By Sean Tunnicliffe, Communications Officer, Leeds Older People’s Forum

A few days ago Bill Rollinson (LOPF Chair) asked me a favour. He wanted me to scan some documents which came from the dark ages when everything had to be typed and photocopied or even duplicated (older readers may now be reminiscing about the smell of duplicating fluid on newly printed paper).

One of the documents was the first annual report from Belle Isle Elderly Winter Aid (BIEWA) from 1986/87. BIEWA was the first Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS) in Leeds and Bill played a big part in setting up the scheme.

This got me thinking about the NNS and how important they have become to health and social care for older people in Leeds and how lucky we are to have them. It seems timely to talk about them as the latest NNS Review has just finished so the NNS Manager’s will now have time to read this blog.

What are the Neighbourhood Networks?

There are 35 Neighbourhood Networks in Leeds of various sizes and capacity.

According to the most recent figures I have (which are from 2016) there are 166 paid staff working for the NNS.

They also have around 2,000 volunteers who help provide services to over 21,000 older people each year. I don’t know how many hours these volunteers give so I can’t put a figure on how much money this equates to so let’s just say they are priceless.

The services provided by the Networks are too numerous to mention but include: befriending; luncheon clubs; trips and outings; exercise sessions; crafts etc. they also offer home based and one-to-one support and act as a gateway to other services.

Community based services

Being community based means Networks will have a good understanding of their member’s needs. As the schemes cover all areas of Leeds’ different postcode areas they naturally have a wide and varied demographic.

I feel it’s fair to say that they are a lifeline for many older people in their respective neighbourhoods and are likely to be more so in the coming years. Money is getting tight and local authorities are feeling the squeeze and Leeds is no exception.

It is therefore likely that the Neighbourhood Networks will face increased expectations not just because of the economic position of the Local Authority and other funders but also the changing demographics of older people.

Third Age becoming the Fourth Age

We have often referred to older people as the third age but  as life expectancy has increased we have developed a fourth age. There are more older people aged 80+, Neighbourhood Networks generally provide services for people aged 60+ (though some offer them from 55+).

This means that families often have two generations of ‘older people’ (although many of today’s 60 year olds don’t consider themselves to be old). Networks have spoken to us about the issues of younger older people which sometimes include drug or alcohol dependency which is something they haven’t had to deal with before.

People living longer means more risk of diseases such as dementia and Neighbourhood Networks are responding to this by becoming dementia friendly and opening up dementia cafes.

The Networks also play a vital role in helping older people to live independent lives. A good example of this is that in 2014 there were 2,714 reported  instances of Networks helping to avoid hospital admission.

Local but not national

I’ve never been fully able to understand why other local authorities in the UK haven’t copied the model. Whether it’s the cost and logistics of setting them up or maybe they’re not aware of the schemes.

If they’re not aware of them then maybe we need to shout about them more because they are brilliant and we should let everybody know. As well as doing fantastic work  the schemes provide unbelievable value for money which is vital in the current economic climate.

You can get more information on the Neighbourhood Network Schemes in Leeds on the Neighbourhood Network Scheme Map