Did you miss this lovely article in the Guardian about OPAL or Older Peoples Action in the Locality about the Welcome In centre and what they do there? OPAL is just one of Leeds’ Neighbourhood Networks and supports the over 60’s living in Cookridge, Ireland Wood, Tinshill, Holt Park, Adel and Bramhope – Leeds 16 above the Ring Road.
But they provide a lot more than table tennis sessions with the nearby school, Chief Executive, Ailsa Rhodes, has a lot more to tell us.
Every week at OPAL brings new and exciting challenges. Among the items on our ‘to do’ list this week was “find accessible lambs”!
A new member to OPAL had lost all confidence to leave the house and had become very isolated and lonely. We discovered that she loves to see new born lambs in the spring. With the Beast from the East hopefully behind us and better weather on the way, we made it our mission to find some lambs to encourage this lady to come out with us – our first step to helping her reconnect with her community!
We posted a message on a community Facebook page and was overwhelmed with responses. Within no time at all, we had several suggestions for accessible sites and offers to take our member out. This is exactly the sort of community engagement we strive for and it’s so rewarding to help our members out in this way.
We pride ourselves on the one to one support we give to our members. A typical day sees us:
- giving scam and fraud awareness information
- providing details of local trades people
- helping fill out forms for benefits
- advising on, and signposting to specialist services such as falls assessment and housing support
- transporting to appointments and activities
- conducting befriending visits from a volunteer for people who are housebound etc etc etc.
We were delighted last week to enjoy a brief period in the national limelight when our inter-generational table tennis activities were featured in The Guardian, making media stars of 92-year old Betty, 11-year old Josh and Derek with his deadly serves!
Next week, we welcome Leeds Rhinos Chief Executive, Gary Hetherington, who will be putting in a volunteer shift at our community café. The support of the Rhinos in general and Gary in particular has been amazing.
It has been just over a year since we opened the Welcome In Community Centre in what used to be the Bedford Arms and we already have a tangible measure of success in that ASBOs in the area have reduced. Local residents tell us that they feel safer and older people are more engaged with their community.
We don’t claim all the credit for this, of course, and we’d like to take this opportunity to make special mention of our many partners, particularly Ecoclean, Home Instead, the local Cooperative and Tesco stores, Horsforth Hub, Interserve, local schools and churches, local tradespeople and professionals and the many companies who lend support via their corporate social responsibility policies. We also thank the Youth services and Cardigan Centre who run the youth groups from our Centre.
Also, we would be nothing without the 100 and more volunteers who are involved with OPAL at every level, whether it’s admin, helping with group activities, serving on the management board of trustees or any of the other many roles filled by OPAL volunteers. We can’t thank them enough!
But it’s not all lambs and table tennis! Taking on the redevelopment of the Bedford Arms has taken (and continues to take) blood, sweat and tears and the spending of over £400,000 (and counting). This week, we have had a faulty boiler and a leaking roof to contend with. There’s always something that needs repairing or patching up!
We estimate we still require a further £200,000 to complete the work on the Welcome In. Every pound we raise requires an enormous effort from a dedicated, hard-working team of staff and volunteers – and we make each pound go a long way. We rely, typically, on donations and small grants of £5 to £10,000 so to raise the sort of money we need is an eye-watering challenge.
Even though we still have plenty of work to do on finishing the Welcome In, it is already proving its worth as a venue and focal point for the local community. It plays host to:
- two weekly chair exercise classes (both of which are attended by our oldest member who was born before the outbreak of the First World War and who turns 105 this month!)
- three weekly lunch clubs (attended by 100 people per week)
- two weekly Yorkshire Dance workshops (to help prevent falls)
- a weekly coffee afternoon (with an activity or talk)
- a fortnightly games morning
- our community café which is open Wednesday to Friday 9am to 2pm (please pop in for a cup of tea, a cake and a chat!)
- sign language classes
- two weekly youth club nights (run by Cardigan Centre and Youth Services)
- MsMeet (peer support group for people with MS – run by a local resident).
- Horsforth Hub providing pop up surgery for Council Services
- community events, such as our garden party on 10th May with food and drink, live music and a visit from the Lord Mayor
Away from Welcome In, we continue to run a wide array of activities including yoga, tai chi, gentle exercise, tea dance, coffee afternoons, and trips for our 700+ members.
For all the services and activities that OPAL offers, the one thing that we value more than anything else is the friendship we are able to share with so many older people in Leeds16. We will do whatever we can within our resources to help our friends and if that means finding lambs so that someone who is terrified of leaving the house will find the courage to come out, then for that moment, for that person, it is all about the lambs.
Thank you Aisla, staff and all the volunteers- such a wide range of fun and practical help OPAL provide. You can find out more about OPAL here.