Cheshire West and Chester’s Brightlife partnership is celebrating International Women’s Day (8th March) by sharing remarkable stories of women making a difference to local older people.
Brightlife is part of the national Ageing Better programme made possible by National Lottery funding from the Big Lottery Fund. It works to reduce loneliness and social isolation amongst the over 50s. Brightlife funds a number of grassroots community projects through an initiative called ‘Bright Ideas’. Many of these projects are designed and delivered by inspirational women in the communities that they live in.
Brightlife recognises that it is the hard work and dedication of these amazing women who make a real difference to combat loneliness in our communities. These women go largely unnoticed outside of their own projects, but Brightlife is taking the opportunity to celebrate everything they do to combat loneliness this International Women’s Day.
Kate Blakemore runs Motherwell, a registered charity which supports the mental health and wellbeing of women, primarily Mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Kate has received Brightlife funding for a mentoring programme where women over 50 mentor younger women who have had their children taken from their care.
Kate said: “I had a lot of interest from older women wanting to help younger women going through difficulties to help share their experience and provide them with support. The mentoring relationship is long-term over a couple of years so that trust is built up and a deep relationship forms. This can be life changing for both women. International Women’s Day is huge for me after I launched Motherwell on the day four years ago – to me it is a chance to celebrate the achievements of women and encourage one another to believe in themselves and try new things.”
Kay Slater (75) runs the ‘Lite Bite Café’ twice a week at Stanney Grange and Flatt Lane Community Centres, Ellesmere Port. Kay has volunteered for over 27 years, from being a football manager to under 14 boys, running a cyber centre and now the café which she runs twice a week for older people in the area.
After Kay set up the café initially with her own funds, she applied for ‘Bright Ideas’ funding which has enabled her to purchase equipment such as microwaves, a freezer and all of the cutlery and crockery for the café. Kay runs the café twice a week and has been delighted with the response.
“I started Lite Bites because I was aware that there were a lot of older people who were stuck in the house not seeing other people. Not seeing anyone day to day would be my worst nightmare so I started this group to help encourage people to come out, have a meal and meet other people. Getting the Brightlife funding was a Godsend and I hope one day there will be more projects like this to help bring people together and not be lonely.”
Reverend Tina Upton, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Blacon put in a bid for funding for a minibus to help people with poor mobility to get out of the house to go to their community outreach café. The project is called ‘Blacon on the Move’ and commenting on it, Tina said: “We had only ever dreamt of being able to afford a minibus before we put the bid to Brightlife in. We have a lot of people in our community who can’t leave the house easily and end up stuck inside with no-one to talk to. Having our minibus now enables us to help those individuals with poor mobility to come and meet other people and make new friends.”
Commenting on what International Women’s Day means to Tina, she said: “It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate women around the world. If I think about the amazing women I know, it is about the inspiration they give me – the belief I get by looking at their achievements and feeling that maybe I could do something. I think it has a lot to do with confidence and if I could go back and advise my younger self it would be to have a go – because you never know what might happen and what have you got to lose?”
Angie Hamlett-Orme (Byron) (75), has led a busy life working in the army, as a Police Officer, Security Training Co-ordinator for a leading supermarket, an actress and a holiday representative. Angie now volunteers with the Brightlife Drop in at the Chatterbox Café in Winsford. Having had such diverse experiences in her life helps her to keep the customers entertained.
Angie said: “I love volunteering because of the feeling that I have achieved something and made some people’s lives better. I enjoy the rapport that we have built up in the community and it enhances my life too! I’d hate to be lonely so I do get myself involved in lots of things and I think it helps that I am a confident person. If I had a magic wand I would identify every single person who is lonely so that we could reach out to them – there are hundreds of lonely people we don’t know about and that makes me sad.”
Commenting on the advice she would give to the new Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch, Angie said: “She needs to come out into the community, meet people, talk to us, see what it is like. Fund more projects and get more communications out to let people know what is available to them.”
Donna Hufton works as a Sheltered Housing Officer for Muir Group Housing Association managing sheltered accommodation in Vicars Cross, Chester. Everyday Donna witnesses first-hand the problems of social isolation and loneliness in older people. Through Brightlife funding she has supported some of the women to organise some social events to help bring them together.
Donna said: “Both men and women in older age find it difficult to make friendships. I think that women are more likely to get involved in social events but generally older people, particularly women, tend to put themselves down…they don’t feel they have a right to speak up. I am really passionate about working with older people, helping them to see they do have a place in society by encouraging them to get out there and meet new people.
“To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are holding an inspirational women’s event and asking friends and family to nominate the older women in their lives that have made a difference to them. Hopefully this will prove to our older ladies that they have so much to offer and have achieved so much.”
Viv Gee, Chair of the Older People’s Alliance for Brightlife jokes that she has never been busier since retiring! Viv got involved with Brightlife because she liked the fact that it is led and designed by older people for older people.
Viv said: “There are a lot of people trying to tackle the issue of loneliness. Through volunteering for Brightlife I have met lots of new people which has really helped me in older age. It does take confidence to get out of the house, walk into somewhere new and strike up a conversation. Even though I am used to it, I still get nervous but if you can make that first step, meeting new people can make all of the difference. I want people to know they don’t have to be alone.
These women are all making a difference in their community day in, day out. Another woman who has made a difference in her life is Joan Meredith (88). Joan belongs to the Brightlife Friday Friends group in Malpas. She says it has helped her to meet new people and make new friends.
Joan has led an interesting life as a teacher of the deaf and as an activist in different kinds of campaigns including anti-nuclear, women’s rights, anti-apartheid, domestic violence and prison welfare. It was during her recovery from breast cancer that she found out about Brightlife.
Joan said: “I was sitting in the house on my own. I did not know anyone in Malpas when I moved here. Then I decided to join the NHS walking group and someone mentioned the Brightlife social group. It has really helped to bring people together and I have met some amazing people, one of whom was a lady called Doris who had been in the WRENS during the war. Sadly, she passed away recently but if it had not been for Brightlife we would never have met. That is what it is all about – meeting people, discovering their stories and making friends.”
International Women’s Day provides the ideal opportunity to celebrate and applaud the achievements of these women and others like them who are making a difference to older people in Cheshire West and Chester.