2014 was a good year for AWOC, 2015 will be better!

I think it’s fair to say that when the first blog about ageing without children was published back in March, no one thought we’d come so far so quickly! The fact we have just shows how much ageing without children has struck a chord with people.

2014 has been a really exciting year. We’ve been featured twice in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/social-life-blog/2014/apr/25/ageing-without-children-family-care and http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/12/ageing-without-children (the second article has pretty robust below the line discussion), been on Women’s Hour http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p025vnt4 and the Wireless (Age UK’s radio station) https://www.dropbox.com/s/8nduqfjpr09c2bh/Agenda%20TX101214%20Part%204%20%281%29.mp3?dl=0,
created the AWOC website http://www.awoc.org, twitter feed and facebook group and of course organised the very first mainstream Ageing without Children conference on 26th January 2015 which is very nearly sold out. In addition, BBC Breakfast will be filming Jody Day and myself on 5th January as part of a series on ageing.
The question now for us of course is, what next? The Beth Johnson Foundation have kindly agreed to host AWOC on an interim basis while we work out our future plans. As yet we are not a formal organisation and we have no income; everything relies on work carried out by myself, Jody, Mervyn and Robin on a voluntary basis.
The International Longevity Centre have expressed a wish to work with us on one of our 4 aims by helping to research more about the demographics of people ageing without children. We also know from feedback we’ve had from people ageing without children that they would like more space to talk about solutions and how to make plans for the future. We’ve heard from organisations who’d like to know more about Ageing without children and what they could do to help. In addition, we want to get policy makers and politicians to think about people ageing without children when they discuss the ageing population and not make assumptions about family support and what help people get.

All of this will take some time and will need money: working on getting some funding is definitely a priority for 2015! The Conference will form a big part of our future plans as we ask people ageing without children and organisations working with older people what should we all be doing to prepare for a society where more people will enter later life without children. We’ll be asking for your views in other ways if you’re not able to make the Conference so watch this space!

To everyone who has contacted us to share their thoughts and feelings thank you! It is a personal issue for me and others involved in AWOC, and the kind words and deeds of others has really helped.
Enormous thanks go particularly to my AWOC cofounders Mervyn Eastman, Robin Hadley and Jody Day without whom many of the things we’ve achieved would simply not have been possible. Special thanks also to Beth Johnson Foundation and Positive Ageing in London for all their support.

We have achieved so much in such a short space of time with very little resources; I’m sure 2015 can only bring more good things and ensure that the issue of people Ageing Without Children remains in the forefront of discussions about ageing and the kind of society we want to be.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year
Co Founder AWOC


Oh no they can’t take that away from me…..

Like most people in job interviews, I’ve been asked “what am I most proud of?” or “what is my greatest achievement?” well as you’re reading this blog I assume you’re interested so I’ll tell you; it was my involvement in a court case when I worked at what was Age Concern Richmond upon Thames. I worked there running an advice & advocacy service and one day was visited by a very angry man who had come to get advice about his mother. His mother had been sectioned into hospital under Section 3 of the 1983 Mental Health Act (amended in 2007). The hospital had decided she was now fit for discharge and social service had said she needed residential care and as she was a homeowner, she would have to pay for it. Her son didn’t want her to go into residential care or to have the house sold, the way he saw it, once the house was sold his mother could never come home again. For me though, there was another very clear issue; my very first job had been as an advocate with Mind who gave me brilliant training on the Mental Health Act and the various sections therein. I knew that anyone under a section 3 was entitled to aftercare under section 117- and for that aftercare to be free. I challenged the care manager who referred it to their manager who consulted the legal dept – who then told me politely to go away. I consulted with the late much missed Pauline Thompson from Age Concern England who supported me entirely and got me in touch with the Public Law Project. The PLP took on the case and the result was R v LB Richmond ex parte Watson and in 1999 it was confirmed that people entitled to care under section 117 could not be charged. The decision affected hundreds possibly thousands of mostly older people who previously had been charged for care. Afterwards the manager of the social work team met me for lunch and told me that they all knew I was right and was glad we had taken the council to court. We had the power to challenge that they did not.

