As part of this year’s Ageing Well Festival, we’re taking a look at how the organisation behind the celebrations (previously called Older People Day) came to be.

Learn how the East Sussex Seniors Association began, the voice they provide for older people in East Sussex, and how to get involved. 

East Sussex Seniors Association – how it all began
By former chair, Kate Davies

“Once upon a time… well anyway, a long time ago, I was retired and still living in Newhaven. I was a school governor and on the board of Newhaven Community Development Association (NCDA) now known as SCDA (S for Sussex).

“Members of the board were asked to attend an important meeting. The meeting was asking older people to put forward ideas on how East Sussex County Council (ESCC) Adult Social Care could improve services, or introduce new initiatives that would benefit their lives.

“At the time, the toenail cutting service in Newhaven had relocated to Peacehaven. Uproar! All the people attending the meeting had, wrongly, assumed this was the beginning of a fight to restore the service back to Newhaven. As a result, the meeting was abandoned. At the second meeting I noticed one of the attendees – Kathleen Manning.

“Kathleen arranged a meeting at the day club in Peacehaven to discuss how we could work with ESCC. She had invited John Appleyard, chair of an Older Peoples Association in Hastings. This was an association of providers, business people and charities who supported older people, but did not actually involve them personally. By the time Kathleen had arranged our meeting the idea of a forum for older people, led by older people, had already begun to take place.

Being a voice for older people

“In 2004, ESCC supported the idea of forums being a ‘voice for older people’. A new engagement officer was appointed and charged with setting up seven across the county – Lewes, Eastbourne, Rother, Hastings & St Leonards, Wealden, Seaford and Meridian (the only forum not to be called a Seniors Forum). Years later, after pressure from East Sussex Seniors Association (ESSA), Hope-G (Hastings Older Peoples Ethnic Group) was added. Bringing today’s total number to eight.

“As part of the funding agreement from the county council, each forum had to draw up a constitution, hold regular committee meetings with signed minutes and increase membership through quarterly newsletters, public meetings and raising awareness in the areas we lived.

“We forged friendships through meeting up at the many public meetings arranged by Adult Social Care. The meetings were to discuss changes they wished to make and to sound out whether we agreed with the changes or not. Often resulting in us suggesting ‘Why don’t you try it this way?’

“This all came to head when we realised day centres across the county were under review. They were not fit for purpose anymore and the numbers of users was on the decline so many were going to close. Of course, anyone who did attend the day services were strongly attached to the building and the people running them.  Alternative venues were sometimes further from home and could mean longer journeys. It was a sad time for many people.

“We began to grasp what was expected of us and how we could work with Adult Social Care. As we became more confident, shared common areas of concern and looked forward to the times we met, forming an association was an obvious way of strengthening our voice.

“In 2007, this was approved by the County Council and East Sussex Seniors Association (ESSA) was born with John Appleyard as chair. In response to consistent pressure for improvements around health and transport, groups were set up focussing on each of those areas and including two representatives from each forum.

Where we are today

“ESSA is still going strong to this day with around 5,000 members across the county. Older People’s Day, now the Ageing Well Festival, is in its 14th year. ESSA is still involved in consultations with Adult Social Care and Public Health.

“Those pioneer days were great fun. Looking back – the issues we were concerned with then seem very simple compared with the issues today such as the austerity years and now Covid-19.

“Loneliness is still the hidden factor across the county. An ageing population has led to a shortage of volunteers and the new ‘oldies’ are still working or caring for grandchildren or elderly relatives.

“If you are interested in joining a local senior forum and having your voice heard, contact your local forum.

Kate Davies

Meridian Mature Citizens Forum (Newhaven to East Saltdean)
Former Chair of ESSA, Chair of Ageing Well Festival