Hammersmith Reflections – Solutions for an Ageing Society
Guest blog by Geoff Hands, business mentor
“Solutions for an Ageing Society” is part of Hammersmith United Charities’ programme of Social Enterprise Grants. Under the direction of Melanie Nock, HUC’s Head of Community and Partnership, it provides funds to launch new business ideas created by budding local entrepreneurs to enhance the quality of life of older residents in the Borough.
As well as offering grants, Hammersmith United Charities also provides a Business Mentor to help each entrepreneur work up a business plan and to support the successful launch of each new business. Coming from a background of law and business, I have had the good fortune to be that Mentor since the programme started in the summer of 2017.
The entrepreneurs are inspiring people, sharing a common characteristic – a fervent and infectious passion for their cause. All except one of them have been women; some young, most of them of a mature age, all of them coming from a variety of ethnicities reflecting the great diversity of cultures to be found in the Borough.
Their business ideas have been just as diverse, but they have mostly shared the common themes of combatting loneliness and enhancing community cohesion. One entrprenuer’s aspiration was to be an Energy Specialist for the Indoor Environment, bringing her career skills in energy efficiency and sustainability to enhancing the indoor environment of residential homes and day centres for older people. Another woman has been working closely with her daughter to establish an elderly persons’ care-at-home business embodying the cultural mores of her community particularly the love of older people and respect for their wisdom and experience.
Cooking and creative arts are well known antidotes to loneliness and insecurity. One very talented young grantee’s solution for an ageing society was “to lift people out of loneliness using food to create a community that meets regularly to talk about health, diet and cooking”. It was her belief “that inspiring people to cook for friends and family is a way to regain self-confidence and that giving the lunch participants new recipes and ideas to try at home will hopefully be an incentive for them to host more social gatherings on their own”.
A Solutions for an Ageing Society grant has been supporting another extremely gifted award winner in successfully testing her business idea in the local community – in sheltered housing, churches and community halls. Her scheme is to run “hands-on professional fun and creative Art &Crafts workshops with a focus on Textile Art and Felt Making for the elderly, in a safe and supporting environment” expressly with a view to “to fighting isolation, improving health and well- being and making friends by stimulating the senses and challenging minds to learn new hands-on skills”. She and I are currently working together on ways to take her idea to a new level and to grow it into a fully-fledged sustainable social enterprise.
These grants also extend to seed-corn funding an award winner intent on breaking down the taboos that prevent men from certain cultures talking about – and doing something about – the incidence of prostate cancer.
A Social Enterprise Grant from the charity is supporting a new organisation whose mission is the relief of domestic violence in the Borough particularly against immigrant women not able to speak English in isolation imposed by their violent partners. It teaches these victims that domestic violence is not an accepted norm in society, finds them a sanctuary and embraces them in a community of women with shared experiences but now assertive and independent in their own chosen milieu.
And a final “hurrah” for the one man in the scheme – a Life Coach seeking to establish a sustainable business providing a programme of Personal Development Workshops for elderly people. He hopes to introduce a pioneering ingredient – “cross generational mentoring” to integrate different generations working together and supporting each other in motivational life skills.
It is a privilege to work with these compassionate and dedicated people. One of the entrepreneurs wrote recently: “I must tell you that the time I spent with you and Melanie really did restore my self-confidence which had been knocked after almost a year of unemployment. I will be forever grateful for the confidence and belief HUC gave to me during that dark time.” An unexpected accolade for Hammersmith United Charities from an unexpected, unintended but nonetheless very welcome beneficiary.