ONE YEAR ON: Age UK Wigan Borough reflects on a challenging 12 months

The borough's branch of the national charity has been supporting some of our oldest residents through Covid-19.
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The last year has been difficult for many elderly Wiganers as they have been at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from the novel coronavirus and have had to shield.

And that has meant a lot of work supporting and helping them for the team at Age UK Wigan Borough.

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The local branch of the charity has performed a huge range of tasks, from dropping off groceries and medication to putting on online activities to doing welfare calls to ensure those having to stay at home were not finding it taking too much of a toll.

Age UK Wigan Borough chief officer John McArdleAge UK Wigan Borough chief officer John McArdle
Age UK Wigan Borough chief officer John McArdle

It has also done this with short numbers as many of its volunteers are themselves older and have been unable to contribute as they have been taking precautions around their own health.

Chief officer John McArdle reflected on the trials and tribulations of the past 12 months and the different services the charity has been asked to provide.

He said: “It has been a hell of a ride, uniquely challenging. I think we’re all exhausted by it and this last lockdown has really been tough.

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“In the first lockdown it was a lot of physical work. We were doing 30 food shops a day, delivering food parcels, running to get prescriptions for people.

“We would have people phoning us at about 4pm saying they had nothing in for their tea or they needed a prescription for medication they needed to take before bed.

“There hasn’t been as much of that this lockdown. People have made arrangements for online shopping or for family members to do shopping. We are continuing with the welfare calls. We’ve done 10,000 of them during this pandemic.”

Mr McArdle paid tribute to the resilience of the older generation in Wigan in getting on with the difficult circumstances of the pandemic and keeping going through the changing rules and regulations.

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He said he spoke to some people who had really only been out of their homes in the past year to have their first dose of a vaccination.

He spoke of the psychological toll that almost a year of isolation from other people or reliance on technology to communicate has had on the older generation.

He said: “This time the sense of boredom and frustration has been greater. What has been most important to us has been keeping people engaged.

“If people’s families are elsewhere in the country and they’re used to having a busy social life and remaining fairly active they are now finding it hard going.”

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Age UK Wigan Borough has certainly done its part to help keep people entertained, with activities including sessions on Zoom, gardening kits and a growing club and huge weekly packs full of crosswords, quizzes and other puzzles.

The charity also teamed up with our sister paper the Wigan Post for Lockdown Film Star, in which service users shot footage of themselves doing everyday tasks or explaining how they were filling their time while remaining at home.

However, like many good causes, Age UK Wigan Borough has found the past 12 months have had significant impact on the finances.

Mr McArdle said the charity’s spending including racking up £9,000 on shopping and then crossing fingers in the hope residents would be able to pay the money back.

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With the vaccine programme well advanced for older residents, Mr McArdle said there is now a renewed sense of optimism around the charity that the end could be start to come into view.

However, there is still apprehension about what comes next as the roadmap for emerging from lockdown starts to be followed.

He said: “We are conscious of people exhibiting some anxiety about things reopening after lockdown.

“There is certainly going to be an issue as we resume face-to-face activities, particularly for those who have been shielding.

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“We’re trying to make sure we will be using places with enough space for people to keep some distance if they wish.

“However, there’s a huge sense of relief and gratitude towards the NHS, and the vaccines mean there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train.”

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