To the average person, day centres conjure up an image of older
people sitting in clumpy chairs around the edges of a room, gazing
into the middle and occasionally being roused for a game of bingo
or a cup of tea. The sad truth is that too many day centres,
starved of resource and expertise, still live up to this gloomy
But day centres should be places where older people can go to be
linked into their local communities, not hidden away from them, and
reach new levels of independence.
Old-style centres need to be transformed into focal points for
local communities, with transport links and educational services,
practical support and advice available on-site and extending into
local homes and the wider community.
Communities themselves must be the driving force of centre
development, promoting an atmosphere of choice and control, rather
than fostering a culture of dependence.
The shape, size, location and ownership of centres should be
determined by local need, bringing flexibility and a sense of
ownership. Local authorities, community groups and voluntary
organisations can work together to bring integrated solutions to
problems, such as isolation, immobility, malnutrition and
Centres like these could bring together the generations and
re-integrate older people and other potentially isolated groups.
Where else could an older person, someone who is unemployed, and a
mother with a young child all go to take part in IT training and
healthy eating classes, before browsing the internet and enjoying
an affordable, nutritious meal?
Involving volunteers can bring an even greater range of support,
including training, social interaction and a sense of purpose to a
new group of people.
A focus on preventive care could reduce the need for longer-term
care as people are enabled to live healthily in their own homes for
For too long we have ghettoised older people so that they lose
their independence. This can only be addressed if we revolutionise
our day centres.
Simon Branscomb is director of operations for voluntary
sector social inclusion organisation WRVS