A key finding in research undertaken by Middlesex University’s School of Health and Social Sciences for Age Concern Barnet was that ‘people want to be together in groups’. Middlesex lecturers Kate Brown and Alison Harris worked with Age Concern Barnet to design the research programme and to explore what needs older people felt were not currently being met. Its findings will help Age Concern Barnet to ensure their services respond to the needs of older people in the borough – including people who do not currently use Age Concern’s Centres.
Focus groups were held with regular users of day centres in the borough as well as with one housebound group. Lecturer Alison Harris commented: “Barnet is the second most diverse borough in the country and we have aimed for a diverse group of study participants”.
Research participants felt attendance at social groups was very important, giving them a sense of belonging and the opportunity to do things together, as well as providing a source of companionship. The pattern of attendance varied - some people attended once a month whilst others went three times a week. For many, their local social group provided a structure to their week which was otherwise lacking. One person commented: “Many people are confined to their homes because they cannot take part in things, because those things are not available”, underlining the fact that when social activities are available, they play a very strong role in encouraging\countering isolation and loneliness. For the group of housebound people, attending a social group was the only social outing they had.
Focus group members greatly appreciated those facilities and activities which were available to them. There was a willingness to take part in physical activity but there was a need for a greater range of activities – as one participant said: “Swimming is not for everyone...”. There was also some anxiety that service provision could be taken away. The aspirations of the groups were modest, people were aware of limitations on resources and their suggestions for additional activities and services were generally low-cost.
Other concerns which featured strongly amongst the focus groups included access to services, especially to health services, transport issues and domestic needs such as security, particularly amongst those in social housing. There was also concern about how to obtain information, and linked to that, concerns about getting to grips with IT. Participants’ responses confirmed that most older people want to be independent and live in their own homes for as long as possible – continuing to meet needs as far as possible will enable more older people to achieve this aim.
Kate Brown said: “Our findings have underlined that although many needs could be met in individual’s homes, the social element is hugely important. We hope our recommendations will help policy makers in formulating and planning services for the future. People want to be together in groups and day centres play a vital role in this, providing opportunities for group activity, support networks and companionship”.
Kate added: “The population aged over 65 in Barnet is expected to increase from 14% to 27% over the next decade. We hope that the findings and recommendations in this report will help policy makers to plan provision for older people which will really meet the needs of this group”.
Chair of Age Concern Barnet, Julia Hines commented: “This report rang so many bells... The evidence in the report will be very useful and we have already been able to take on some of the recommendations. At Age Concern we want to diversify what we can offer and it is vital that we consult and are guided by older people”.