April 14, 2011

UK: Late change of emphasis

OXFORD, Oxfordshire / The Oxford Times / News / April 14, 2011

By Reg Little

As he approaches his 76th birthday,
Oxford academic Sir Christopher Ball is feeling guilty.

He is a man of colossal energy, having at 72 broken a world running record, completing ten marathons in ten days.

But until now, the ex-warden of Keble College reckons most of that energy has been put into education and helping young people.

That is about to change after a meeting with Paul Cann, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire, the charity with which The Oxford Times is running the Give An Hour Campaign, that aims to get Oxfordshire residents to give 10,000 hours of time to help the elderly.

Sir Christopher, who lives in Jericho, recalls: “Paul said that I should interest myself in the work of Age UK Oxfordshire. I thought about it, and realised that it’s an area of work I’ve never had anything to do with. I am a teacher and most of my concerns have been with young people.

“It seemed odd getting to nearly 76 and never thinking of the needs of older people. But it is never too late to learn and I’ve been quite taken with the challenge.”

In recent months he has been putting his mind to examining the three great challenges that Age UK believes elderly people across Oxfordshire face — poverty, dementia and loneliness.

And typically, Sir Christopher head of Keble from 1980 to 1988, has begun bringing the kind of fresh thinking to issues surrounding old age that he has been applying to teaching and education for half a century.

“As well as thinking about what we can do for them, it is worth considering what they can do for each other. The elderly here have tremendous resources and not just monetarily, but also in terms of skills and care they can provide.

“For me the big idea is that older people have needs but also have the resources to help each other more. Rather than thinking in terms of being pitiable, it is better for the elderly to be challenged to support each other and get support when it is needed.”

He has given much thought to the challenge of having to survive on £130 a week, a situation thousands of local pensioners face.

“It is not a princely sum. They need help from the Government, and the electorate need to make sure that the Government gives it to them. But £130 does not mean living in absolute poverty. One key issue is that older people need assistance to help them use their money wisely. If you are faced with living off £130, you really need to be a skilled manager to get by.”

He hopes to eventually produce a paper on poverty, dementia and loneliness.

“But I still have a lot to learn. And don’t forget that I’m an old age pensioner myself.”

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