We’re all ageing so let’s make it positive!

Recently, I attended an event called ‘Successful Cities, Positive Ageing’ run by the ‘UK Age Friendly Cities Network’ and ‘Positive Ageing in London’. The event marked the launch of a report called ‘An Age Friendly City – how far has London come?’. Here we learn that whereas 10 years ago the emphasis was all about infrastructure in its various forms there has been a shift in focus to creating a sense of community and initiatives to make older people feel more included. There is also talk of developing intergenerational links and encouraging the contribution of older people and involving them as partners. This all tallies very nicely with the thinking behind BuddyHub which is pleasing.

The creation of age friendly infrastructure is being incorporated into the design of new spaces in some forward thinking places. However, a lot of the things (smoother pavements, benches, more public toilets etc. etc.) that would make life better for older adults in existing spaces are expensive to implement and there were concerns about whether this wish list will ever be affordable in straightened times where the demographics of an ageing population will only increase demands on the public purse. I learned that the leading lights globally in terms of ‘Age Friendliness’ are Ireland and New York. In terms of really recognising the valuable contribution older adults can play in the workforce Livorno in Italy and Toyama in Japan are actively targeting the older workforce. London and the UK – it sounds like your school report is ‘must try harder’.

It was great to hear about the ‘Imagine programme’ in Nottingham that produces art in co-production with older people in care. Another initiative in Brighton & Hove was focused on providing a range of art and culture activities that reflect the diversity of older people’s interests. As older adults are just you and I in ‘x’ number of years’ time then it’s obvious that they have a diverse range of interests and want to get involved and not be passive. So the cogs are now turning to come up with some activities for the next BuddyHub events where older people can really get involved and have a laugh. Time to bounce a few ideas off some older people I think…..

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Pro Bono – could a start-up ever get going without it?

One of the exciting things about doing a start-up is having to turn your hand to so many different things you’ve never done before. This is all part of the ‘making it up as you go along’ aspect of trying to start your own business, especially as a sole founder. You can never get bored wearing so many different hats though you can often feel really out of your depth – going off piste as I like to think of it. This week I was pretending to be a lawyer as I drafted ‘Terms and Conditions’ and a ‘Data Privacy Policy’ to give me the necessary legal cover to get the BuddyHub small pilot up and running.  A couple of people – one a Venture Capital type no less – have advised me not to get too hung up on the legal stuff early on as the actual risks of something going wrong are pretty low: just grab a boilerplate off the internet, edit it a bit and go.  I think I’m a bit too risk conscious or averse for that and prefer to sleep easy.

In true ‘lean start-up’ fashion I read through lots of other T&C’s, of somewhat related organisations, and had a good mash up and tinker. I’ve had a chuckle or two reading T&C’s, obviously prepared in similar fashion, noting that whoever prepared them didn’t properly delete the bits that really don’t apply to their company. I took my lawyery efforts along to a pro bono clinic run by The Centre for Commercial Law Studies in Lincoln’s Inn Field.  This is my second appointment with the student advisors at Queen Mary’s University of London who offer pro bono advice via their Legal Advice Centre in Mile End as well as in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Previously, City law firm ‘Debevoise and Plimpton’ also helped me understand the pros and cons of the various legal structures I could chose for BuddyHub via a pro bono legal clinic organised by my grant giver UnLtd.

A huge big fat thank you to everyone who offers pro bono legal help to start ups: had I had to pay for the legal advice I’ve received it would have eaten into a good chunk of the small grant I’m operating on. Instead I’m able to spend it on other things that I need to pay for. This start up wouldn’t get off the ground without pro bono help and there are already many more people to thank in that respect another day.

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A successful event but biscuits win out over cupcakes

Well I’d say overall the Drovers event was a success – what a relief!   People really enjoyed the quiz and were touchingly chuffed with the biscuits and sweets I handed out as prizes at the end. I discovered that biscuits are much preferred for refreshments over cupcakes!

People were generally happy to fill out the surveys and profile forms but as one Age UK volunteer commented, they really appreciate a little chocolate incentive as a thank you. Holding a fun event that people enjoy gets them on side and means we get to know each other and they want to help you out. Three ladies at the end were super enthusiastic and gave me lots of advice around the best ways to advertise future events – putting posters and small flyers that people can take away at local shops and in the Drovers Centre would be better than the posters I put up in GP surgeries. One lady even took away a copy of the survey and profile form and said she would ask for them to be photo-copied and handed out at Sotheby Mews, a popular Day Centre, attended by a few of the ladies who participated in the quiz. I’ll be visiting there soon to talk more about BuddyHub.

