The burgundy Otley Action for Older People minibus is a familiar sight and when I see it I wonder where the bus is going and what the passengers will be doing. The bus and passengers were even part of the Otley Carnival parade this year, bedecked in yellow bunting to celebrate the Tour de France. The people on the bus always look pleased to be there. Determined to find out more to find out more I visited the Otley Action for Older People (OAOP) headquarters.
OAOP is a long established and successful community-based organisation working on behalf of the older population of Otley, Arthington and Pool and is one of Leeds Neighbourhood Network Schemes.
Membership is free and currently 950 people have signed up – though there is always room for more. Sue Trainor, OAOP manager, tells me whenever she walks through Otley and sees older people she doesn’t know she wonders why they haven’t signed up, especially the men.
The group offers many activities – lunch clubs, coffee mornings, trips, outings and holidays, social groups, a memory café, exercise classes, befriending , a volunteer to help with gardening, telephone contact and a newsletter three times a year. There is something happening every day.
There are also many volunteer opportunities: fundraising, office work, driving the minibus or in the car pick-up scheme as well as befriending.
I visit on Wednesday morning and in the office staff are already ringing people to arrange transport and remind those who have memory problems of the day’s activities. They have a list of housebound people who staff contact regularly just for a chat or to ask them if they would like lunch, for example, sandwiches or fish and chips delivered hot from a local chippie. That’s over 400 calls a month. Volunteers deliver the meals.
Sue tells me I’ll be spending the morning on the minibus with volunteers Norman, who helps passengers onto the bus and driver, Roy. We’ll be collecting those who have signed up for today’s lunch club which is at the Otley Methodist Church. Then in the afternoon we’re taking some to the Memory Lane café at the Otley Rugby Club, the café is for people with memory problems or dementia and their carers. And it’s a return trip home for those who don’t go to the café. It’s a trip of 30 miles all round. The clock’s ticking so we’ll have to get moving if we’re to collect everyone on time. Pausing only to grab a pile of hand-knitted knee rugs we’re off!
Passengers are being collected from their own homes, sheltered accommodation houses, council-run and private care homes. They have one thing in common – they all love a trip out and about on the minibus. Roy and Norman know them all well and have a carefully worked-out route. First to be picked up is Lawrence, Otley-born and bred, he is ready and waiting and eagerly gets onto the bus. In what seems like seconds we have collected Mabel, another Otley person, who likes bus trips and is “on top of the world”, then Gordon, Joan, Ada, whose favourite seat is at the front as she likes the view, Lilian, Dave and Marjorie. Everyone is seated carefully, offered a knee-rug, and a bit of banter from Roy. Roy hasn’t lived in Otley long and became a volunteer to get to know people. We’ve made such good time we can go for an extra little drive in the surrounding countryside.
By the time we reach the church other lunch club members have arrived under their own steam and lunch is served. In the hall there are four long tables, beautifully dressed with tablecloths and cutlery, everyone (about 30 people) tucks into a lovely hot lunch. Volunteers help prepare and serve the food and there is enough for seconds, even thirds, for some. Norman tells me that he used to know one of the members, Jim Taylor, quite well, but sadly dementia means that Jim no longer remembers him.
Lunch over its time to, first, to take on those who want to go to the Memory Lane Café and second, those who don’t, home. While people are getting back into coats we realise that Marjorie, still upset over her sister’s death a few months ago, had gone walkabout. Back in the minibus, we look out of the windows, trying to spot her as we drive round. We check the bus station and any benches as we go by but no luck. This has happened before and Roy and Norman are sure she’ll get home safe.* So, on we go to the Memory Lane café.
At the rugby club people are given name badges and a raffle ticket when they arrive and left to seat themselves at the attractively decorated circular tables. Each table has pretty cups and saucers and cake stands with little buns, fruit and biscuits on them. The club is open to anyone with memory problems and their carers and they have made their own way there.
Greeting people as they come in is volunteer Ann, who is married to Roy, today’s minibus driver. Ann helps in the kitchen, arranges raffles and quizzes and, more importantly, keeps up the cake supply. Another volunteer, Elsie, herself, 87, tells me that she used to work with Meals and Wheels before OAOP started.
Today there is an extra treat in store, Stephen Field, a singer, will be leading them in a sing-song of golden-oldies. The singing starts, “The folk that live on the hill”, “All of me” and everyone smiles and laughs and floats on a sea of nostalgia. Cups and plates are constantly replenished.
Every week there is a different activity – craft demonstrations, planting up pots, bell ringers and choirs. After the raffle is drawn, people begin to drift home. A surprise announcement is made – it’s Norman’s birthday, he’s 68 – everyone gives him a cheer. Norman and Roy pick-up up their last batch of passengers and the bus starts off once more.
It’s been a fantastic day. What have I learnt? That Otley has a strong community spirit which is shown in the care and support provided by the volunteers. That people need to be busy during the daytime when their family or friends are at work or school.
That Otley Elderly have talent cue the Otley Action Singers http://youtu.be/COABWSzBS_Y
The Memory Lane Café takes place the fourth Thursday of the month, 1.30pm to 3.20pm at Otley Rugby Club, Cross Green, Otley, LS21 1HE. The café offers a supportive warm and welcoming environment for older people with memory problems or dementia and their spouse or carer.
You can find out more about the café and all the other activities provided by Otley Action for Older People here
*Just to reassure everyone, Marjorie is safe and well.