Interview with Connect Hackney Development Lead, Judy Harris

“There’s no such thing as a typical older person”

Judy Harris, Connect Hackney Development Lead

Q. Please tell us about your work with Connect Hackney.

JH: Connect Hackney does lots of different things – we fund projects for older people, evaluate them to see what works and aim to influence local strategies and policies. I work with the Older People’s Committee to ensure that older people are part of all we do and the decisions we make.

My work also involves focusing on learning to make sure that the programme learns about the causes of isolation and possible solutions so we can make strong recommendations about how to improve things. This includes looking at what we call structural issues – transport, how services are run, the impact of funding cuts, and personal barriers such as mental health problems, coping with bereavement, adjusting to retirement. Structural issues and personal struggles are often deeply connected.

Q. Connect Hackney has recently been commissioning new projects for Hackney residents aged 50+. Could you tell us more about them?

JH: We are currently receiving applications from organisations who want to run new projects for people with dementia, mental health problems, people who find it difficult to leave home regularly and people from black and minority ethnic communities. Most of these areas were suggested by our Older People’s Committee and all of these situations make people likely to become isolated.

Research shows that many people with dementia find it challenging to keep their friendships going, while people with mental health problems can isolate themselves due to stigma and feelings of low confidence brought on by depression. Not being able to get out regularly means that you can’t meet people and are at high risk of isolation. We know that there is evidence that people from black and minority ethnic communities are at higher risk of isolation.

Q. What have Connect Hackney learnt over the past few years about working with Hackney’s older residents?

JH: We’ve learnt that there’s no such thing as a typical older person. It’s true that there are specific challenges that come with ageing, but even when facing difficult situations older people should be treated as individuals with skills and interests and the ability to make friends and enjoy themselves.

In one of our focus groups someone said ‘when you’re older there’s no time for fun’ – as a society we mustn’t accept this as a fact. However, there’s a lot of work to do to build a society where it’s much easier for older people to have fun, make friends and stay connected.

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