Stephen Burke is a member of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing and director of United for All Ages and the Good Care Guide.
The email arrived quietly during the afternoon of Saturday 4 January. It started with a strange quote for the new year: ‘Everything has to come to end, sometime.’
Sadly it brought bad news: the Amazings is to close after only a couple of years.
This innovative e-project has brought talented older people together with those looking to learn a skill. As they say: ‘We’ve had the privilege of working with over 100 different amazing elders, we’ve put on hundreds of events all across London – on everything from guitar master classes to making natural beauty products to Descartes. Through online classes, we enabled people in their ninth decade of life to share knowledge and experience with thousands of others, be it in Ohio or the outback—delivering over 25,000 hours of skills in just a few short months.’
But despite all this, clearly running a social enterprise that breaks even, at the very least, has proved difficult—to put it mildly. They continue: ‘Alas, as time has gone by, we’ve felt an increasing tension between running a company that tries to help the most number of amazing elders, with running a company trying to transform education experience for the most number of people.’
Sadly they are changing direction: ‘We’ve thought long and hard about where we can have the most profound impact, on the most people—which has led us to decide to focus on our learners first and foremost, and away from hobby crafts and more towards vocational learning. It seems obvious to say, but not every elder is a teacher, and nor is every teacher an elder.
‘Practically speaking, we’re going to keep the company going, but with a different site name, and with a greater focus on education and employment opportunities. We plan to have something to share with you later this month.’
So there is some light at the end of the tunnel, but it looks like a move away from older people and learning for learning’s sake. I hope this sad news is not a sign of things to come. Our ageing population needs much more innovation like the Amazings project.
One of the big issues for the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing is how to encourage innovation and just as importantly how to sustain it. We also need to look at how older people themselves can make this happen.
As the Amazings say themselves: ‘Society makes a great mistake in undervaluing the wisdom of elders.’