What I’ve learned from the feedback so far

I have a good number of completed surveys and profile forms and should get a few more back from members of the photography and dancing group that I managed to present to about BuddyHub on the fly. A peak at the early survey results are interesting.  Although, by virtue of attending an Age UK centre these are people who are reasonably socially active less than a fifth felt they were definitely socially active enough. Only around 10% thought they definitely had as much company as they want or need. 90% wanted to make new friends with around a third of those preferring to make new friends around their own age and the rest not caring about the age of new friends. It’s pleasing that 40% of people felt there was someone to call for help with life’s little problems though that left 60% of people feeling it would be nice to have a friend to call for some help.  One lady told me she used to love going on holiday to Spain but that she has no one to go with anymore. I want to find out how many older people also have this problem. It’s pretty clear that I need to simplify my profile forms as some people found them a bit confusing and left bits out. Only about half of people wanted to put anything down around skills and talents. Similarly for hopes, dreams and aspirations though go go the gent who aims to be able to swim a mile when he’s 100!

Almost everyone thought BuddyHub sounded interesting with a couple of people needing to know more.  Most people were also willing to have a follow up chat to give further feedback about BuddyHub. Hoorah! The best thing about the event was interacting with the older people who were there as well as meeting a couple of terrifically helpful Age UK volunteers. Every lean start up should be talking to their potential customers as much as possible. Engaging with mine is the best part of this start up journey and the main reason it got started in the first place.

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Welcome to BuddyHub

Hello and welcome aboard the BuddyHub blog. Let me start by telling you what we’re all about. BuddyHub is a Social Enterprise set up in 2014 and we’re just moving from the concept stage to the doing it stage. Here’s our big idea: BuddyHub is an ultra-local online matching service that helps lonely and isolated older people reconnect to their communities. An older person will be at the Hub of their own ‘Friendship Wheel’ and around three Buddies will be matched to them based on profiles of interests, skills, hopes and dreams. The Buddies in each ‘Friendship Wheel’ will be able to coordinate visiting and get to know each other in a chat area, over the phone or in person: it’ll be a great way to get to know new people and connect up communities. BuddyHub doesn’t rely on older people being digitally literate as people can be referred onto the website. We’re using technology to break down barriers inherent in traditional befriending by bringing the concept of micro-volunteering to face to face contact.

This blog is going to chart the ups and downs of getting a start- up off the ground: one which is trying to solve one of the most pressing social issues of our time in a way that’s different to anything that’s been tried before.  We’re borrowing a little bit from lots of different things that have been used elsewhere but we’re mixing them together in a way that is entirely new. Online dating, for example, revolutionised the way singletons got together and helped lonely hearts find each other. Can online matching successfully help older people who would like to reconnect to their communities do that? I really hope so because the numbers who are affected by this issue are huge and will only get bigger. A recent Age UK survey revealed that over 1.1 million people aged 65 and over feels lonely. Half of younger people aged 25-44 also admitted that they have worried about being alone in later life. BuddyHub will tackle both the loneliness that exists today and the fear of loneliness tomorrow.

Is BuddyHub the right solution?

I’m really hoping that the ideas behind BuddyHub will work and that it will vastly improve the quality of life and health of a significant number of older people who find themselves without the amount of companionship and friendship in their lives that they desire.  In fact its truer to say I’m desperately hoping BuddyHub will work. I keep hearing that it’s passion that drives Social Entrepreneurs on. Actually I think the fuel in the tank of this Social Entrepreneur is more like anger and a sense of what the hell happened to us as a society that we allow so many people to become marginalised by loneliness and isolation. Whenever I’m in one of the down moments of being a start-up Founder I remember all those people who have no one: I always wish I could go faster to offer them a way out of the situation they find themselves in today.

Well of course that’s if what I’m offering is actually what older people want, or enough of them to build a sustainable business from anyhow. Everyone I’ve talked to about BuddyHub universally loves the idea of what I’m trying to do (not just my friends – honest) but what I need to know is that older people want BuddyHub. This week there will be some rubber hitting the road on that front via a quiz event I’m running at an Age UK centre in the inner London Borough of Islington where I live. The deal is I provide the tea, cakes, entertainment and prizes and the older people who attend fill out a survey and a personal profile during the quiz. No idea how this event will go and how many people will turn up: it’s been advertised in various places with a very pretty poster. I can only hope I don’t end up with a stockpile of cupcakes, biscuits and sweets. The latter are for the prizes and if no one shows up or the feedback is negative then it’ll be hard to resist soothing myself with an extended sugar high as I hit one of those start-up downs. Fingers crossed and I’ll let you know what happens….

Posted in About BuddyHub, ageing society, friendship, innovation and disruption, social care, social enterprise, start up journey | 4 Comments