Working With Older People

I had the best of both worlds, in a way. After seven years in local government, I had grown to love my community project work. I didn’t want to run the risk of being pushed out of the field entirely through a restructure, so if I wanted to stay in the field I loved, it meant moving jobs.

And so I moved to a new project, funded by the National Lottery. It was a coalition of charities working to give more opportunities to older people; activities, advice, support, setting up businesses, and so on. Each charity delivered a different part, and it brought together different specialists to the whole project.

I was recruited to lead the volunteering section; recruiting volunteers with a range of life experiences who could help other older people with socialising, skills, and whatever else we might have thought about during the life-time of the project. This was exciting; I got to be involved with something from the beginning, and that was a genuine pleasure.

I was sad to learn that I hadn’t been able to get involved in recruiting an administrator; it was going to be essential that we worked closer together, and I would have valued being involved in the recruitment – but that was a minor issue, as I chose to trust that my manager at the charity was going to do a good job choosing someone who could support me effectively.

Oh how wrong I could be. From day one, I could tell that there were going to be problems, with both my manager at the charity and the administrator. Whilst the manager wasn’t around on my first day, the administrator was – and within the first hour, he was already angling for a new job title, and I could tell that he was sure he could do a better job than me.

When my manager and I spoke on day two, there was an airiness and detached approach that I was immediately alert to. She didn’t seem very engaged with the details, and was very relaxed about time scales – she certainly seemed surprised when I was keen to develop policies and recruit volunteers as soon as possible.

I made the overall project manager aware of what was happening. He was empathetic and supportive; I couldn’t have asked for more help if I’d tried. The work itself was a lot of fun; it was energising, interesting, and I felt like I was making a difference.

All this happened in the first five months; it made me incredibly anxious, that my manager didn’t seem at all interested and engaged, and the administrator didn’t seem to want to help. Little did I realise how little either of them thought of me until I was sacked – abruptly, without warning, and effective immediately. I genuinely wasn’t given any specific reasons; it essentially boiled down to, “We don’t like how you’re doing it, so please just go.” I’m paraphrasing there, but that was the essence of what they were telling me.

I was stunned; I’d clearly annoyed my manager a lot (by breathing?), although she denied that the sacking had anything to do with her (it had been conceived and implemented entirely by the trustees, apparently) – but I had no choice except to clear my desk and go.

I let the overall project manager know (the charity I worked hadn’t even consulted him, despite my wages coming out of funding that he managed), and he was – again – incredibly supportive. He met me that day for a coffee, to make sure I was okay, but I knew that I needed to act. I loved community work, so I wasn’t going to give up on the sector, but I also was angry; angry that my reputation was being impugned for no good reason.

So I sued the charity who sacked me. I can’t go into too many details, as I agreed after the event that I wouldn’t, but I was happy with the outcome. I had proved a point. A part of me was sad, as there was a new manager who had taken over at the charity in the interim, and I suspect that we would have had a stronger, more professional relationship – and I regret that we never got to work together.

But it seemed that I wasn’t done with Ageless Thanet, and I was glad of it; I wanted to continue doing good in the community I lived in. I heard from another charity in the coalition – Citizens Advice – that they had been planning to create a temporary community engagement officer post, to promote their work in more depth. Of course, they would need someone with knowledge of the project to sell it.

I had to interview for the job, of course, and succeeded, and spent a very happy 15 months in the role. I made some new friends, continued in the project, and worked in a field (let’s not hide behind false modesty) that I was good at. That’s as close as I’ve come to a calling, I suspect; who knew, when I started at a local council after a friend convinced me to go to the interview, that it would lead me to a love of engagement and communication work across multiple employers?

I got to promote a brand I was proud of, which was doing good work in supporting older people, and it was a challenge I could rise to. But, as is often the way in the charitable sector, there came a time when the money ran out and I had nowhere else to go within the team. It was time for me to leave, and that is the way of the world sometimes; I had committed to the job entirely for the time I had been there, and knew that I had done the best I possibly could. I’m proud of that.

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