Charity has a new boss at the helm to support Wigan's older people

The new boss of a Wigan charity is urging people to show their support and help to make a difference for older people in the borough.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 12:30 pm

Bryonie Shaw started work as the chief executive of Age UK Wigan Borough in September and has been busy settling into her new role.

It has been quite a change, as she previously worked in the housing sector, for both social housing providers and local authorities across the North West.

But it was the coronavirus pandemic that inspired her to make a move and join Age UK Wigan Borough.

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Bryonie Shaw

Bryonie said: “I think it seems such a long time since that first lockdown, but thinking back to the way communities responded, I remember people were popping notes through each other’s doors offering help with shopping. I have a number of retirees as neighbours and people were looking out for each other. It makes you assess what it is you are doing.

“Although I have loved working in the organisations I have worked for and working with vulnerable groups, it was almost like I was wondering if there was something I could do and bring my skill-set and knowledge and experience to that’s a bit more impactful directly.”

The death of her mother also made her re-evaluate her career and when the post became available at Age UK Wigan Borough, she knew it was time to make a leap.

Bryonie said: “It was clear they had a tough old time and wanted somebody to come in and work with the trustees and support the organisation to a stronger future.

“I felt the skills and experience I have got could help with that. It was also fulling my changing aspirations for my working life.”

Age UK is a national organisation, but it is federated, with its branches around the country registered and operating as charities in their own rights.

That means that all the money raised locally by Age UK Wigan Borough is spent supporting people who live in the borough.

The charity does that in three main ways - its Bright Days programme, an information and advice service, and a handy-person and home help service.

Bright Days sees activities held across the borough, including the Silver Choir, a ukulele group, walking football, bingo, and a weekly soup and sandwich event.

The sessions allow people to get out of their homes, socialise and do something they enjoy, addressing issues such as loneliness and isolation.

Careful consideration is given to what people like to do, as Age UK caters for anyone over 50, who may have different interests and experiences to those in their 80s.

The information and advice service provides vital help and is run with Citizens Advice and other partners. Support on all sorts of matters is available, such as filling in forms and how to receive benefits, and last year the team helped people to get an additional income of £1.8m.

The handy-person and home help service works with the council and helps to make sure patients can safely return home from hospital, for example by installing grab rails or a step.

It can help in plenty of other ways around the home, like simple tasks such as replacing light bulbs, as well as helping someone with their shopping or just sitting with them to keep them company.

It runs as a social enterprise, so while people pay, it is at a subsidised rate, helping to bring income for the charity.

The Age UK shops in the borough - at Pennyhurst Mill in Wigan and in Leigh town centre - are run by the national charity, so the closure of these during the pandemic did not affect the income of Age UK Wigan Borough.

But it has still been a difficult time and finances is one of the things Bryonie has been looking out.

“A lot of charities found it really difficult,” she said. “A lot of our funding is reduced and the way we are funded has changed dramatically - the amount of grants aren’t there like they were.

“We need to look at how we can maintain our income to keep the services running.”

One way of bringing in funding is to highlight the importance of local people specifically supporting Age UK Wigan Borough, rather than the national Age UK.

Bryonie said: “It’s not that that isn’t worthwhile and it absolutely is, but it is about the Wigan pound and people understanding Age UK Wigan Borough is a charity in our own right.”

Bryonie is looking at the charity’s future and is keen to recruit more volunteers, as numbers dropped significantly due to the pandemic. She will also be recruiting for trustees.

People are being encouraged to donate directly to the charity or organise fund-raising activities, while she hopes businesses will also show their support.

To contact Age UK, call 01942 615880 or visit the wesbsite www.ageuk.org.uk/wiganborough/

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