New projects can revive sense of self and purpose

'Walking Football' is aimed at keeping people aged over-50 involved with football if they are not able to play the traditional game. Picture: John Devlin
'Walking Football' is aimed at keeping people aged over-50 involved with football if they are not able to play the traditional game. Picture: John Devlin
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AGE SCOTLAND projects revive sense of purpose, writes Brian Sloan

Through our information, friendship and advice helpline, Silver Line Scotland, we regularly hear stories from people whose lives are affected by loneliness and isolation.

Studies have confirmed that, in Scotland, 80,000 people aged 65-plus describe themselves as often or always feeling lonely. And, when two in five older people in Scotland regard the television as their main form of company, we know that it’s time to offer people alternatives. At Age Scotland, we are dedicated to enabling everyone to make the most of later life. Because of this, we are supporting two activities that seek to combat loneliness in older men, Walking Football and Men’s Sheds.

Men’s Sheds is an idea that started in Australia that has spread across the globe as a way of getting older men involved with their community in a way that keeps them interested, and that can be beneficial to others. I heard it put best when I visited a shed in Macmerry, East Lothian, a few weeks ago. A shedder said it was like a youth club for older men and he couldn’t have been more right. Men’s Sheds are a way to bring men together and use the skills they have developed over a lifetime, or to pick up new ones, and make useful things while having a laugh, a cup of tea, and a chat.

Macmerry Men’s Shed has a wealth of expertise in woodwork making everything from bird-feeders to walking sticks but new skills are always welcomed. If you’re not close to Macmerry, Age Scotland has just received funding to support new sheds across the country so we’ll do our best to help you put your skills to use. Some sheds have seen men with incredible skills teach others who are complete beginners. At Macmerry, I met Jim who was in a wheelchair and had taken up stick-making under the watchful eye of a seasoned pro. He showed me the stick with a dog on it which he was making for his friend; something he’d never done before coming along to the shed. Visiting a shed, you hear so many stories about how these activities make people feel better both physically and mentally, it is incredibly inspiring and is the best aspect of Men’s Sheds. What Age Scotland offers to new Sheds is practical advice, and if necessary, a small grant to help with set-up. The exciting challenge of getting things going are taken on by the shedders, it’s a real team effort. Once up and running, products made in the shed can then sold to support further development of the shed. If you’re interested in getting a shed up and running in your local area, please do get in touch with Age Scotland on 0333 323 2400 and we’ll point you in the right direction.

As for walking football, earlier this month, we helped organise Scotland’s first ever Walking Football Festival with the SPFL Trust, SAMH, Paths for All and Spartans Community Football Academy. The event had 15 teams from all across Scotland, and even one from Newcastle, who came to compete for the Yvonne Coull Memorial Shield. If you love playing football but can’t manage running, why not just walk? As well as opening up football to a generation who thought they’d lost the opportunity, walking football levels the pitch for players of all ages; At the Festival we had a range of ages from some guys in their 40s to our oldest players who were nearly 40 years older.

Just like visiting Men’s Sheds, the Walking Football Festival was filled with stories of people who’d had their lives changed by taking part. That’s really all it takes, one phone call, one meeting, one training session and you can change your life, physically and mentally. I’ve spoken to incredible numbers of people who, once they engage with a new activity or one they thought they had lost, have seen their wellbeing boosted. So whether it’s Walking Football, Men’s Sheds or the many other options there are to take part in, it just takes one push to get you going in the right direction.

• Brian Sloan is Age Scotland’s chief executive