Tony Donovan sat down with Pukaar Magazine to talk about the history of Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year, with a series of fundraising events.
It’s a milestone, which is also shared by her Majesty the Queen – who’s still serving our country proudly, at the age of 95.
Tony has been the Chief Executive of Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland for over 30 years, and says the charity is excited to be celebrating alongside the long reigning monarch.
The origins of Age UK began In 1941, when The National Older Persons Welfare Committee (NOPWC) was formed to address the hardship and poverty for older persons during the Second World War. It was an organisation which came out of the wartimes, when lots of women found themselves widowed and faced with great hard ship as a result of their husbands going off to fight.
“World War II brought hardship to everyone in Britain, and older people were especially vulnerable,” explained Tony.
“Many families had lost their main breadwinner or become separated. There was no welfare state, and
the ‘poor law’ provision of the time was woefully inadequate,” he added. “So, the NOPWC was developed in 1941, and it basically gave people the opportunity to meet and to interact.”
The organisation soon gained national recognition, and with the advent of the welfare state around that time, government money became available to fund work with older people. The charity has existed as various charitable entities supporting local older people across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland since 1952.
The next step in the story of Age UK, came in 1961 when businessman Cecil Jackson-Cole set up the ‘Help the Aged Refugees Appeal’, in response to the needs of older refugees coming to England, following natural disasters and conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Following this success, a network of Help the Aged stores soon spread across the country.
Meanwhile the NOPWC became completely independent of government and was renamed as ‘Age Concern’. Around 15 years ago, Age Concern merged with Help the Aged, and together they took on the new name of ‘Age UK”. Locally, Age Concern Leicester merged with Help the Aged Leicester to become
Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, a brand partner operating on an independent local level.
Under the leadership of Tony, the charity has gone
on to become the largest, local independent Age UK, and one of the most diverse in the country, offering a range of support and services not only to older people, but also their carers and family members.
“We don’t just work with older people now. We work with carers, and there are a lot of young carers out there that are caring for parents,” Tony told Pukaar.
“What we’re trying to get across to people now, is that all of us are affected by old age, especially with people living to greater ages.
“During our 70th year, we will be doing a lot of intergenerational work, going into schools with the grandparents of some of those kids and engaging them with activities, just to try and raise awareness in a fun way,” he added.
In an attempt to enhance its appeal further and engage a younger audience, Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland is also moving towards having a greater presence on social media. It has also changed its approach to fundraising in more recent years.
“We’ve realised that traditional fundraising doesn’t work anymore – people are not interested in the little
sales and the raffles we would have put on in times gone by,” Tony revealed.
“It has to be bigger and more emotive. We have to think outside of the box. No-one really wants to think about getting old, and we’re aware of that. So, we’re trying to make the charity more engaging to everyone’’, he added.
Across the county, Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland now has 25 charity shops, with the first opening in Market Harborough back in 1988.
The shops bring in a lot of money for the cause. However, they have struggled with stock in recent years, due to Covid, and online competition. “People are learning how to sell things themselves on eBay, so we have that to contend with,” Tony explained.
“During the lockdown when our shops were closed down, we were losing around £100,000 a week, so we’re trying to claw our way back, but accepting that life has changed.
“However, we opened a new reuse centre in Hamilton back in January and the signs for that are really good. I’m confident that that shop will help us by raising funds, enabling vital services to continue.”
At present Tony, the staff and volunteers at Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, are busy celebrating their 70th year – with a series of tea parties and other events planned to mark the occasion.
“The fact that Leicestershire and Rutland have this massive charity, that’s doing all this good work and has all these wonderful volunteers is a real reason to celebrate,” said Tony.
“So please get involved, have fun and help raise vital funds for your local charity!”