Independent Age
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Independent Age

Essex Community Services’ Big Week festival

Helping older people to find things to do post-lockdown, our Big Week event was an amazing success, bringing together more than double the numbers expected in a buzzing atmosphere.

“It was like a scene out of the film Grease — you know, when the Pink Ladies throw their jackets off to dance? She literally took her jacket off, swung it round her head, flung it at her husband and said, ‘I’m going’,” laughed our Essex Services Manager, Julie Bennett, recalling one of her favourite moments of her team’s successful Big Week event in April.

“She’d been standing at the edge, not sure if she wanted to join in. I asked her if she wanted to dance and, 20 minutes later, she’s still on the floor, I’m trying to keep up with her, and she was dancing her heart out. We just really enjoyed it.”

Julie’s dance partner, an older person we work with called Julianna, hadn’t been out for two years. She came away from the event having signed up for four different classes a week.

An older woman grins to someone off camera as she dances. A younger woman stands behind her laughing with her hands on her hips as she watches on.
Julianna takes to the floor (l-r: Lou Griffith-Jones, Julianna, Julie Bennett)

“I loved the fair and all the activities, especially the dancing. It’s given me confidence to come out and speak to people,” Julianna said.

Julianna isn’t just a happy customer — she’s also the main source of inspiration behind the Big Week.

“Everything we do within the service links back to the individual,” said Julia. “When our caseworkers work with someone, they identify where there’s a gap and ask why there’s a gap. Julianna hadn’t been out for two years. She wanted to go out but didn’t know where to start. The missing link was to show her where to go and how to find things.”

Working with feedback from beneficiaries and colleagues, our Essex caseworker Kate Hardy came up with the idea for the Big Week as a way of helping people like Julianna and others in the same situation.

Kate worked with Colchester Borough Council and 40 organisations to create a week of events, leading up to a day-long festival at the weekend, offering people over the age of 50 the chance to attend workshops and get physical with a focus on sports and movement.

Three women stood in a row smiling at the camera. The woman in the middle has her arms around the other two.
Essex Community Services team Leesa, Kate and Julie

Julie said: “We decided to organise activities that would get people moving and motivated because we know that’s vital to a good quality of life. If you’re active, you feel fitter, healthier and happier.”

Along with a knitting circle and sewing workshops, taster classes in dance, strollercise, bowling and walking football proved popular.

“I think it’s about changing the mindset of what we think about older people,” Julie commented. “There was one 78-year-old woman who told me: ‘I don’t want to go to these clubs with old people sitting round with cups of tea — I’m still climbing mountains and can outrun my grandchildren, so this is such a great event for me.’”

About 250 people turned out for the event, more than double the number we anticipated. “It was truly a joy seeing people from across Essex come together and make new friends,” Kate said, “all while getting active and trying out new hobbies that hopefully many will keep up!”

“These activities were all things that had stopped during lockdown and were only just starting up again,” said Julie. “You just need that little nudge in the right direction and the word spreads — the next thing you know, classes are full again.”

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