From volunteer to client: Retired teacher loving life with Age UK

Age UK service user Jean Aldridge who takes part in the ActivAge program.
Age UK service user Jean Aldridge who takes part in the ActivAge program.
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From volunteer to valued member, Jean Aldridge knows all about the sterling work done by Age UK Sunderland.

The 76-year-old former school teacher and social services worker with Sunderland City Council used to volunteer for the Wearside charity, as well as work in their shop and offices in Stockton Road.

Age UK service user Jean Aldridge who takes part in the ActivAge program.

Age UK service user Jean Aldridge who takes part in the ActivAge program.

Now having put so much into the organisation, Jean now enjoys the benefits of the important services they run.

Jean attends a weekly ActivAge group run by the charity known to members as ‘Sew Social’ or ‘knit, stitch, chit and chat’ which has been running for six years and is held at the Bradbury Centre, in Stockton Road.

Now she’s supporting Age UK’s ‘No One Should Have No One campaign’ - which is backed by the Echo - that is urging people to help the charity, particularly by getting involved with its befriending service, which puts volunteers in contact with lonely older people.

“I go along to an Age UK knit and natter group on a Friday afternoon and we have a cup of tea and a nice chat,” said mum-of-two Jean, of Thornhill.
“It’s part of the ActivAge programme and I think it is fabulous the way they provide all these various groups. When you get older, there is a lot of people living alone so it is nice for people to come out and meet others and do something together.”

Age UK’s ActivAge programme runs 113 courses and activities in a variety of subject areas for elderly people across the city including yoga, computers for beginners and Scrabble.

Jean has been going to the group for around eight years and also attends Tai Chi on a Monday, another ActivAge activity.

“I get a lovely leaflet every term which has details of the different ActivAge activities, it’s really good,” Jean added.

“I think Age UK Sunderland have a fantastic selection of programmes for everybody. It helps to tackle loneliness in older people by giving them companionship and good times. Volunteers are really important to run the groups and their work is invaluable. Being a volunteer I feel is very important as it gives a lot of help and pleasure to people and it gives the volunteer a feeling of self worth.”

Age UK Sunderland officials are delighted after seeing an increase in petition signatures to tackle the problem of loneliness in the city’s elderly.

This week, charity bosses have reported that over 100 people have signed their Loneliness Petition to raise the issue of social isolation in Government.

Since the campaign kicked off the charity has seen over 30 new volunteers sign up to help in a variety of its services ranging from befriending to its weekly lunch clubs.

Alan Patchett, director at Age UK Sunderland, said he was delighted with the number new volunteers.

He added: “We are very grateful to all those people who have signed up and we urge others to do the same.”

Age UK campaign

Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year as we enjoy festive cheer with our families and friends.

But for many elderly folk across Wearside, it can be a very lonely time.

In Sunderland, Age UK estimates there are 42,771 people aged 60 and over who could be classed as lonely or socially isolated. Of those, some 9,982 are over 80.

Age UK says some senior citizens in Sunderland can go for a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

The Sunderland Echo is teaming up with Age UK’s team in the city to launch our No One Should Have No One campaign – urging people to help the charity, particularly by getting involved with its befriending service, which puts volunteers in contact with lonely older people.

Age UK is also calling for local and national government action to recognise loneliness as a serious health hazard and put policies in place to tackle it.

It is asking the public to sign its loneliness petition to make sure no one has no one.

It wants to see the Government and Sunderland City Council develop strategies to map, prevent and address loneliness; evaluate and improve existing services to combat loneliness; and invest in testing and evaluating innovative solutions to loneliness.

To sign the petition online or donate to Age UK, visit the charity’s website.

Alternatively, click here to get a printable version of the petition to sign and send in – get your friends to sign it too.

To get involved in volunteering, contact Age UK Sunderland volunteer co-ordinator Barry Hall on 0191 5141131