Agenda item

James Kirby (Programme Manager, Social Enterprise Kent - Ageless Thanet)


(1)        James Kirby introduced himself as the Programme Manager of Social Enterprise Kent (SEK) which led the Ageless Thanet project.   SEK had been in operation for over 30 years, working to improve lives and support communities.  It delivered many projects, including National Lottery funded projects such as Building Better Opportunities.  For example, Let’s Get Working which supported disadvantaged people who were not in work or training.  It helped them on the path to finding employment or volunteering opportunities within their local community.  SEK had gained a unique understanding of loneliness and social isolation, including that experienced by totally housebound people. 

(2)       James Kirby said that he had previously worked for Thanet DC and been responsible for developing the specification for the Ageless Thanet Project in collaboration with Cummins Power Generation Ltd who acted as the sponsors.  He had been determined that the project would work for all rather than for those who “shouted the loudest.”  National Lottery requirements stated that the Local Authority must hand the bid over to a third sector organisation, so Thanet DC had created an open tender for third sector organisations to lead Ageless Thanet. SEK had been democratically elected to lead the bid.  SEK had then been successful in the final stages of the bid and required a Programme Manager.  James had then applied for and been appointed to this position. 

(3)       James Kirby then said that National Lottery funding of £3m had been provided for Ageless Thanet for a period of five years, starting in 2015.  It worked to tackling social isolation and loneliness, improve mental and physical health in older people and influence perceptions of ageing.  It achieved this by delivering a range of sub-contracted projects.   One of these was the Wellbeing Project which supported a large range of activity courses. These courses had been academically evaluated by the University of Kent and lasted for 8 to12 weeks.  Improvements in levels of social isolation were measured using the UCLA 3 Scale (the link to a document from the Campaign to End Loneliness, shows the version of the UCLA Loneliness and De Jong Gierveld scales used by Ageless Thanet is


(4)       The activities which the Wellbeing Project supported included belly dancing, burlesque, walking football, sewing and pickleball.  This last activity (similar in nature to tennis) had proved to be so successful that an international team had been created based at St George’s in Broadstairs.  The participants had made friends and met new people and were able to pay for the activity themselves at a price of between £3 and £5 per week, approximately.

(5)        Another successful activity had been the art classes.  This was an example of meeting the needs of the participants.  The people who had asked for this had wished to learn to paint with oils in the style of Manet and Monet.  They had previously been offered poster paint and potato printing by other organisations and felt patronised because of this.  Once Ageless Thanet had become involved, proper artists and galleries had been provided and the participants had been able to sell their paintings, enabling them to continue the course beyond its original funding period.


(6)       James Kirby said that the venues and times were very important when arranging these courses.  The venues had to be local and familiar. Village Halls and coffee shops had been used.  The buildings did not have to be official; it was about understanding the places and venues that people felt comfortable to meet in.  

(7)       James Kirby then turned to the Age-Friendly Business scheme.  Businesses were encouraged to introduce often quite simple measures such as using larger fonts and writing when displaying prices.   Over 5,000 people were currently issued with reward cards which enabled them to access negotiated discounts.   Firms often discovered that what they had originally agreed to do out of a sense of social responsibility could become profitable. One example was a café which had initially somewhat nervously offered a 10% reduction for tea and cake between the hours of 2 and 4 pm.  Once the management had realised that this discount was good for business, they had increased the discount to 20% off the entire bill all day from Monday to Friday.   Discounts were not the only significant indicator of age-friendliness by companies.  There were a number that did not provide discounts but made up for this by introducing such facilities as dementia training.

(8)       James Kirby then spoke of the need to ensure that everyone was able to access Ageless Thanet’s activities.  This meant arranging them locally and at a time that suited need.  This was often in the early evening rather than between 9 and 5. Transport arrangements were also very important.  Ageless Thanet was keen to facilitate car-pooling and, if necessary, provide transport.  Accessibility also applied to assumptions about the ageing population.  An example of this was the potential mistake of assuming that Vera Lynn was significant figure from people’s younger lives.  Times had moved on, and older people no longer necessarily responded to her in the same way as had been the case some twenty or thirty years earlier.  

(9)       James Kirby replied to a question by saying that Ageless Thanet was reaching people in their 50s, 60s and 70s in equal measure.  There was a significant but lower number of people aged 80+.   He agreed that a number of people did move to Thanet from London when they retired and that they were in consequence keen to establish a new network of friends.

(10)     James Kirby said that one third of the population of Thanet (some 55k) were over 50 years old.  Ageless Thanet had managed to reach some 8,000 of them and had issued 5,000 reward cards.  Contact was maintained through a variety of media.  Ageless Thanet made considerable use of social media.  There had been some criticism of this at first, but it had emerged that even if lonely people did not have access, people around them did.  Also, the 65+ people were the fastest growing demographic for smartphone use. Those who were more in tune with traditional modes of communication were kept in touch through newspapers, posters and leaflets.  The Ageless Thanet magazine was delivered in partnership with Educational Life (a social enterprise seeking to support, empower and inspire families and young people in Thanet’s local communities).  It attracted advertisements from age-friendly businesses, which paid for the production of the magazine. These magazines were available in outlets such as Asda and Morrisons. 

(11)     James Kirby said that the success achieved through the provision of high quality, community-focussed activities could be measured by the fact that 30 of them had become self-sustainable.  The charging model had been developed by facilitators working with participants to ensure affordability.  

(12)   In response to a question James Kirby explained that Ageless Thanet’s Social Prescribing Co-ordinator worked closely with GP practices to increase referrals.  Other referrals came from Social Services, the Police, Fire and Rescue, Housing Associations and Age UK amongst others.   This was welcome even though it could lead to over social prescription.  He had needed to explain on occasions that Ageless Thanet was not a statutory service and that it had not been established as an organisation of last resort which could always accommodate referrals who other agencies were unable to cater for.    

(13)     The Life Planning service provided by Ageless Thanet was a collaborative effort with the Citizens Advice Bureau.  When people reached a “trigger point” in their lives such as retirement or bereavement, Ageless Thant was in a position to offer them immediate high quality advice which enabled them to make positive choices for the future.  This advice included measures to counter social isolation as well as debt, relocation from another area, accessing benefits, and coping with bereavement.  

(14)     James Kirby said that SEK and therefore Ageless Thanet’s social enterprise philosophy was that profitability was a good thing if it was put back into the community to ensure sustainability of services.  SEK used an asset-based community development approach. They were looking closely at sustainability, particularly when the funding period came to an end in 2020.  They worked with Age UK and others such as the University of the Third Age (U3A), though they did not attempt to duplicate the services that these organisations provided.


(15)     James Kirby explained that Ageless Thanet had a Governance Panel of 8 people, all between the ages of 50 to 88.  They were men and women with different backgrounds and life experiences.  Through their roles in Ageless Thanet, the Governance Panel members had received training, including assertiveness training.  They had to make challenging decisions, including the scoring and awarding of tenders.


(16)     The Chairman invited James Kirby to sum up by responding to the question: “In your opinion, what can be done, if anything to prevent or reduce the impact of social isolation and loneliness on Kent’s older residents”?  James Kirby said that he believed and hoped that there would be an “Ageless Kent” project in the future.  The model pioneered in Thanet was working, as evidenced in the documentation he had brought with him to the meeting.  Ageless Thanet would gladly work with KCC to share best practice and identify better and more effective ways of working.   On a more practical note, the lessons that Ageless Thanet had internalised was that people must never be patronised and that the needs of older people were not static but were constantly changing.     


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