What does this have to do with anything? Well one of the things about ageing without children is how closely the personal and the political are bound up. People have suggested to me that AWOC is really a vehicle for me to deal with my own childlessness and that really there is no role for the state here. I beg to differ very strongly.

As an advice and advocacy worker I spend every day dealing with people on a one to one basis and the repetition of the problems was depressing. Houses left unrepaired because landlords wouldn’t take responsibility, benefit claims delayed or refused due to errors by the pensions service, assessments that resulted in no services, services that were of poor quality, people being discharged on Friday afternoons because the hospital wanted the beds. In the end I came to the realisation that the problem was that the services, policies and the practice surrounding them was wrong. It didn’t matter what I did, I could only help one person at a time, I couldn’t help everyone. The only way to help everyone was to change the policy, change the practise.

So it is with AWOC. No the state can’t take the sadness of being childless away from me or help me come to terms with being childless, that’s something only I can do and largely have done thanks to the support of other childless people. But what the state absolutely must do is recognise that for people like me, people ageing without children, their policy, practise and planning on ageing is inadequate failing to take into account the needs of people without family and ignoring the huge demographic shift which means in 15 years time there will be over 2 million of us over 65 without children.

If we plan for this now, there is a huge opportunity to improve services for older people and to develop new products and a bigger marketplace; if we don’t, if you thought health and social care was under pressure now, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Founding a new organisation – just not the one I thought

Back at the beginning of 2014, I was looking for something to do in addition to my consultancy work. Although I love consulting as it’s genuinely interesting and challenging, the downside of it can be that you don’t get to see things through. I wanted to do something where I could see the more direct impact of my work and in early 2014, with the Unltd Care Cohort awards I thought I’d found it. In January 2014, Unltd put out a call for projects that would tackle isolation & loneliness in older people. I pitched manAGEing through sport, http://manageingthroughsport.co.uk/ a social enterprise that would work with lonely older men by getting them together in groups to watch sport. I was successful and set about talking to people and going through the processes necessary to set up a new organisation. This I thought was going to be my new passion.

But it didn’t turn out like that….

2 months later in March I published this blog https://consultantinthecafe.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/1-in-4-people-born-in-the-70s-will-not-have-children-not-that-youd-know-it-from-discussions-on-ageing/
And everything changed.

The blog was picked up by The Guardian and published in April. At the same time I began to talk to colleagues in the ageing field about the issue of ageing without children, all of whom said it was an issue they themselves had not really considered and they’d never seen it raised anywhere in discussions on the future of ageing. I also got in contact with Jody Day from Gateway Women http://gateway-women.com/ – she was immensely supportive and said it was the main fear raised by many of her members: what will happen when I get old if I have no children? I also spoke to two other key people: Mervyn Eastman Chair of Positive Ageing in London and Robin Hadley from Keele University studying childless men

The topic gained momentum with further blogs, a slot on Women’s Hour and then a real breakthrough when Positive Ageing in London http://pailondon.org.uk agreed to host a conference on ageing without children in January 2015.

Mervyn, Robin, Jody and I decided that to progress the work we needed a dedicated organisation and AWOC was born in September this year http://www.awoc.org . As well as the website we have a twitter feed @AWOCUK and a facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1476937045912974/ The Beth Johnson Foundation have agreed to host AWOC while we work out our plans going forward.

For me this has been and remains a very personal subject. Talking and writing about ageing without children brings out many feelings; sorrow at my own lack of children (I regard myself as childless as I wanted children but can’t have them as opposed to childfree, making a positive choice not to have children), anger that people ageing without children are invisible in discussions about ageing (though I think this is changing thanks to AWOC), fear of what will happen in the future, determination to make a change and pride in what has been accomplished so far with people like Jody, Mervyn and Robin and other supporters who believe in what we’re doing.

So, as you probably gather from reading this, I have found my passion though it wasn’t expected or planned!

As for manAGEing through sport, despite still believing strongly in the idea, I know that I don’t have the time to make it the success it needs to be. I’m in discussions with http://www.cravencvs.org.uk/ who hope to take it on themselves.

January 2015 brings the first AWOC conference and a slot on BBC Breakfast! Ideally I would love to run AWOC full time but to do that we need funding (working on it!). In the meantime, I’ll keep doing everything I can to raise awareness of people ageing without children.

Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year