LinkAge Network successfully merged with Age UK Bristol (AUKB) on 31 March 2020 and took on leadership of AUKB’s new Community Services Department. Simultaneous to the merger, the world went into lockdown to protect everyone against coronavirus, and LinkAge was able to contribute to AUKB’s organisational needs plus its response to the pandemic.
Virtual Activities group, services and website – At the start of the pandemic, AUKB established the Support Hub for older people; a collaboration of local charities which, over time, has grown to 30+ members. LinkAge was beautifully placed to lead a sub-group of the Hub, the Virtual Activities Group, a forum of about 10 organisations working together to provide opportunities for older people to stay connected with each other, keep active and maintain a sense of purpose during lockdown. The group has developed a portfolio of offers to local people, including telephone groups, for which LinkAge is managing the contract. Currently, 16 groups are running each week, delivered by 7 partners, and in July we had nearly 400 attendances. Other offers also include paper based activities provided by Bristol Bears and Wyldwood Arts, and remote physical exercise, provided by Active Ageing Bristol, Alive and the Exercise Club. Meanwhile, the existing LinkAge website has been adapted to provide an online presence for local virtual activities.
Adoption of existing services – It was always the plan that LinkAge would head up AUKB’s existing community services; FAB, Active Together, Healthy Together, and computer courses. During the pandemic some of these services have been forced to stop, however, LinkAge has also been able to move some online. For instance, the Withywood Café group now meets weekly via telephone conference facilitated by a FAB volunteer. In the next few months, LinkAge will work with AUKB to review and refine the community services offer to fit the new world into which we will all emerge.
New services – Since April 2020, LinkAge is co-managing two new AUKB projects with AUKB’s Information and Advice Service: Veterans Should Not be Forgotten and work with older prisoners in HMP Horfield. Both projects are reaching out to the respective groups to engage them in our respective services. Furthermore, AUKB’s day centre, New Beginnings, is moving under the LinkAge mantle to better connect venue-based care with services in the community.
CEO Kay Libby comments: ‘LinkAge’s role in AUKB is only possible due to the financial support provided by Anchor. Without this support, LinkAge Network would have been necessitated to close and its years of experience, knowledge and trusted brand would have been lost. Anchor’s support means that the sum of the parts of LinkAge and AUKB have the opportunity to be greater than the whole and effectively support increasing numbers of people.’