Les Bright describes how a service user organisation in Exeter has struck a blow for older people
Senior Voice is a user involvement project set up by Age Concern Exeter almost 10 years ago and has around 300 active members. It aims to enable older people to comment on key issues affecting their lives. Any older person living in the city can join, and new members are always welcome.
Many members are housebound and so their participation is especially welcome, being a practical example of promoting social inclusion. Members complete a questionnaire covering one or two key topics every quarter – in some cases with the help of a volunteer. The findings are then fed back to bodies that need the information.
The most recent consultation focused on bus services and chiropody – “old chestnuts” that need constant monitoring to ensure that planned changes don’t have an adverse impact on older people.
Members’ views of bus services emerged at a good time because the introduction of free bus travel for older people had provided a welcome fillip to ambitious bus companies.
Senior Voice is respected enough that both the local director of the bus and train company Stagecoach and the council’s transport manager attended a members’ meeting to share their responses to the issues raised.
Social services and the primary care trust both support the project because they see it as being a way of testing out ideas and staying in touch with local older people.
In addition to the questionnaires there is also a panel of members who serve on a range of committees and working groups. Senior Voice is greatly valued by members, as
evidenced by almost 70 per cent of them voting in the recent election for new panellists. Those elected will speak up on behalf of the city’s older people and ask tough questions.
Involvement and participation are here to stay, but will have to be stoutly defended in an era of cuts.
Les Bright is a Senior Voice volunteer