A meeting to share solutions as part of Rural Wisdom

Rachel Evans reveals how sharing community-based solutions are helping isolated older people in rural Wales and Scotland…

As part of my role working in Pembrokeshire in Wales, I’m responsible for supporting Rural Wisdom. The project has been running in Wales and Scotland for over five years. It is designed to enable community-based solutions that help overcome the impact of rural isolation on older generations. Part of its aims is to share learnings across the UK so that everyone can benefit and learn from the solutions developed by local communities.

Earlier this year, I did some planning with the community on the Dale peninsula. Working with the local Community Connector team, we looked at researching what people needed in the area, what they felt would be useful or enjoyable and whether they would be able to help out.

We adapted an existing questionnaire, provided by the Connectors. 800 printed copies of the survey were sent to the hard-working team of volunteers who work on local magazine PenPapers to put into each magazine. A lot of work but they did it! If you have time, do have a look at this brilliant local newsletter. It is organised and produced with military precision every month.

To back this up, the community also asked me to do some on-the-ground research throughout June. They were really interested to see if using a mobile post office would be a useful way to speak with people we might not otherwise meet. We got some replies, from both the questionnaire, and by people using the mobile post office. We got some useful information and offers of help were made.

Sharing community-based solutions

Further afield, my work on the Rural Wisdom project had merged with my community transport responsibilities. In May, Emma from Pembrokeshire Association of Community Transport Organisations (PACTO) and I travelled up to Scotland. We were to spend time with community transport folk in Galashiels and Aberfeldy to share ideas from the communities taking part in the Rural Wisdom project with them.

We were delighted to meet Christine Grahame MSP, Deputy Speaker of the Scottish Parliament. She’s passionate about community initiatives and we were grateful to Anne Connor, Chief Executive of Outside The Box, our Rural Wisdom partner, for bringing this about. Emma and I had a great trip – seeing Scotland’s staggering beauty and rurality at first hand really impressed on us why the drive of local community members in tackling rural isolation is so vital.

It was also showed how the learning side of the Rural Wisdom project is working for people – not only for those involved in the projects in its various locations but for the wider community at large. Since November 2018 we’ve been working with other organisations in Wales and Scotland to share learnings and enhance each others work.

From Pembrokeshire to Scotland

Last November, Rachel Gibby, Pembrokeshire’s Older People’s Strategy Co-ordinator was one of our guests at the Rural Wisdom Gathering in Flintshire, Scotland. Rachel was inspired by what she heard there regarding the Scottish experience of care model innovations in rural areas.

then from Scotland to Pembrokshire

On her return to Pembrokeshire, Rachel organised a conference around care innovation in January. Two Scottish organisations helped with the conference – Anne from Outside The Box and her colleague Donna Murray-Trail from the Care & Well-being Cooperative. They travelled to Pembrokeshire to share their knowledge and expertise more widely, with an audience comprising care-home owners, commissioning officers, voluntary sector workers and older people.

and Pembrokeshire to Scotland

Whilst in Pembrokeshire, Anne also spoke with staff from PACTO. She was really interested in what we had achieved in the county (I say “we”, for I am a proud PACTO trustee!). Emma Lewis and I were then asked to come and talk about PACTO to community transport colleagues in Scotland.

Because of our successes, and the innovative way Rural Wisdom works, the Older People’s Commissioner in Wales have been very interested in Rural Wisdom. They were kind enough to highlight this work to the Wales Audit Office. In July, Shereen and I attended two of their good practice events in order to speak to delegates about the project. It was great to make contact with people from all over Wales who we might not otherwise have met and was another great opportunity to share our learning. Soon, we will be attending a Rural Network conference in Cheltenham and an Ageing Well event in Cardiff.

The past 12 months have really showcased how volunteering, engaging with and listening to local communities and allowing them to shape solutions to the challenges they face can have such a big impact. In areas such as Pembrokeshire, a lack of transport for older people can lead to loneliness, social isolation and health issues. By sharing these community-based solutions with other communities, charities and government, volunteers can help communities develop solutions themselves and help others who may be facing similar challenges.