Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
Latest stories from Pilgrim’s Friend Society
In fifty years’ time there will be more than 20 million people over the age of 65 in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics, with the biggest bulge in the numbers being people aged over 85. ‘What will that mean for our society?’ asked James, of TransWorld Radio news this morning. Some see it will mean more pressure on a ‘social care system that has been chronically underfunded for years and will not be able to cope,’ says Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity Age UK. Others say the same.[i]
But are they ignoring the fact that longer lives are a sign that people are staying healthier longer? That in 2066 people the 85-pluses will be fitter and more active than those around us today? A government report last year said that ‘Since 2000 to 2002, both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy have increased; the population is now living longer and spending more years in good health.’ [ii]
At a large Christian event last month we heard about an 84 year old who took up sword fencing at 80, and is now champion in four different regions. There are other senior adventurers – the 101 year old expanding her business by buying another sewing machine; children’s book author Judith Kerr publishing a new book at the age of 94, retired art teacher Douglas Higgins writing a book at the age of 100, and many more. Eileen Ash taught Yoga at the age of 104. ‘She said: “I’d like to know when I’m going to be old. Do you think it will be when I’m 105?”
It’s true that we are more likely to get ‘grumbling’ ailments as we age. But even dementia is being pushed back by healthier lifestyles. The number of new cases fell by a fifth over the past 20 years. The percentage of people estimated to have dementia dropped by 24% compared to what had been expected, with some experts suggesting it could be prevented. [iii]
So what will it mean for society, having more older people?
‘There is no typical older person,’ says the World Health Organisation. ‘Some 80-year-olds have levels of physical and mental capacity that compare favourably with 30-year-olds. Others of the same age may require extensive care and support for basic activities like dressing and eating.’ A major factor in preventing frailty in old age is care in the community.
In 50 years’ time if the trajectory of church work and faith groups in the community continues that largely involves older volunteers , it will go a long way to meeting the needs of frailer older people. Befriending schemes are already preventing much loneliness and isolation.
And the other benefits?
Older people are the glue that holds society together, said a WRVS report, ‘Rather than being a ‘drain’ on resources however, WRVS believe older people are a foundation to provide positive economic contribution and social glue to the country. And with this report, we’re showing how they’re doing it already.’[iv]
Seniors have much to offer. God designed old age on purpose, so He could hone the attributes in people that take decades to develop – wisdom, patience, maturity, the ability to take the long view, and more. What it means for our society in 2066 is that everyone will benefit. More silver heads could herald a new golden era.
It’s a long, hot summer this year, and we all want to keep cool. It’s especially important for older people. In the heat wave that swept through Europe in 2003 thousands died of heat -related illnesses. 3,000 died in Paris alone that August. Grandparents had chosen to stay behind as their families took refuge in the cooler mountain regions. Now, in the UK, there are reports of older people turning up in A& E with heat exhaustion.
My family lived in the Middle East for years, with wall-to-wall air conditioning. BUT there were also occasional ‘brown-outs’ when the electricity disappeared. Here are some of the ways we stayed cool that can help in the sizzling UK right now:
Sometimes, no matter how hard we tried, children (and some adults) developed ‘heat rash’ – small red spots, often in skin folds. It was called ‘Prickly Heat’ because it prickled – and you could get ‘Prickly Heat Powder’ to cool it down. You can still buy it here, at Tesco.
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is serious. Signs to watch out for are – when the person seems dizzy, weak and lacks coordination, or they are feeling sick, or have cold and clammy skin.
Also – don’t forget to look on the bright side! Talking with John and Rosie during Premier Radio’s breakfast show this morning, Rosie said some listeners had called querying whether or not it was to complain to God about the weather. John ended our thoughts on a brilliant note by reminding us that the Scriptures say we are to choose to dwell on things that are good, to deliberately focus our minds on them. Philippians 4:8 says, ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…’ (ESV)
Being sensible, we can enjoy the heatwave. We can sit in our gardens in the cool of the evening, under a tree (if we have one|); we have pure water at the turn of a tap, we have good electricity supplies to air coolers and fans, we don’t have to pile on layers of clothes, and sunshine has an uplifting effect on our mood. Just be careful of our seniors.
