Professionals and volunteers can support ageing population

Picture: Contributed
Picture: Contributed
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Together we can tackle growing challenge, says Peter Bailey

As A society, we have a responsibility to support people in later life. It seems that almost everyone I speak to these days talks about their responsibilities for older relatives, their desire to provide the best possible support and often their frustration as to how they can access the service that they need. This responsibility is not going to go away. Statistics tell us that the number of people aged 85 and over in the UK (1.4 million in 2012) is predicted to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30. Add to this the fact that the number of people in Scotland who have dementia is projected to double in the period to 2031 and you can see that there are real challenges for us all to ensure that people have access to the support which will enable them to participate in their communities, regardless of their age.

As the Social Care Council of the Church of Scotland (operating as CrossReach), it is our privilege to support people across Scotland to retain and regain control over their future and to choose how they will live their lives as they get older. In seeking to address the challenges our society faces, we have the advantage of experience and expertise. CrossReach has been involved in social care in Scotland for nearly 150 years, adapting the support we have offered as the needs of people in Scotland have changed. Colleagues working across the country whose vocation it is to offer excellent, person-centred, and life changing support to the people who choose to use our services. Having such a dedicated team means we can support people through the most difficult of circumstances. It also means we can develop innovative initiatives like our creative arts project for people with dementia, Heart for Art. But, while I believe we have a vital role in ensuring people can participate in their communities as equals, social care is not solely the preserve of the “professionals”.

As the national social care provider of the Church of Scotland, we have a unique perspective on the social care sector because, as well as being a professional support provider on a large scale, we are also part of a body whose members give voluntarily of their time to support people in their communities. Whether through lunch clubs, youth clubs, support groups for people in recovery from addiction and a huge range of other work, people have a large – and growing – desire to be involved in social care as an expression of the mission of the Church.

Yet, there is still so much more that the Church can do, particularly to support older people and their relatives. The 2015 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland decided that, to realise this potential, there is a need to resource churches through advice and support as they get involved in social care at a local level.

The Assembly recognised that the Social Care Council is in a good position to provide such support.

To achieve this, we aim to share our knowledge to inform voluntary groups; help them connect with others who are passionate about social care; and inspire them to make a difference in their local area. By bringing together our expertise and the passion of Church members for their local communities, we can support them to support other people, working together to make sure that everyone can be part of the life of the community.

We are excited about this initiative because it will improve the quality of life for so many people in our communities. Our hope is that a spirit of collaboration can be fostered across the social care sector, and that professionals and volunteers can work together more closely. We all have a role to play in addressing the challenges our society is facing, and by bringing our skills, experiences and passion together we can face these challenges more effectively, for the benefit of all.

Peter Bailey is chief executive Officer of CrossReach and secretary of the Social Care Council of the Church of Scotland.