In 2017 I planned a holiday that would take me to Australia to visit friends. I decided to use a bit of time to visit Newcastle in New South Wales as I had met Bob Cook, the representative from there, in Canada at the 2016 conference.
Bob and I emailed each other and agreed to meet one day in November when he (and his wife Lyn) would show me their Newcastle and talk to me about older people and their involvement in the community.
About two weeks before we met, I had to change the meeting date (by one day) so I emailed Bob from New Zealand. I still hadn’t heard by the day I was to meet, which left me in a dilemma; I only had this day so decided I would go anyway. The train journey from Sydney to Newcastle takes about three hours but it’s a beautiful journey as the train crosses the Hawkesbury River and follows it for many miles so you see marinas and if lucky wild life too.
Arriving at the brand new station in Newcastle, my heart sank as Bob wasn’t there; I waited for the next train from Sydney just in case timing failed but no: he and Lyn weren’t there. Not to be dis-heartened, especially as it was a gloriously sunny and warm day, I walked into town to the local council offices and explained why I was there.
They could not have been more helpful and within ten minutes I was sitting in the gardens with Stephen, a community development facilitator, who spent the next hour and a half talking to me about older people in his community.
There is a Youth Council, which allows opportunities to input into local community issues. But there is no equivalent for older people; there is nothing similar to our own Elders Council, which I found interesting and perhaps a question needs to be asked by the older people there. However, there is a multitude of groups and activities, over 80 of them, which feature in the Seniors Directory. The first two activities in the directory are all about surfing and swimming with large numbers of older people involved. Then there are ones we might be more used to such as scrabble and lots of musical offers. However, there is a focus on activities in the great outdoors. There is some funding available but, like here, it’s often down to form-filling and bidding for cash.
For those needing support to remain independent there is a home support programme; an assessment is needed to enter this programme and there are various levels and types of support available. Although some people will receive this free of charge, the majority of people pay towards the cost of the care.
Stephen showed me the latest university building (yes, they too are in the process of developing new buildings,) where I had some late lunch. I was so very grateful to Stephen and his line manager for giving me so much time.
And what happened with Bob? When I returned to Sydney, I received an email from Bob saying how he was looking forward to meeting with me tomorrow, the date originally planned! I just could not understand what on earth was happening and sent an immediate reply explaining all and just hoped it would reach him. I had been foolish in not taking any other means of contact.
When I returned home just before Christmas, I discovered that all the time I had been away ALL the emails I had sent had simply gone into my outbox and no further. So Bob had received none of my emails at all and I’m sure he and Lyn turned up at Newcastle station with a full itinerary for me. I have since emailed him from home with an explanation and apologies for this terrible mix-up. I hope he has forgiven me.
As older people, we know that social care is in urgent need of reform with fewer people getting the help they might need to remain independent at home. A group of Elders Council members set out to explore alternative models of care and support. Their findings are available in a report in the Reports section of the website. Elders Council is now discussing the findings with Newcastle City Council and others in the hope that more innovative models of care will be offered in the city.