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Learning Skills Club makes a difference for over 60s

An activity club for retired people in the Kent town of Welling has flourished in recent years thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers.

Deepdene Seniors Learning Skills Club, which runs on Mondays at St Stephen’s church hall, is run by Nova De Souza and her husband with around 15 volunteers, who deliver activities ranging from flower arranging to ICT skills.

The Club used to be a brunch club run by a large organisation, which closed after a year because it wasn’t financially viable.  As a result Nova got involved in 2010 after retiring as a primary school headteacher.

“The other club didn’t offer many activities at the time so we asked people what they wanted and set about making it happen,” she says.

Nova’s previous career meant she was used to applying for funding and support and, together with her husband, she successfully applied for £5000 from the Capital Communities Fund, which helped cover upfront costs and set up an ICT club.

Starting with just one laptop, they registered the club with UK Online Centre (now known as Good Things Foundation), becoming  a Centre Partner and using their free ‘Learn My Way’  program. As the club grew and successfully gained funding, more laptops were purchased and, through the local adult education centres, tutors were appointed. ICT tutor Keith Lewis got involved about two years ago, and the club now has 11 computers, as well as broadband internet from The Phone Co-op.

Funding from the Cory Environmental Trust helped build a dedicated ICT room in the church hall and double glaze the windows, so the space would be warmer and more comfortable for the users. Also, the funding supported improvements in the adjoining room to enable the members to exercise in privacy.   The club took advantage of The Phone Co-op’s Start up and Expansion Fund to set up their landline and broadband and, along with the Big Lottery Fund and other sources of finance, to purchase furniture suitable for seniors.

“Activities such as the ICT club were a direct result of listening to what members wanted to do,” says Nova.

Another popular activity is Chairobics, a low impact, sitting-down form of aerobics for people with disabilities or limited mobility. There are around 40 people attending the sessions, around 15 of whom participate in the standing exercise.

Membership of the club has recently increased to 85 and the entrance charge to £1 from 50p per session, but it still gives users a range of activities which are either unavailable elsewhere locally, or cost significantly more.

The average age of club members is 70, with the oldest member being 94, and they are drawn from a whole range of nationalities and backgrounds.  They come for the Chairobics and ICT club, as well as bridge, flower arranging, beading and hand massage sessions. The club also arranges a Christmas meal at the local carvery every year, along with trips to the seaside and the theatre.

“Our members derive many benefits from attending the club,” Nova adds. “It helps with socialising and keeping fit, healthy and in touch with friends and family through texting, email and skyping.

“We know from talking to the family of members who have passed away how uplifting many found it in their later years, and how it impacted positively on their lives.”