I finished working for Age Action last month. My 10 years with the charity have been among the most rewarding and inspiring periods of my working life. The experiences I have had with Age Action have profoundly shaped me.
I joined in 2006 at a time when my late father (who had Parkinson’s) was struggling the grittier side of ageing. I joined as somebody committed to campaigning to protect vulnerable, older people.
A decade later l am still aware that some older people are among the most vulnerable in our society and need to be protected. However, I now appreciate that older people represent a section of society with the most to offer in terms of experience and as role models for generations coming behind them.
I am privileged to have worked with so many great people at Age Action. They have taught me the value of experience – something that is often lost in an era where the answers to most questions can be found on the internet.
They have taught me that we are all ageing, that it is part of the lifecycle. And, like all other sections of this cycle, it comes with its challenges and its opportunities.
I have been privileged to work with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s with infectious good humour, wonderful wisdom and a can-do attitude which is so life-enhancing.
No place for sissies
They do not paper over the challenges of ageing. Bette Davis famously said that old age is no place for sissies. Some of the Age Action members reminded me of that on a regular basis. They overcame chronic illness, disabilities and bereavement in order to turn up and help Age Action.
In some cases, the nature of the work posed by Age Action was a challenge, placing them outside their comfort zone. For example, being asked to appear on live television is a big ask for many people. But not for this apparently bullet proof, adaptable group.
They repeatedly defied society’s often ageist attitudes of what older people should do or how they should behave. In doing so, they provided a powerful template for positive ageing.
The greatest lesson I took from being in their presence is that life is for living. When the opportunity arises to help other people, to take on a new challenge or learn a new skill, grab it with both hands. Your life is not a dress rehearsal.
During my time at Age Action, I also saw the powerful impact an effective advocacy organisation can have. From the Medical Card protests in 2008, to the campaigns to protect supports for older people during the austerity years, and more recently to abolish mandatory retirement, Age Action’s advocacy has made an impact.
At the heart of this work has been ensuring that our policy makers and politicians hear the voice of older people. This is so important in 21st Century Ireland where older people are often invisible.
Sadness and gratitude
I left Age Action last week with feelings of sadness (leaving so many great colleagues and Age Action members and volunteers) and gratitude for the opportunities I have had with this wonderful charity.
For my first eight years with Age Action I worked as Head of Advocacy and Communications. As a former journalist, communications has been my passion since I was a teenager.
In 2015 I was appointed Chief Executive of the charity. The last two years have very successful for Age Action, but I am now looking forward to using my experience in a wider context.
As someone working at the coalface I have seen the damage done by a series of charity scandals to the public’s confidence in the sector. The great work of many wonderful charities is being hurt by the actions of a few. Public confidence and trust has been shaken.
At the start of May I joined the Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) as Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement. I am very excited by the challenge and the nature of the work being done by the CRA.
As part of my job I will work with charities to help increase public trust and confidence in their vital work, and ensure they meet their regulatory obligations.
It’s a new challenge and a new adventure – one I am really looking forward to.