In 1946, a group of motivated residents established the Malden and Coombe Old People’s Welfare Association (M&C OPWA). Their mandate was to help and support local people through weekly clubs, meals-on-wheels, home helps, a visiting service and suitable housing.
The 1950s saw the development and implementation of M&C OPWA’s core services, many of which continue in some form to this day. Recognising a lack of medical care, M&C OPWA successfully campaigned for the appointment of a community geriatrician, and launched chiropody clinics. Holly Lodge in New Malden was acquired as the HQ for cooking meals-on-wheels, as well as being used as a day centre.
A Helping Hands scheme was set up to assist people with a little basic help. The first befriending service, Sitters In, began to help relieve the isolation of some members of the community; visiting was carried out by volunteers under the supervision of a part-time organiser. In recognition of M&C OPWA’s work, the borough council’s treasurer, Herbert Emery, awarded the organisation its first grants. So committed was Emery to M&C OPWA’s work, in the 1970s he went on to become its Chairman.
The M&C OPWA’s work started to influence other local organisations. Kingston Rotary Club launched an older people’s project and its president, Harold Bardwell, set up a day centre at Bardwell House, adjacent to today’s The Bradbury.
‘It was a marvellous place,’ recalls former trustee Maurice Tate. ‘The day centre was open five days a week and put on a host of activities. Hot lunches were available, and even hairdressing and a chiropody facility. It was ground breaking stuff for the 60s.’
Meanwhile, The Royal Borough of Kingston was formed, with new responsibilities for older people’s care, and a Coordinating (later ‘Liaison’) Committee was formed with Surbiton and Kingston Old People’s Welfare Associations, to bring a more joined-up approach to supporting people.
Due to the changing role of the national Older People’s Welfare Association, the new name ‘Age Concern’ emerged. Locally, the Liaison Committee compiled the first ‘Blue Book’ outlining information and services for older people in the borough. During this decade, Meals-on-Wheels became a statutory service, with the local authority taking it over. While this meant Holly Lodge was no longer used for this purpose, as a day centre it was bursting at the seams. A period of consolidation and strategic planning was now underway.
M&C OPWA came of age by becoming incorporated, meaning it was now accountable to all its stakeholders. It also meant the organisation could now own property, therefore easing the route to merging with the Malden and Coombe Housing Society in 1989. Through the merger, M&C OPWA now owned Raleigh House – later developed into a lively social centre to replace the overflowing Holly Lodge. Kingston OPWA became Age Concern Kingston, based at Bardwell House.
M&C OPWA changed its name to Age Concern Malden and Coombe, and for the first time, signed a service agreement with the Borough, formalising a working partnership that continues to this day. As a result, an Information Centre was set up providing information on local services. As the Community Care Act came into force, the strategic direction of the organisation moved away from housing, and concentrated more on community-based services, such as Raleigh House day centre, opened to the over 65s in this decade and rapidly earning a shining reputation.
‘The best thing about coming here is the company. I’ve made friends here and the whole team working here are lovely. Very helpful, and very patient with all our quirks. There’s always lots of laughter.’
In 1999 Age Concern Malden and Coombe, and Age Concern Kingston merged to become Age Concern Kingston upon Thames, incorporating Surbiton Senior Citizens Care Association to become a new borough-wide organisation.
This was a decade of new services and projects, and the awards won in recognition of their quality. To meet the demand for information on older people’s services and help with benefits applications, our Information, Advice and Advocacy service and advice line was born, and obtained the Community Legal Services (now AQS) quality mark.
We built a brand new centre, wholly financed by fundraising. With the aim of promoting active living in later life, The Bradbury was opened by stage and screen star Richard Briers in 2005.
‘I love The Bradbury. When you live on your own it’s so lovely to come down here, everyone is so friendly.’
As statutory services tightened their criteria for supporting people, we recognised that many people would need ‘a little bit of help’ in order to stay well and independent in their own homes, as they wanted to, and, with our first healthcare funding, established our Home Response and Stay Well services. To help reach the borough’s most isolated people, the In Touch telephone befriending scheme began. In the days when the abuse of adults was barely recognised as an issue, we embarked on our pioneering Elder Abuse project, funded by Comic Relief, which won the Help the Aged Campaigner of the Year Award.
As an organisation, we recognised the need to raise awareness of issues affecting older people, both on a local and national level, and so started our own newspaper, agenda news – just renamed staywell news.
As life expectancy continues to rise, so too must services continue to develop and evolve to meet people’s changing needs. With the increased occurrence of dementia, the Saturday club for people living with dementia and their carers was launched. To ensure our staff are able to provide the best support, we introduced an accredited 6-month training course, Best Practice in Dementia Care, developed by leaders in the field the Stirling Dementia Services Development Centre.
This decade has also seen the development of the Fit as a Fiddle programme, encouraging older people to eat healthily and kick-start a return to exercise, winning the national Guardian Public Services Award for Care of Older People.
‘I have loved the Nordic walking – it’s fun, challenging and healthy! I’ve made new friends and lost over a stone in weight.!’
Our Handyperson service was launched to help older and disabled people with basic home maintenance needs, and returning to our roots in the 40s, the Help@Home service was developed to help with housework, shopping and getting to appointments. Our Stay Well at Home service was featured in a parliamentary report and later beat stiff competition to win the prestigious national Charity Award.
‘Our Help@Home worker is outstanding, she has changed our lives. She is an amazing person and so kind to my husband, she is very tactful and relates very well to people.’
This is the decade where we diversified and took on furniture recycling scheme Kingston Community Furniture, and changed our constitution to enable us to work beyond Kingston, and with different kinds of beneficiaries. As a reflection of the changing nature of ageing and the services we provide, the organisation changed its name to Staywell, which was popularly received. Our latest development has been to take over the management of three community centres in the nearby borough of Reigate and Banstead, which house some of that area’s services for older people.
A consistent feature throughout our history is the dedication and commitment of all the volunteers who have worked tirelessly to support people in their community. The work of our volunteers is wide and varied, from directly supporting people in their homes; to fundraising to further develop our services, such as building The Bradbury, and supporting staff in our social centres and offices – with our innovative inter-generational work winning us the Queen’s Award for Volunteering and even taking us to Buckingham Palace! Without volunteers, the services we provide would not exist, so we are committed to supporting and developing them in their roles, recognised last year by winning a Kingston Quality Award for volunteer management.
The organisation has come a long way over the last 70 years, and the need to evolve and innovate will continue to intensify as more people live longer, with higher expectations of services. We are working more closely than ever with partners such as the council; our community healthcare provider, Your Healthcare CIC; and other voluntary organisations, to provide high quality, cohesive services that support people to live their lives independently and with dignity, and promote wellbeing and resilience.
We would like to thank all those who have supported us on our journey – volunteers, trustees, supporters, funders, partners and our staff, past and present. We look forward with enthusiasm to our development in the decades ahead, and welcome all those who want to be part of it.