The clickety-clack of knitting needles wielded by volunteer knitters on behalf of Age UK Lindsey is well on the way to delivering 25,000 toppers for bottles of drinks made by the Innocent company.
The London-based company pays 25p for each of them, and Age UK Lindsey’s knitters have already completed more than 18,000. “Everywhere you look in the office there are toppers,” says Andrew Storer, CEO of Age UK Lindsey. “When we have 25,000 we’ll send them off to Innocent, and they’ll send us £6,500. It’s a vital source of income – but more than that, it gives the knitters something fulfilling and rewarding to do.”
Age UK Lindsey covers three local authority areas – East and West Lindsey and North Lincolnshire. “Our services cover all sorts of things,” says Andrew. “From applying for blue badges, offering advice about heating bills, and developing digital skills to helping them get a share in the millions of pounds of unclaimed benefits they might be entitled to – it’s all in a day’s work for us.”
‘Us’ is a team of only five part timers and volunteers – and Andrew estimates they’re reaching only 20% of the people that might need help. In those three authority areas there are up to 100,000 over-65s who could need help. “In a year between 18,000 and 24,000 people will contact us,” he said.
To sustain the work fundraising is vital – hence the toppers, and the £500 from the Sir Joseph Banks Lodge in Horncastle. Says Andrew: “People think we’re a national charity, but we’re not. We get less than 1% of our income from the national charity, which is why contributions from people like the Freemasons is so vital to us. We’re really grateful for it. People think we have lots of money, but we don’t.”
What they do have is expertise and a listening ear; both important in helping people to get benefits they might not even know they were entitled to. “There are three main reasons people don’t apply for benefits,” says Andrew. “They don’t know they’re entitled to them; they’re too proud to ask; or applying is simply too complicated. We can steer them through those difficulties, and make a real difference to people’s lives.”
The Freemasons charity the MCF has recently extended for a year a project which has supported more than 7,500 isolated older people. Said Provincial Charity Steward Pete Tong: “The MCF’s grant has made possible home visits to those that are house-bound or have health or mobility issues, as well as securing more than £16.3m nationally in unclaimed benefits and grants. This is a fantastic achievement for an investment of £1m by the MCF.”
Andrew agrees: “All of these activities have helped beneficiaries by reducing worries about money, improving their wellbeing and quality of life and giving intensive support to those who are most isolated to become more active in society. In our area last year we have been able to secure £3.97m in previously unclaimed benefits, and the year before that it was £4m.”