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The Wolverhampton Over-50s Forum

Rose Powell
Participation Officer
Social Services
Wolverhampton
E:rose.powell@wolverhampton.gov.uk

Better Government for Older People (BGOP) forms part of the government's programme for modernising and improving the public sector and public services. One of the main conclusions of its pilot projects was that central and local government and voluntary organisations can produce better and more effective results by working together with older people and their organisations.
From over 100 applicants, Wolverhampton Council was selected as one of only 28 successful local authorities to be awarded pilot status in this unique programme, which was to run for two years from 1 April 1998. Partnership working was at the heart of all 28 UK-wide pilot projects. The programme developed new ways of working across traditional organisational boundaries creating innovative approaches to problem solving.
During the two-year BGOP programme, many conferences and similar events were held for both older people and local authority officers. At a groundbreaking conference held in Oxford in July 1999, older people representing local authorities from across the UK came together to develop mechanisms that would ensure that older people were more influential in the governance process nationally, regionally and locally. As one of the 28 BGOP pilots, Wolverhampton Council was represented by members of the Over-50s Forum. At this conference it was agreed to form the UK Older People's Advisory Group (OPAG), whose membership would be drawn principally from older people representing the 28 BGOP pilots and augmented by older people from other regions of the UK.
OPAG is an organisation engaged and working in partnership with organisations at all levels. It provides the expertise of older people, acting as a sounding board, influencing both decision- and policymaking at local, regional and central government level. Since July 1999, OPAG has developed a regional structure, with each region made up of older people representing every local authority within the region's geographical boundary.
In addition to being a member of the UK OPAG, Brad Purshouse, chair of the Over-50s Forum in Wolverhampton, also chairs the West Midlands OPAG. The UK OPAG structure, via the West Midlands OPAG, provides a mechanism for the issues affecting older people in Wolverhampton to be discussed with other older people right across the UK. The UK OPAG has regular meetings with central government ministers, thus enabling older people to be heard directly by government.
In Wolverhampton, the BGOP pilot project coincided with other initiatives, including development of the Health Action Zone. This brought with it an integrated, strategic and interagency approach in responding to the issues affecting older people in Wolverhampton.
The Wolverhampton Over-50s Forum enables older people in the city of Wolverhampton to have a voice. The only two requirements for membership are that they are over the age of 50 and live within the city of Wolverhampton. They meet on a monthly basis and operate a series of subcommittees around issues of importance to older people, namely public safety, health, communications, housing, transport and the provision of public toilets. There are also two over-50 area forums being piloted to report on local area issues, which are then fed back to the main forum. The forum acts as an umbrella organisation that encourages older people's groups to join together under one banner to highlight older people's issues. It is totally independent in its thinking and its actions and has no political leanings. When Wolverhampton City Council and its partners wants advice and input about the needs of the over 50s, it turns to the Over-50s Forum. In the past, consultation with older people was more likely to be with organisations that represent that age group than older people themselves.

Achievements

The one-stop bereavement centre
One of the forum's first major successes was the development of Wolverhampton's one-stop bereavement centre. The forum came up with the idea after hearing from older people who found it difficult to know where to get help following bereavement. At that time the process of dealing with a death was complex and required many agencies - the bereaved were often sent to several different departments to get help, often in separate locations. The over-50s forum drew the council's attention to the fact that services for bereavement were fragmented. In response, an interagency group was set up to explore the possibility of improving bereavement services. This group included:

  • The registrar's service.
  • The coroner's office.
  • Benefits and social services.
  • The health service.
  • CRUSE Bereavement Care.
  • Age Concern.
  • The cemeteries and crematorium service.

As a result, a one-stop centre was set up where all issues could be dealt with and support and advice could be offered. A multiagency steering group was formed and chaired by one of the older people. This group was set up initially to oversee the development of the centre, which opened in 2001, and it still monitors the service. This is an excellent example of older people being involved in the development of services and actively participating in their design and formation. A member of the forum reports back to members on any new developments within the centre.

The health subcommittee
The health subcommittee raises issues around the health and wellbeing of older people. It has a place on many health organisation user panels and works closely with organisations such as the Royal Wolverhampton Hospital Trust through its patients' forum. In 2000 the committee undertook comprehensive research into prostate cancer, and in 2001 it led a successful prostrate awareness campaign. Two senior nurses from the prostate cancer department at New Cross assisted the committee in their research and attended meetings to ensure that the committee were fully informed of the treatment and all possible after- effects. They then embarked on a large publicity campaign. A variety of eyecatching posters were produced, which were circulated to pubs and clubs in Wolverhampton to be displayed in men's toilets. The health subcommittee also played an active role in the Falls Prevention Conference in Wolverhampton in March 2000.
In June 2004, the forum and the health subcommittee hosted a large consultation on the development of Wolverhampton's joint older people's strategy, which is currently being reviewed. The event was attended by 80 older people as well as staff working in health, housing, social care, transport, leisure, learning and the police. There will be a further consultation when the next stage of the draft strategy is complete, to ensure that issues raised have been incorporated into the final strategy.

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Resources
Wolverhampton Over-50s Forum
W:www.wolverhamptonover50sforum.com
Better Government for Older People
W:www.bgop.org.uk