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Helen Burgess joins the team as Regional Manager for Age Space East

Hi, well ….. what a whirlwind three-months as the new Regional Manager for Age Space East.  

I love the premise of Age Space which is why I made the exciting decision to move from Fundraising and Communications Manager at Age UK Norwich to help roll out this fantastic resource across the East of England. Age Space is currently ‘live’ in Norfolk and in the next six months we’ll be launching in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Next steps – the rest of England, Great Britain and the world! 

I’m not a great self-promoter, my skills have always been best used raising the profile of charities, including Comic Relief, The National Trust, TimeBank and Age UK Norwich. However, I’ve been asked (made 😉) to write a little piece about myself, to show visitors to the site that there’s a real person behind the page and let you know I’m happy to hear from you on anything age related – which of course is all true.  

So, a little bit of background – I’m a mother of three girls aged 11, 9 and 5 plus a gorgeous cockador boy called Fletcher. This is us in a rare moment of complete unity.

I’ve worked in the charity sector for almost 20 years and love my career, taking much satisfaction knowing what I’m doing is making a difference to the lives of people who need it. That might sound a bit worthy but it’s true and even though this latest career move is into a new sector – for me it’s still about helping people.  

My time at Age UK Norwich revealed that one of the biggest problems when it comes to caring for an older relative – is access to information. Age UK’s across the country do an amazing job and I personally know that thousands of people visit the Information and Advice Centre on London Street, Norwich. However, they are then directed to a number of different resources depending on their needs. This itself can be daunting, confusing and at times frustrating especially if you’ve been thrown into an unfamiliar situation such as recent diagnosis of dementia or coping after a bereavement. I always felt there was a need for an online resource on all things ageing and caring – where everything was in one place and people could share and talk to each other via an online support network.  

About two years ago, I met Annabel James – the founder of Age Space. Based on her own personal experience she wanted to launch this great site packed with free impartial information and advice on elderly care and met with me to talk about the merits of creating regionalised sites with very localised information. I pointed Annabel in the direction of various sector people who might be able to help and periodically supplied content for the Norfolk site – whilst musing to myself ‘what a great idea and why hadn’t I come up with it first?’ 

People are living longer and therefore we have an increasing ageing population. I’m a great believer in the theory that we’re privileged to grow old and should celebrate later life. Indeed, there’s no reason why older people if still able can’t continue to work and stay active members of society – look at some of our older role models –  actress Dame Helen Mirren (72), Model Daphne Selfe (89), Sir David Attenborough (91), Journalist Joan Bakewell (84).  

However, as the care system crumbles under the weight of our aging population, we face a new reality – Taking care of our ageing parents. Not a new phenomenon for many cultures, however, statistics reveal this task falls largely to the daughters and here lies my concern for myself and many others. Like many women, I didn’t have my first child until I was 30 which laughably made me a ‘geriatric mum’ but the result of this is that it’s highly likely I will start looking after my mum before my last child has flown the nest. I for one will need all the help I can get and truly welcome the emergence of Age Space!  

At the moment, I’m lucky that my 71-year-old mother is still dynamic, fit and able but sadly I lost my father to a stroke and am far too aware of how life would have changed had he survived.  

I remember sitting in the hospital thinking the best-case scenario the doctors presented sounded absolutely terrifying and in the space of 24 hours I was trying to work out how we would look after him, could he move in with us? How would we make the house wheel chair accessible? How would we afford all of this? My dad was an incredibly proud man who would have hated every minute of the fuss he was causing, which is why maybe he chose to leave us so quickly. I would give anything to have him back and yes, I would have coped but at the time I breathed a sigh of relief that my life wasn’t going to take a very different path. The guilt was crippling and I wish I’d had somewhere anonymous to express these emotions. Age Space is this safe place, somewhere you know you’re not alone.  

I hope people will find the site of real value and continue to engage and share so other people can get the right information and guidance. The ageing process can be scary, especially as a grown-up child who suddenly has to look after their parent, it just doesn’t sit quite right. However, with the knowledge and support Age Space offers, I believe it can also be a rewarding journey which is why I’m delighted to be a part of the team.

There’s lots of useful information on both the main site and the Norfolk pages – from finance to legal matters to simply finding out where to start?

The forum is a great place to talk to people sharing similar experiences, don’t be afraid to ask a question – you’ll receive some great support and advice!