A life in a day

creative way to engage and consult with older people in Shropshire has been a
picture of success, spawning a number of other projects aimed at this
often-ignored group. Graham Hopkins reports.

would disagree that if you want to find out how to improve services for older
people, a good place to start would be by asking older people themselves. But
this client group, despite (or perhaps because of) its large number, proves
difficult to engage effectively. Consultation takes time, effort and money –
all of which seem so scarce that often tokenistic tick-boxing becomes the
preferred "will that do?" policy.

The aim of Better Government for Older People
is "to improve public services for older people by better meeting their
needs, listening to their views and encouraging and recognising their
contribution". Keen to meet this aim, Jack Collier, head of adult services
in Shropshire, set up an older people’s forum, which also sought to promote a
positive attitude towards ageing.

One of its first projects was Dawn ‘Til Dusk.
Last summer, 100 disposable cameras were distributed to older people who had
agreed to make a photographic record of a day in their life. The project aimed
to give older people a chance to learn new skills as well as expressing their
views about what affects their daily lives. Shropshire social services
department contracted Bridgnorth Voluntary Action to manage the project, while
securing sponsorship from partner organisations. "The arts organisations
liked the idea of developing the creativity of a group often ignored by the art
world," says Jane Jarman, BVA’s community development manager at the time.

A local freelance photographer, Jesper Nors,
was recruited to provide workshop training and support, including one-to-one
for those taking part. He also spent a day on the mobile library, promoting the
project in more rural areas. Nors says: "This age group is often forgotten,
despite having the knowledge and experience to offer a valuable contribution to

The longest day of the year, 21 June 2001 –
thankfully a sunny one – was the day chosen. Nors and BVA staff toured the
district helping those taking part. In all 81 cameras were returned in the
pre-paid envelopes. Selected photographs were used in the Dawn ‘Til Dusk book
and exhibition. "The images they produced were great," says Nors.
Collier agrees: "The photographs give a significant insight into the
priorities that older people see in their daily lives. For example, the need
for help in the home, the requirement for physical exercise, healthy eating
options, companionship and the opportunity to explore the beautiful countryside
of Shropshire."

The older people agree. "On attending
the book launch it was very gratifying to see that so many people had
participated," says one. "For this reason alone I think the project
was very worthwhile. Anything that gets us OAPs to have a go and try something
new cannot be bad." Another says that the best thing for her was that
"I had to make the effort to get out".

Nearly two-thirds of those who took part said
they had learned new skills, and three-quarters were keen to take part in
further arts activities. Since Dawn ‘Til Dusk, BVA has organised Silver Quills,
keeping people in touch by writing poems and stories during the winter months,
and are about to kick-off Frayed Knot, a textile work project.

"Dawn ‘Til Dusk has been like doing
youth work with older people, working with them to discover problems with their
lifestyles," says BVA chief officer Robert Money. "The book,
exhibition and postcards are a legacy, but we have not had the funds for a
proper, effective follow-up and evaluation on what impact it has had on
people’s lives – on what has changed."

Nonetheless, with more than 2,000 images
submitted as a result of Dawn ‘Til Dusk, it must be gratifying to turn so many
negatives into something truly positive.

– For information contact Jack Collier at jack.collier@shropshire-cc.gov.uk
or for a report and evaluation of the project, contact Bridgnorth Voluntary
Action on 01746 766 477 or info@bdvca.freeserve.co.uk

names of all service users mentioned in this article have been changed.


Dawn ‘Til Dusk, a photography project for older people.


Development manager, freelance photographer and staff time.

The Shropshire Older People’s Forum wanted creative ways to engage and consult
with older people.

£6,500 met by Shropshire social services, West Midlands Arts, The Nationwide
Foundation, Advantage West Midlands, and Bridgnorth District Arts.

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