Christine and Colin Raggett had been missionaries in Botswana for many years when they contacted us through our website, www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk, asking if any of our care homes offered respite care. In case the term is new to you, respite care is a short period of residential care that offers carers a break from their sometimes heavy routines. Often it’s because they are not able to get a good night’s sleep. This was the case with Colin’s mother, Margaret. His father Douglas, a retired pastor, had developed dementia and she desperately needed a break. He came into one of our homes and Margaret was able to sleep through the night for the first time in several years. It made so much difference: she was able to carry on caring for him for a few more years.
Sometimes, elderly people come in for short breaks to be looked after, so they can gather their strength again. Looking after your home and yourself and your husband is harder at 100 than it is at, say, 60! Olive wanted a little holiday from the housework, and from caring for Fred, 103. They came in for respite care until they decided they liked it so much they’d stay on permanently. When Fred was called Home, Olive visited her son, 76, in Austria, accompanied by a carer.
During the holiday season, an elderly parent will come in for respite care while their son or daughter goes on holiday. Older people often don’t like travelling away from home. In the very hot summer of 2003, in Paris 3000 elderly people died because their adult children deserted the city for the cooler mountain country, but the grandparents wanted to stay at home. No-one knew the temperature would soar as high as it did – but had the grandparents been in respite care they would have been alright…
Residential care homes don’t always have vacancies for respite care. But an attractive option right now is our home in the seaside town of Brighton, If you know someone who could do with a break, either as a carer, or as an elderly person who would just like holiday from the house work and so on, you might like to mention it to them.
When Royd Court first opened in Yorkshire in 2007 the only splashes of colour in the garden were the lavender and roses, though there were plenty of shrubs. Over the years (liasing with the Landscape manager) residents have added flowers and plants that give colour all year round, and some of the shrubs have been cleared to make space for a herb and vegetable patch, with lemongrass, dill, fennel, cumin, and sage. They come in handy for the chef who regularly uses them in his recipes.
At one time residents were invited by a generous donor to choose a fruit tree that would represent the spiritual fruit mentioned in Psalm 92, “they will still bear fruit in old age”. It led to the idea of a ‘Bible Garden’, replete with the flowers, plants, herbs and shrubs that are mentioned in the Scriptures. Each plant would have a name tag and Bible reference(s). It’s a three-year project that will provide a treasure hunt: walking out with a Bible, reading the labels on the plants, and reflecting on the passages. Eventually there will be 51 plants: so far there are 31 in clusters of Broom, Lily of The Valley, Marjoram, and Myrtle.
Mirfield in Bloom
This year, for the first time, Royd Court entered the ‘Mirfield in Bloom’ competition, with 11 of the residents as part of the team. ‘It’s a lovely way of us being involved with the community,’ said manager Vicky Miller. The idea came from Tim Grace, chairman of Grace Landscapes, Royd Court’s contract gardeners. The green-fingered team regularly waters, ‘deadheads’, prunes, cleans the moss from between the small paving, keeps the planters tidy, and most importantly – sorts out the tea.
Vicky said. ‘We try to encourage all our residents to be involved, where ever possible. Our oldest resident, aged 103, helps to ‘deadhead’ from his wheelchair. Other residents are drawn into the garden to see what’s going on.’ And as if the plants aren’t enough, some ladies knitted flowers to be placed through netting suspended under the canopy at the Co-op in the town. One lady knitted over 100 flowers!
Most people passing by on the outside of Royd Court will have no idea of the beautiful garden in the centre. ‘It’s like a secret garden,’ said Vicky, ‘residents can be involved in their passion for gardening and it’s a place for meeting others, and for staff to have lunch and relax during breaks.’
