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October 6, 2022

Grant amount: £15,000

Age UK East Sussex

  • Grant programme: Active Lives
  • Region: South East

Towards the cost of the Active Studio and Gym at the Isabel Blackman Centre

About the organisation

We are an independent charity raising funds through social enterprise, charity shops, grant applications, donations, legacies, and contracts with statutory agencies for specific service provision. We operate across East Sussex and are the County’s leading older people’s charity. Established in 1948, our Vision is to make East Sussex a great place to grow older.

We have 300 paid staff and volunteers (with a ratio of 4 volunteers per member of staff) who work directly with some 9,000 older people each year. Through approximately 50,000 episodes of care, we deliver co-designed and person-centred services. Much of this is delivered by local volunteers, many of whom are older people and vital to the success of our services, which include:

  • Information and Advice,
  • Scams Awareness/Prevention
  • Social Prescribing,
  • Hospital Discharge,
  • Befriending,
  • Cancer support,
  • Benefits advice/ applications
  • Winter fuel and warm homes grants (through partner organisations including East Sussex County Council).

We exist to support older people living in East Sussex and are actively involved and collaborate with, the NHS and other Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprises (VCSE) sector partners operating in East Sussex, to address the needs of older people. We are a leading member of the East Sussex VCSE Alliance, collaborating with 20 of the county’s main VCSE organisations to engage local people, understand their needs and co-design solutions to these.

Organisation’s objectives

Our objectives are to enhance the quality of later life for people in East Sussex by:

  • Working with people in later life to identify and respond effectively to their expressed needs and aspirations,
  • Representing people in later life,
  • Promoting a positive image of later life,
  • Being a sustainable charity and social enterprise,
  • Collaborating with others.

About the project

The Active Studio and Gym at the Isabel Blackman Centre

The Isabel Blackman Centre (IBC) is a fully accessible health, leisure, and wellbeing centre for the over 50’s in Hastings and run by Age UK East Sussex (AUKES). The grant from the Peter Harrison Foundation provided most valuable support for the IBC in its creation, helping us to equip the gym and studio and to assist with the gym staffing costs. The IBC officially opened in December 2022, and now proudly offers an accessible gym and studio, a wide range of recreational and learning activities, a venue for wider community activity and a café offering a warm space in the colder months with healthy meals and snacks at reasonable prices, all year round.

The gym is a significant success story and supports the One You East Sussex Healthy Lifestyle Programmes. Our Fitness Coordinator, in addition to the standard Level 2 Personal Training, is trained in Level 3 Exercise Referral. Enabling him to work with patients suffering from a variety of health-related conditions and we receive referrals from local GP surgeries. In September 2023, we launched a group of classes aimed at specific medical conditions including, anxiety, diabetes, and COPD. More recently we have added Cancer Rehab, and we plan to add more in the coming year. These classes are very popular with our members. We respond to the wishes of our members, who make requests through our suggestion boxes, formal and informal feedback and, following requests, we recently introduced Circuits which is now operating at full capacity twice weekly. The studio is equally successful, we have 15 classes each week, run by specialist tutors, including pilates, tai chi and qigong, all aimed at personal wellbeing.

Other activites at the centre include: Arts & Crafts, Sport & Movement (i.e. Table Tennis, Indoor Bowls), Quizzes, and 3 levels of French and 2 of Spanish lessons, ensuring there is a level to suit all. Responding to members requests for help with their phones we introduced a weekly drop in Tech Café providing basic help with phones and/or tablets helping them to get the most from their tech.

In addition the centre provides a community space for local community group activities including: Hastings TUC Meetings, Green Party Meetings, Stables Theatre Rehearsals, CFTC Meetings and a weekly LGBTQ+ group for over 50’s, which has grown to around 20 people each week. We recently hosted a Memorial Dinner for LGBTQ+ people lost in the holocaust and the AGM of the Rainbow Alliance for the whole of Rother.

AUKES collaborates with the county’s other VCSE Advice Providers (e.g. Hastings Advice & Representation Centre (HARC), Amaze, Citizens Advice). AUKES has a representation/role in the county’s Multi-Agency Financial Inclusion Steering Group, working with East Sussex County Council, NHS Sussex, District & Borough Councils, and VCSE Alliance colleagues. This multi-agency group jointly share insight, planning and delivering a broad strategy to support local residents and tackle the cost-of-living crisis. The IBC is a significant part of this work and we plan to continue to respond to the needs of members and welcome more people to the centre.

Impact of PHF’s support

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How does your organisation exemplify PHF’s values?

Our primary goals for the IBC were to provide a community space in Hastings for older people that would be welcoming and provide facilities that older people need and would enjoy to use. With activities designed to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of older people, and with social networking to alleviate lonelinees and isolation.

We believe that we are achieving this and our successes in the first 17 months are expected to continue; we anticipate increasing numbers benefiting from the services on offer.

AUKES also runs Information and Advice (I&A) services, the I&A offices are located in the IBC. The I&A service is primarily an over the phone service covering all East Sussex, however being situated in the centre highlights what AUKES can offer regarding financial, housing, and/or legal challenges and the distribution of partner grants (i.e. East Sussex County Council grants) relating to the cost of living. This work includes some of the most vulnerable and isolated older people in the most deprived areas around Hastings. Deprivation is a significant driver of health inequalities and is notable along the coastal strip, particularly in Hastings which is the most deprived local authority in the South East. The IBC facilities enable access to other AUKES services including Cancer Support, Telephone Befriending (performed by AUKES’s volunteers), and AUKES’s free Scams Awareness and Advice services. The risk of older people being scammed is rising and the need to become scams aware is vital.

The offices of Care for the Carers (CFTC) are also located in the IBC, which is an official Carers Centre. Many carers are over 50 and they can enjoy sharing time with the one they care for with both using the facilities at the IBC.

Our original model for the IBC was based upon a social enterprise that would break even after year 3, however our experiences to date, coupled with the challenges of the cost of living crisis affecting our members and our charity as well, mean that we are operating at a deficit, which is being paid from our reserves and this will not be able to continue. We have decided to include the IBC within our services provision, under our Head of Services. This will enable  the delivery of joined up services where the people using the IBC can make use of our other services, i.e. Befriending, I&A, and Social Prescribing. We are currently in receipt of funding from the Reaching Communities Lottery Fund and we will seek funding from other grant makers to help us to sustain this service into the future. Importantly, we are embarking upon a project to greatly reduce both our energy costs and the carbon footprint of the IBC .

We thank the Peter Harrison Foundation for being involved at the beginning of this major project and helping us to build the foundations for our work at the IBC.