer and that society should celebrate and embrace the potential and contribution that older people provide – we need to turn this around!
Wellderly – Prototype 1
Our separate co-sensing phases started in 2014, when we started talking about this issue and what we could potentially do to facilitate a change.
Jenni (with friends Moyra and Keerthana) (J, M &K) were exploring what life was like for older people with a rurally based older people’s forum. The rich and varied life experience and skills of older people shone through and J, M&K were determined that whatever was developed would value older people as an asset. None of the group had a design background and yet, through studying and applying service design principles and practices they saw how it was possible to tackle even complex problems.
Further inspired by Professor Bob Keagan’s work (which was also mentioned in U Lab 2.0), J, M & K developed an idea called Wellderly. Wellderly enables older people to form design teams to develop new responses to problems that affect people of all ages; from public health problems like obesity, to empty high streets. Jenni has been trained in complementary approaches including participatory action research and design.
Prototyping commenced quite quickly in October 2014 through running workshops with older people and decision makers where they explored an issue and generated new ideas using a variety of design based methods.
These were a big hit and J, M &K became convinced that older people, even or perhaps especially those who have lived hard lives and/or have some support needs have valuable knowledge that could be harnessed to tackle the big social problems of our time.
Neighbourhood AHPs -Prototype 2
At around the same time Yolanda and Jenny were having many conversations with a wide range of people about the issues affecting older people in Scotland. This included older peoples groups, health professionals, Scottish Government advisors, third sector and independent sector organisations. These deep conversations led to a much better understanding of where there is already good practice in place for older people and where there are gaps. From regular and ongoing exchanges, ideas started to be drawn to creating something different that could potentially be tested out. This would complement what was already in place to help to reduce loneliness and isolation and make quality of life better for vulnerable older people (presencing phase).
Yolanda and Jenny continued to talk to others and refine our thoughts and ideas. They had become interested in finding out more about Parish Nursing as this often cropped up in the conversations. Parish Nursing is an integrative model of health prevention and minimisation of illness within the context of a community of faith although the Parish Nurses work with people from all faiths or none. The role is based around a registered nurse as a trusted member of the community providing a range of supports to vulnerable people within a ‘parish’ area.
Background research led to us meeting with Barbara MacFarlane, Scotland’s Parish Nurse Coordinator who was a complete inspiration. She talked about the impact that some of her Parish Nursing projects have been making with vulnerable people within local communities.
This information was shared with colleagues and groups and over time Yolanda and Jenny kept coming back to the question – ‘What is it we can do that could really make a difference? Is there something that is new and not currently in place or which has not yet been tested?’ (crystallising phase)
Inspired by U Lab 1.0, conversations continued at a ‘design day’ organised in Edinburgh during January 2014. At the meeting ideas were shared with some key individuals who work with older people – and the group shared their ideas and aspirations too. At the close of the day, it was unanimously agreed that it would be good to test out a project, which would utilise the skills and experience of the Allied Health Professions (AHPs)
Both Jenny and Yolanda are registered AHPs and have the clinical backgrounds that could underpin a project involving AHPs. It was decided that the project would be based on the Parish Nursing principles and be inclusive of all faiths and none. It would differ from Parish Nursing by using volunteer and/or retired AHPs as opposed to employed nurses. This was something that had not been tested out with the AHP community before and would be an opportunity for a completely different approach.
Moving towards testing out this prototype a lot of groundwork was completed around how this project could look and how it could be implemented safely. The volunteer coordinator in Age Scotland supported the development of a role description and training package for potential volunteers. All the practical elements such as metrics, paperwork and supervision arrangements were developed for a role that could be undertaken by a volunteer/retired AHP.
So the Neighbourhood AHP project has now arrived with the overall aim to tackle isolation, loneliness and improve confidence, quality of life for vulnerable older people. A key role of the AHP volunteers is to be a trusted point of contact and to advise and support vulnerable older people to be the best they can be. They will develop good links to local GP practices, NHS and to support resources in the community and voluntary sector, including faith organisations, police, fire and rescue services etc.
Where are we now?
In autumn 2015 Yolanda and Jenny recruited their first volunteer AHP, an Occupational Therapist by background. She is currently scoping her neighbourhood identifying need and what services and community resources are available.
More retired AHPs are needed to volunteer for the project and Yolanda and Jenny would love to hear from anyone in Scotland who would like to be involved or is interested in finding out more information.
Jenni is prototyping a small-scale version Wellderly, through a service matching pairs of older people with international students who plan to attend a Scottish University to provide orientation. Jenni is looking for partners to work on this.
We hope you have enjoyed reading our story so far – we have so much enjoyed being part of this learning journey and participating in the U Lab experience. We know we still have a long way to go however we are enjoying the process very much!
Please contact us if you would like more information.
 Evidence Review: Loneliness in later life Age UK (2014)