‘Think again’ begins the headline in an article busting the myth that brains inevitably deteriorate with age. NOT SO, say scientists at Columbia University. They examined the brains of people who were cognitively healthy, who had died suddenly from a whole range of ages, and found that even the brains of the oldest contained thousands of newly formed neurons. New neurons are necessary for learning and coping with stress. Neurogenesis has been thought to cease after a certain age, but the study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, has shown otherwise.
It’s important, because as neuroscientist Duncan Banks at the Open University said, ‘Neurogenesis is thought to be necessary to prevent mental decay and decline. This study provides further evidence that mental decay and decline is not the inevitable process many of us think it is.’ (The Times, April 6, 2018).
The take-away message is from Columbia University’s Maura Boldrini, who said that neurogenesis is supported by lifestyle changes like social interaction, learning, exercise and diet. ‘These are all life changes that people could introduce to keep them healthy in old age.’
Perhaps a good idea would be for groups of people to take a brisk walk together, stopping for a cup of tea and salad lunch and then take a class learning a foreign language.
Four years ago Ralph Ireland could only dream of living again with Maureen, his wife of 46 years. She’d had to move into a nursing home, 10 minutes drive from where he still lived in the family home in Nottingham. He said, ‘Ten minutes drive away doesn’t sound like a lot, but a couple of hours visit each day is not how married life should be, is it?’
In August 2014 he went to look at Pilgrim Gardens, our retirement housing in Leicester, and shortly afterwards started the process of buying an apartment. It was a long wait, but the Irelands moved in in May last year, and began to live the dream. ‘We are celebrating our first anniversary here,’ he told Mandy Smith, Pilgrim Gardens’ Manager, ‘ a year in which we have also celebrated our Golden Wedding! The ‘dream’ I had has been realised – Pilgrim Gardens is ‘heaven on earth’ for us. We can be together and enjoy each other’s company. It is a quiet haven where friends and family can meet with can meet with us. We live within a structure that offers all the practical helps we desire to have. Each day we thank God for Pilgrim Gardens.’
This year is the 5th anniversary of the opening of Pilgrim Gardens. It won several national awards for innovative design and environmental initiatives, and in the first year was visited by so many teams of experts that the warden thought of charging them consultancy fees!
But more important than the certificates and awards is the contentment of the people living there. ‘My number of friends has doubled since moving, ‘ wrote one lady, who says she is now able to reduce the anti-depressants she’s ben taking for 20 years (with medical supervision).’It’s great to belong to an extended Christian family,’ she said, ‘We don’t always agree, but there’s a lot of love here. Since coming here I’ve felt more at rest in myself, than I have ever been. So much so I’m going to be reducing the anti-depressants I’ve been on for twenty years, starting this weekend.’
Building every new scheme like this has been a major step of faith for our executive and trustees, working, as we do, in a climate where government care funding is at the lowest it has ever been, with experts such as the Director of Adult Social Care Services saying that it is on the point of collapse. Nine local authorities have warned that they will be unable to meet their obligations unless they receive more money.
Yet we’ve seen God answer prayer on so many occasions! Right now we’re fundraising for a new home in Chippenham, Wiltshire. Recently our CEO, Stephen Hammersley and his wife Susan got out their old tandem and did a sponsored 200 mile cycle ride from their home near Luton to the new site in Chippenham.
You can still donate by going to https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/tandemhammersley. Who knows whether you, or your loved ones will one day find themselves dreaming the same dream as the Irelands!
Each day we thank God for pilgrim gardens. We are content.
What do you do when you are Chief Executive of a Christian charity facing a £18 million bill for renewing three of its care homes at a time of austerity and falling funds? The first thing that Stephen Hammersley, Pilgrims’ Friend Society CEO did was to make the needs known to God (Philippians 4:6). The second was to let everyone else know, so that they could have the satisfaction of helping (Galatians 6:9), and the third was to get on his bike, not once, but three times!
