By Betsy Everett
More funding could be made available to help old and vulnerable people living in the upper Dales under an action plan outlined by North Yorkshire County Council.
Gillian Wall, Stronger Communities manager for Richmondshire area, told a meeting of representatives of the emergency services, churches, voluntary groups, local authorities and the NHS that a project manager would be appointed to assess people’s needs and produce an action plan.
“We want someone who will really get under the skin of people in the communities to research what is needed and then come up with a budget, a project design and ideas for other sources of funding as well as our own resourcing plan. They will test ideas and build partnerships with stakeholders,” she said.
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The meeting on ‘The Good Life: supporting older and vulnerable people in the Upper Dales,’ held at the headquarters of the national park authority in Bainbridge, was the first step in engaging people from the voluntary and paid sectors who had a role to play in supporting the increasingly ageing population of the area, said Ms Wall.
Councillor John Blackie, executive chair of the upper dales community partnership, said the spirit of self-reliance and independence that was so prevalent in the area, must be harnessed to face the challenges that lay ahead.
“What we want is to create a situation where people in the upper Dales will never be afraid of growing old here. We want to build a network to help them deal with the issues that come with old age and vulnerability within this caring, special and very committed local community,” he said.
Ms Wall highlighted the challenges: an ageing population, budget cuts for public services, networks and volunteers already being tested, and the cost of providing services in deeply rural areas, often of “huge deprivation.”
She warned, also, that the strong self-help attitude could lead people to a limited awareness of what services are on offer, concerns about involving public services, and a reluctance to accept help when it is needed.
“My own parents, aged 89 and 93, believe when social services come in one door independence goes out the other, and that’s not a good place for elderly people to be,” she said.
Mike Rudd who heads commissioning of old people’s services for North Yorkshire, said a huge number of young people aged 15-19 left the area for work, college or university, often never returning, while the area had a net input of older people retiring here. Although they had skills and experience, the lack of younger people put pressure on the workforce.
Transport, low wages and lack of affordable housing caused problems when recruiting carer, as did the weather and the state of rural roads.
“An ageing population, a complex health environment and a limited workforce cause huge problems,” he said.
Abbie Rhodes, an employee of the Upper Dales Community Partnership which runs a post office, internet cafe, the Little White Bus and other services from the community centre in Hawes, said the centre offered a place of “safety, sanctuary and support.”
She and other members of staff took note of people they feared were becoming vulnerable and needing support.
“My parents ran the pharmacy in Hawes for 40 years so I know the community well. We don’t ever breach confidentiality, but we do make ourselves available to people who come in to the office for a chat and some company, and we would like to expand the service we offer,” she told the audience.