When Nikki Morris became CEO of Age UK Camden in 2018, she had no idea that she was signing up to be responsible for the lives of the vulnerable during a worldwide pandemic.

“This is a time of extremes. Extreme hardship, extreme anxiety and extreme compassion.” As COVID19 made its way to the UK, Morris knew that Age UK Camden was going to have to step up more than they ever have before. The lives of the elderly and the vulnerable in Camden now depended on the organisation’s help.

Age UK has been the leading charity for older people for the past eleven years, they offer a range of support from health and well-being to travel and hobbies for the elderly, making a huge difference to people’s quality of life as they age. As the virus broke into the UK early this year, Age UK Camden quickly became the life jacket that has kept Camden afloat. Morris told me: “It was like a Tsunami, it happened very quickly. You either step up or step out, and we stepped up.”

With the help of the council and smaller voluntary sector organisations in the area, Age UK Camden has made it their mission to make sure that everyone in the community is safe and healthy and has everything that they need.

The organisation has worked tirelessly to put together emergency parcels to help the community, despite the supermarket food shortages. They have now delivered over 5,000 emergency food parcels. Morris told me: “Helping with food was our hardest challenge. The requests were high and not just from elderly people. The food shortages in supermarkets caused a lot of stress and anxiety.” Morris decided to ask the community for help. “The shortages were so terrible that we had to ask for donations from the public.”

Age UK in Camden

The people of Camden heard their plea for help and did everything they could to support the charity by offering their own supplies. They have also received many donations from Eleanor Palmer school and St Mary’s school. “The generosity from Camden was absolutely amazing and really overwhelming.” Morris told me.

Much like any other business struggling to stay afloat during this pandemic, Age UK are no exception. Increase in demand for help from the charity is now three-fold and most of the charity’s income streams have stopped. They have had to close down their retails outlets and day services leaving them with £70,000 less each month. Even with the extreme financial loss, the charity has never stopped fighting to help their community.

In this time of great uncertainty and difficulty, food is not the only essential for those who are locked inside. “It has been an extremely difficult time for mental health.” Morris informed me. Not being able to see your loved ones or enjoy a day out in the sun has been a struggle for all of us, but especially for the elderly and the vulnerable who are in direct threat of the virus. “We have tried very hard to help those who are struggling mentally by keeping in contact with them and setting up online events and clubs.” Age UK Camden has officially given over 100 hours of counselling to those in need and made over 200 telephone befriending calls.

Along with the direct phone support they have offered they have set up an online book club, where they deliver the books and then start an online conversation about them. “Our online book club has had an amazing response and has really helped people stay occupied and engaged with their community.” The organisation has also put together a Well-being Renewal package which includes Art by Post, a creative resource pack with art, guidance and guest artists. They have even set up online lunchtime recitals where musicians can live-stream on Facebook, giving those stuck at home a chance to watch a free online concert.

Morris informed me that the charity has also been working with the NHS to work out a hospital discharge programme. This programme allows hospitals to discharge patients early, helping the NHS not get overwhelmed and prevent overcrowding. “We arrange food, fresh linen, counselling and anything they might need for when they get back home. We asses their situation and get it ready for them as soon as possible to help the NHS. This is a vital part of what we have been doing.”

Many people would simply not have coped without the help of the charity. Rachel Joseph, a lady who has received support from Age UK Camden told me about the support she has received. “The volunteer who helps me is amazing, they phone me to check I am okay and bring me food. I don’t know what I would do without their help.” Many people like Rachel cannot get to a shop and have no one else who can help them. Age UK Camden have made sure that those people are not forgotten. Morris said: “It’s very important to me that the older population do not get left behind. That their voices are heard, and they do not become invisible.”

Age UK Camden has gone above and beyond to keep everyone safe and happy, but the struggle is not over. With government plans to ease lock-down, it has never been so difficult for the elderly and vulnerable. “There is a lot of confusion at the moment for over 70s. We are a really important source of information for people and we are trying to provide the best support we can, but it is not easy sometimes, especially now.”

So far, Age UK Camden has received over 300 volunteer sign ups and over £35,000 in donations. Morris told me: “I wasn’t surprised at the reaction from the community. I’ve been delighted with the response. We have seen people really come together in this time of need. Our volunteers have worked so hard and so many long hours and are overwhelmed with the support we’re receiving. There has even been people in the community who have baked for our staff. There is support for the supporters!”

The charity has now launched a new appeal. They are looking to raise an extra £20,000 to help those on the community who are recovering and convalescing following coronavirus at home. Their journey to full health may take some time and older people in particular will need robust support during this period. Age UK Camden’s Convalescence at Home package includes internet shopping support, an information and advice hotline, telephone befriending, counselling and well-being activities.

Nikki Morris had no idea that she would face something so utterly disastrous and I wondered how the CEO of a charity – that has such a huge impact on the community – was coping. “I’m actually doing fine, I have a good team and wonderful staff. I feel very fortunate that I’m within a team rather than going it alone. I have been fortunate; I’m a registered nurse and that skill-set has been extremely helpful. You do step up as nurses. It’s very tiring, there is a lot of responsibility that lies on your shoulders, but the health of the elderly people in Camden depend on us.”

If you would like to help Age UK Camden in their efforts, you can do so through the following.

Donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/AgeUKCamdenCovid19RenewalSummer2020

Sign up to their mailing list:

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/camden/

Or sign up to be a volunteer:

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/camden/get-involved/volunteer/

Article by Ellie Fielding

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