In 2016 Stephen and his son Philip cycled over 450 miles in four days between Pilgrim Homes in the North. Then in 2017 they cycled a similar distance between the care homes in the South. They encountered potholes, punctures, a major frame failure and some challenging weather, although Stephen said the warm welcome they received at each home made it worthwhile. The Pilgrim Home in Leicester even baked a cake with an iced bicycle topping!
This year Stephen had the backing of his wife, Susan, quite literally, as they rode their 40 year old tandem bike from their home near Luton to the Leonora Home in Chippenham, in Wiltshire. Susan was the navigator with a satnav at the back, and they mostly cycled over minor roads and tracks. Some drivers tooted encouragement when they saw the charity sign on Susan’s back.
PFS has recently acquired a site for a new home in Chippenham, and, together with supporters, Stephen and Susan committed the site and plans for the new home and its community links to the Lord. After leading devotions and having a party with residents at the home they cycled on to their daughter’s home in Pool, and their son-in-law took them, and their tandem, back home.
The cycle ride from Luton took three days, 18 hours and 29 minutes. They cycled an average of 10 mph, though the tandem was frowned on by one speed sign when it reached a top speed of 33 mph. (It went into reverse when challenged by a large farm dog barking furiously on a narrow farm track.) Every two hours they stopped for a tea break and a physical stretch. Several people came up and made donations at some of the tea stops, leading Stephen to question whether a good cup of tea enhances generosity.
There was no rain, but the weather grew hotter and hotter, and the last day was the first of the current heat-wave. Stephen said, ‘we bought the tandem about five years ago as a bit of fun. We’d never ridden it further than around the villages close to our home – this was the first long-distance journey. We thought we might need counselling after four days of such close teamwork with me always at the front and Susan doing the navigating from the rear, but we were relieved that we discovered that we pedal well in tandem!’
To donate , go to https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/tandemhammersley. Or, if you prefer, you can go to www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk, and donate through the website, reading more about the charity and its work at the same time.
A white haired lady stands in a summer-lit garden, with a serious expression on her face. She is holding a placard up to the camera, and on it is written in large words – ‘I’m not ready to die just yet.’ The ‘not’ is heavily underlined: the lady is making a point.
She is Mrs Ann Lloyd-Sherlock,(80-something) mother of Peter Lloyd-Sherlock (52) Professor of social policy and international development at the University of East Anglia. He specialises in the social protection, health and the wellbeing of older people in developing countries.
He is commenting on the recent report by The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) calling for action to tackle ageist attitudes and undo the media clichés that promote them. He said that he didn’t think that ‘we are getting to grips with it as an issue.’ [i]
He is so right. RSPH research found that almost a third of the public believe that loneliness is a inevitable part of growing old and a quarter of 18 to 34 year olds think it is normal for older people to be unhappy and depressed. Two out of five 18 to 24 year olds believe there is no way to escape dementia as you age. Typical ageist thinking …
The RSPH is calling for a number of actions, including an end to the use of the term “anti-ageing” in the cosmetics industries and for Facebook to include age as a protected characteristic in its community standards on hate speech. The cosmetics industry won’t change until customers stop buying, although it does make you wonder who really believes claims that certain products can’ stop the signs of ageing.’
In my book, ‘What’s Age Got To Do With It?’ I quote an expert who said that at the heart of the problem is the acceptance of the doctrine of the perfection of youth. Yet, he observed, ‘We possess culture because our ancestors had the wisdom to distinguish vigour from value. They saw, as we so often do not, beyond mere physical strength and grasped the virtues hidden within the necessity of growing old.’
Perhaps we ought to teach more on what God said to Samuel, when he was looking for a successor to Saul and judging Jesse’s sons by their looks. God said to him: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
‘With old age comes wisdom, patience, subtlety, and contemplation, said classical pianist, composer and writer Stephen Hough, ‘all qualities needed to appreciate great and complex music.’ He was commenting on a proposal by a symphony festival director that they should attract younger crowds, at the expense of older devotees to their concerts. (The Times, June 29, 2017). The idea was to make everything as casual as possible to attract younger audiences.
