Hackney’s leisure facilities for older people draw praise

Hackney’s concerted effort to improve leisure activities for its ethnically diverse older people’s population has been recognised by the Care Quality Commission.


Hackney Council’s adult social care services were last week rewarded with an excellent rating in the annual performance assessment published by the Care Quality Commission.

The north London council achieved an excellent score in five out of seven outcome categories including improved health and well-being and improved quality of life.

Programmes such as the New Age Games, an annual summer line-up of sporting events held at leisure centres and day centres for older people, have been designed to reduce obesity and the risk of illnesses such as stroke, heart disease and depression.

The games include boccia, which is a Paralympic sport akin to boules, swimming, kayaking, and soca-aerobics, based on the music form that originated in Trinidad.

Now in its second year 80% of 70 participants surveyed have credited the games with helping improve their overall health.

Like all councils across the country, Hackney is under pressure to devise ways of reducing the demand on services caused by the ageing population. By providing opportunities for older people to improve their health and well-being, the local authority is aiming to reduce the onset of ill-health and decline, curbing or delaying demand for social care services.

And for those who have been ill, services are provided to reduce the need for long hospital stays and the need for complex care packages.

Rethinking services

Kim Wright, corporate director for community services, says rethinking services offered to older people to focus on prevention and reablement is vital in recognising the needs of an ageing population and will make savings over the long-term.

She points to the council’s Median Road Resource Centre, a former care home that has been turned into a unit to help rehabilitate people leaving hospital, as an example of its success. Among the facilities offered at the centre are a gym.

Providing leisure activities is not just about helping the council cope with rising demand for services but also about giving people what they want, says Wright.

“Whenever we consult older people about that they want, the main issue is leisure activities. Not public toilets or transport. They want more access to leisure activities,” she says.

They have been funded by a range of budgets across the council including adult social care and leisure, as well as the health service. People taking-up the new leisure activities are a mix of those who are receiving social care services and people who have never been known to social services, says Wright.

She adds that the programme of activities was promoted by social care staff but also publicised to non-service users by traditional marketing strategies such as newspaper coverage and leaflets.

The aim, she says, is to use a universal service such as leisure but provide a targeted programme of events within it, such as free swimming for the over-60s.

Exercise and social interaction

David Thomson, a manager in the council’s community resource team, which is responsible for services to help older people maintain independence, says the council has sought to expand the number of activities that combine exercise with social interaction, such as tea dances.

Thomson is also responsible for the New Age Games, which runs from August until September. Participants do not compete against one another but are encouraged to beat their personal best.

It was designed to appeal to the culturally diverse population of Hackney, a borough where about 150 languages are spoken. Thomson says the challenge was designing a range of events that would appeal to those who have not traditionally taken up council-run services.

“Health issues affect older people and minority groups in particular so we have tried to provide activities that will appeal to people from different cultures,” says Thomson. “With activities such as a soca aerobics older people are seeing that exercise can be an enjoyable thing.”

Marvin Skinner is one of those making use of the new activities on offer. A Hackney resident for 34 years, she hopes that by taking regular exercise she will remain active. For the past three months she has been doing weekly soca aerobics classes and says she has benefited from them physically and socially. “My body feels good. I get to meet different people. I’ve made some good friends. It’s a day I look forward to and it makes me feel younger.”

Watch a video on the range of services on offer in Hackney

This article is published in the 10 December issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Soca-ing up the praise


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