Bridging generation gap is key to Age UK Norfolk

Any of us who live and work in Norfolk know that for all of the attractions of a rural county there can be a downside, particularly as we reach our advancing years.

And that is where Age UK Norfolk comes in. Branches across the county, whether in Cromer, Thetford, Great Yarmouth or Swaffham, can all offer access to advice and support to communities and individuals, from those who have a query about a benefits claim, to somebody struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one, to someone simply wanting to take part in a computer class.

But Age UK Norfolk does not just offer advice and activities, but staff and volunteers can also help communities set up day services or lunch clubs, and give help and advice for anyone who wants to set up their own.

Eamon McGrath, community development manager at Age UK Norfolk, said the charity works with 350 to 400 clubs in Norfolk.

'It's about working with Norfolk people for the benefit of Norfolk people,' he said. 'There's so much going on now. Some of the more traditional clubs have closed, but others have opened up in their place.

'A lot of people aren't looking for an 'age' group, but are looking for an interest group such as a camera club, or a reading group,' he added.

'We have also been working to reach out to people who are often excluded from mainstream services such as travellers and lesbian, gay and bisex-ual people and we say, 'this is what we do, how can we support you?'.

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'What we are trying to do is empower people rather than saying 'we will come in and do it for you'.'

Lyn Battrick, general manager of Age UK North Norfolk, said: 'We provide a range of services across North Norfolk aimed at supporting individuals and giving them a better quality of life. We are always looking for new ways of serving people and providing different opportunities for people to socialise together. Our office in Cromer has been offering computer training for older people and, as well as learning about computers, they have enjoyed one another's company – if the laughter that has accompanied the training is anything to go by.'

Kate Arnold, manager of services, at Age Concern Thetford, said the charity offered a range of services.

'One of our most popular services is the transport to the local shops and supermarkets in Thetford, for our clients living in the outlying villages,' she said. 'Our clients not only do their shopping, but also get the opportunity to have a cup of tea or coffee and catch up with their friends on the bus, making it an important social activity as well.

'Our clients watch out for each other, making sure that anyone who cannot come one week has the necessities they need.'

Rachel McLean, chairman of Age Concern Great Yarmouth, said the charity was busy at looking at ways it could it could offer new services to older people.

'We are pleased and proud to have been awarded funding from the Big Lottery to develop our services within the borough,' she said. 'We have already opened a couple of new lunch clubs based in local pubs so that we can provide a meal and social activities for older people who might otherwise become quite isolated.

'There are two further similarly located lunch clubs in the pipeline. We are now planning to develop a befriending service to reach out and visit people in their own homes using local volunteers.'

James Dean, treasurer of Age Concern Swaffham and District, said the organisation had benefited from a �115,000 five-year Big Lottery grant.

'We are going to be expanding our befriending service to support more people in and around Swaffham,' he said. 'This will add to our existing social activities where we meet for entertainment and companionship and later this year a group of us will be going on holiday together.

'We know from our experience of working in the area that many people feel socially isolated, which is why we look forward to being able to serve more people'.