"I never thought I’d have the level of confidence that I have now!”
Two years ago, Carole's friend introduced her to a craft group which has helped her regain her confidence and develop her skills as an artist. She is no longer isolated but now very much part of the wider community, taking part in projects that are happening across the city.
For many years, Carole struggled with her confidence. She is registered deaf and always found it difficult to integrate with other people because of her disability.
People without a hearing impairment often ask Carole about the differences between deaf and Deaf. She explained: "A Deaf person, with a capital 'D', is a British Sign Language user and has had a severe hearing loss. They are involved heavily in the Deaf community and have a culture of their own. A deaf person might not be as deaf and is more a part of the wider community."
For a long time, Carole struggled to feel connected to other people. She said: "It is hard when you when you have a disability, let alone being an older person with it."
Then one rainy day in March 2017, her friend told her about an arts and craft group that was funded as part of the Ageing Better in Birmingham programme.
"When my friend invited me along to this group, I thought okay, what is the worst that can happen? Surely there will be others there too who don't know anyone."
Carole came along to Creative Threads, a group meeting in Harborne in Birmingham, which she has now been going to for about two years. Carole thinks the sessions are great with lots of activities that interest her, including helping with the planning along with the other members.
"It's nice to do things with others and even though I have a hearing impairment, no one makes a thing about it.
"I was quite lonely before but I have made a lot of new friends since starting here. They understand me and like the same things that I do. They are nice and they make me laugh!"
Recently, Creative Threads was linked to a project at the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham called 'Celebrating Age'. This has led to Carole benefitting from new experiences which have been especially focused around those with hearing impediments. She has thoroughly enjoyed her time with her friends and is also growing in her skills as an artist and developing her connections with other older people along the way.
She said: "When I first went to the group, I never thought I'd have the level of confidence that I have now!"
By 2020 almost 57,000 people aged 65+ will be living alone in Birmingham (37% of the age group). These proportions are higher than the England and regional figures. Birmingham also has a four times higher proportion of residents aged 65-85+ from Asian and Asian British backgrounds and Black/Black British and Caribbean backgrounds than the rest of England.
While Ageing Better in Birmingham operates city-wide, effort and resources are targeted in four priority areas:
- Two geographical areas where the risks were especially heavily clustered – outer-city Tyburn, and inner-city Sparkbrook; and
- Two thematic groups where other factors, such as cultural isolation or personal circumstances (stress, exhaustion, depression), significantly increase the risks of social isolation, these being older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and older carers (1-in-8 residents are carers).
Taking a strengths-based approach, Ageing Better in Birmingham addresses isolation and loneliness by supporting unconstituted groups to improve connectivity in our communities. The programme is also preventing isolation and loneliness by delivering activity that addresses the different structural problems within our communities that cause isolation and loneliness.
So far, the programme has engaged over 7,000 people. Reflective of the ‘super-diversity’ of Birmingham, our participants are supporting each other out of loneliness and isolation in a way that has been verified by independent evaluation. The programme will leave a transformed landscape for the city.
In order to achieve this, Ageing Better in Birmingham is currently working with Birmingham City Council to help make Birmingham an Age-Friendly City and is supporting the transformation of the voluntary and community sector to offer ongoing effective support to communities into the future.