He was joined by violinist Nicola Benedetti (29), who was once BBC Young musician of the year. She was outraged at the suggestion, saying that older people make the best audiences. She said, ‘symphony performances are suited to an atmosphere of formality and respectful attentiveness, because there is an intensity to the music itself – and the fact that it’s not amplified means it’s up a certain volume that requires a collective focus. I think that’s an amazing thing.”
Now it’s the turn of the Royal Academy, whose chief executive, Charles Saumarez Smith, has said that even his own institution has bowed to the ageist trend of valuing young people more highly.[i] He noted that a lot of pressure from organisations like the Heritage lottery fund is to get young audiences, but he added that it tends to be older people who have the leisure time and inclination to come. ‘If I’m honest, institutions are in danger of what I … notice is an element of age discrimination – younger people good, older people not so good.’ Even among the Royal Academy’s own hierarchy was a focus on the young and neglect of the older generation.’
Behind this ageist reasoning is the fear among institutions that they will lose their audience as the older generation dies out. There’s a sense of déjà vu about this reasoning. Some churches have changed their music in order to attract the young, and have lost older members as a result, whereas the wise ones are encouraging a mix for all generations. Many older people love lively music, but they also appreciate more reflective, and scripturally based hymns and songs.
And Who was it who reminded the rulers of the day that God was able to raise ‘sons of Abraham’ out of the very stones if He wished?
[i] Daily Mail, 2nd June 2018
Recently, I wrote to a Christian magazine in response to a reader’s letter saying that elderly Christians should go into secular care homes to share their faith with those who had none. I wrote that God hasn’t called elderly Christians to be lone rangers in their faith, and that when they become frail enough to need residential care (especially those with dementia) many need spiritual support more than ever. They need the ministry of the Holy Spirit – the ‘deep calling to deep’ that Psalm 42 describes. It’s not unusual to see residents, even with quite advanced dementia, responding to Scripture and worship.
I wrote about an elderly relative of mine, a fervent Christian, who went into a ‘normal’ care home and had the joy of rekindling faith in one or two of the other residents. But, one day when I visited, she whispered that she had been rebuked for saying she wanted to go Home to be with the Lord. The carers took it as a slight on their ability to care and she was told not to speak like that again. Yet more than anything, at that time in her life, she needed that ‘hope of glory.’
The magazine published my piece in full. But just above it was a photograph of a pathway with a sign pointing to a cemetery, with another sign next to it saying ‘dead end.’ The picture related to another story altogether, about the war in the Middle East.
Yet that’s how many people think about life in a care home, as having reached a dead end. But nothing could be further from the truth! Our residents encourage one another and build one another up in the faith. One lady chose to stay on after her husband had died when she could have very well gone home and pleased herself. But she wanted to stay on to help the staff and to minister to others, and so she did for 10 years. She would get up early and pray for every single person in the home before breakfast. She would sit alongside residents before the carers came to help them to bed, and encourage them with a Scripture verse and a thought. In all our housing and homes there are supporting activities in prayer for mission work all over the world.
As you lean into the Lord towards the end of your pilgrimage it seems that the walls between this world and the next become thinner. My colleague Carl was visiting our home in Tunbridge Wells today and he told me about a lady there whose sight was very poor and who was almost deaf, yet who said that she was ‘content’.
On Friday I’ll be at our Bethany home in Plymouth for a day of prayer. Last time I went a lady thanked God for the friendships among the residents, as well as the lovely staff. I was reminded that although the “earthly tent” can be weak, the ‘inner man’, the spirit of the person goes from strength to strength, from one degree of glory to another. It’s a period of intense spiritual growth, quite the opposite from being at a ‘dead end’.
Christian providers of respite, residential, nursing and dementia care. Also retirement apartments for assisted living and for extra care housing, and fully equipped houses for missionaries' home leave.
We share our experience and knowledge at seminars and conferences, at national and regional level.