It is my privilege this year to be President of The Grateful Society, following Mark Mason last year, and indeed all previous Presidents who have contributed so much to the wellbeing of older people in Bristol.
The Charity was founded over 250 years ago and is dedicated to the alleviation of loneliness in older people in Bristol and the surrounding areas. For me as an NHS Paediatrician with over 40 years experience of front-line care, the focus in children differs little from that of clinical practice in the elderly – at best it is the same holistic, family-centred community-based care.
The glaring difference currently however, is that older people have become even more vulnerable. During this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the toxic unintended consequence of isolation and social distance has been to increase loneliness, particularly for the less fortunate of our society, many living alone with frailty and significant co-morbid conditions. We have seen a frightening loss of resilience in this population and hence the attendant risks of declining mental and physical health, making eventual rehabilitation more of a challenge.
The Charity has historically supported, from the proceeds of our Annual Presidential Appeal, a wide number of Day and Community Centres in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, including Lunch Clubs, Memory Cafes, and After Stroke Clubs, where friendship, advice, activities and a hot lunch and transport are provided for older people, some of whom only leave their homes for these regular events. Their appreciation has always been warm and humbling. Of course during the Covid 19 Pandemic these events have temporarily ceased and Centres closed, hence our deep concern for many isolated elderly at this difficult time.
We have made a conscious decision to increase our funding to meet the crisis, and have distributed all we can muster to some local charities who have responded so innovatively to the unmet need. Together with the Anchor and Dolphin Societies we have funded the organisation FareShare to deliver food daily to 750 older people living alone, and also Bristol After Stroke to hire trained counsellors to deliver phoned support to patients who have survived a Stroke but have no access to face to face rehabilitative therapies.
On June 7th 2020, there was a significant and symbolic moment when the statue of Edward Colston in the centre of Bristol was unlawfully pulled down. Colston’s prior reputation as a philanthropist and major benefactor in Bristol had come under increasing scrutiny and resulted in profound disharmony and tension within the City, due to his close involvement with the Atlantic Slave Trade.
The Charity was founded almost 40 years after Colston died and had never been the beneficiary of any of his money, but of course was created partly in the wake of a man whose philanthropy is in modern times overwhelmed by his involvement with institutional enslavement. We have a sense of deep sadness and regret at the controversy surrounding the foundation of our Charity, but strongly believe that this legacy should in no way taint the pride, dedication and hard work of the people promoting its charitable objectives today.
Now is an opportunity for all of us to focus on how we can engage in the crucial process of making a fairer, more just and equal society. To this end, we in The Grateful Society are not only embracing the diversity of the many organisations we already support, but are actively seeking new opportunities to engage further with diverse communities, to understand how we can listen, support and help older people in those communities.
As a result, this has been a challenging Presidential year thus far. Nonetheless, the work of The Grateful Society continues with renewed vigour, whilst we explore new and innovative ways of how we can support all older people irrespective of ethnicity, inequality and disadvantage. I hope to draw from my experience in health, and knowledge of the prevailing local Health and Social Care Policies, which seek to address frailty by establishing a new community based model of care for older people with complex needs, doing this in partnership with many multicultural groups across the sector.
Finally, I want to thank the enduring support I have had from all The Trustees, and June Anderson who has been an excellent link to our wonderful beneficiaries. We share a passion for this one mission – to improve the health and wellbeing of all the senior members of our community.
Dr Jacqueline Cornish OBE FRCP (London) Hon FRCPCH DSc (Hon)