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Older people affected by cancer in Cumbria can face a number of difficulties. Living in a rural setting can be isolating and many travel long distances for treatment. Couple this with a higher than average older population, which is rising each year, and it’s clear that there are unique challenges for the county.
With this backdrop, the innovative Macmillan and Age Concern Community Support Project for older people affected by cancer is an important development.
The three-year project between Macmillan, four district-based Age Concern organisations in Cumbria, Cumbria County Council, and NHS Cumbria brings together community, voluntary and statutory organisations to meet the varying needs of patients, carers, relatives and friends.
Since January 2009, six project workers have been addressing the diverse needs of older people and have helped them to continue living independently.
As Macmillan Development Manager Stephen Williams noted at the outset, ‘There are plenty of excellent services and organisations out there, and we aim to link older people to them.’
Time is spent giving talks and attending events and community workers are working to address gaps in local services. This could be by helping people set up a support group near to where they live, or working to secure funding for a drop-in centre, such as Stepping Stones in Barrow, a service for people coping with bereavement as a result of cancer. A walking group started in Longtown now has a waiting list to join. In cases where there isn’t a suitable service for an individual, workers will spend time meeting that person’s needs.
There are large differences between the districts. Contrast Eden, with its dry stone walls and rolling hills, with the dense housing and dockyards of Barrow. In Eden, a project worker is trying to resolve how best to meet the needs of older people in the travelling community. In Barrow, there is the problem of industrial asbestos-related diseases. Differences also emerge over time. Consider the impact of the devastating floods in autumn 2009, which inundated areas of Cockermouth and Workington. In these situations, the project workers are flexible, and support older people with whatever is needed.
Volunteers have been vital to the success of the project, many themselves affected by cancer. These individuals will be vital in securing the sustainability of new services
Email Sonia Mangan|, Director, Age UK South Lakeland.
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