Kent's Rural Spirit Moves ‘Into Active Europe’

Is it the British ‘fighting spirit’? Marcel, director of ‘Seniors Handicapes  Europeens’ asks over lunch in reference to the amount of volunteering action in Rural Kent we have been championing this morning. He seems genuinely staggered by the level of commitment shown across the channel when it comes to helping each other out for nothing other than the satisfaction it brings.

We are here in Nice with partners from France, Spain and Slovakia to see how we can learn from each other when it comes to looking after the vulnerable among us. This is the first leg of ‘Into Active Europe’, a project that creates transnational partnerships to find new solutions for people with disabilities, particularly the elderly and those without family support.

It can only be good news that people are living longer across much of Europe and are able to enjoy a higher quality of life through improved access to health and social care services. Yet at the same time governments recognise that these services put a strain on the rest of their budget; therefore most countries are considering raising the retirement age in recognition that with improved health, most people will be able to work longer.

However, in each of the partner countries on this project there are elderly people unable to work and who have been dependent on social care for many years. Reduction in services has a far greater impact on these people, many of whom have mental or physical disabilities, suffer from degenerative illness or are the victim of accidents, and even more so in rural communities.

In every community there exists a pool of caring people willing and able to help others in those situations, and Kent has no shortage. It is heart-warming to see the reaction of partners when they hear about the projects run by volunteers in Rural Kent. But it is true to say that they see the concept of ‘Village Agents’, an idea enacted by Gloucestershire Rural Community Council supported by their county council and NHS Gloucestershire, as a potential lifesaver. As with all good community engagement ideas, this is simple; and it saves money (for the county council and NHS). Village and Community Agents, hosted by the Rural Community Council, exist to help elderly and vulnerable people make contact with agencies that are able to provide them with the service or services that they need. They offer a free facilitated signposting service primarily to the over 50s and are able to visit people in their own homes, forming friendships on the way. We are yet to find the required investment in Kent for this but we hope to get the same reaction locally as we did in France soon.

In Nice we are learning how inspirational members of ‘Seniors Handicapes  Europeens’ overcome their disabilities, one of whom, Chantelle, is a decorated swimming champion (she won her latest gold medal only last week) and visit an impressive hotel and restaurant, ‘Esatitude’, staffed entirely by people with learning difficulties. We keep hearing the word ‘solidarity’, and of course the entire system of social security in France adheres to the solidarity principle. We have a great deal to learn from this group of French folk and them from us, especially on our volunteering culture; it’s something we have a great deal to be proud of, even before we start talking about ‘fighting spirit’ over lunch. But with a little imagination and investment in the Village Agent idea we could begin to whisper of a ‘revolution’ in Kent’s social care provision, especially when we start adding the learning from this EU project. That’s a word I’ll save for dinner over here though.

Next stop on Rural Kent’s ‘Into Active Europe’ tour will be Murcia, Spain in April.

Carl Adams.   

Action with communities in Rural KentAction with communities in Rural KentAction with communities in Rural KentDiagrama EspañaEuropean Comission