Hourglass NI: Ten years of delivering hope for older people, but stuck in the cold.
Within every new relationship there is a ‘getting to know you’ phase, perhaps a honeymoon period and then, hopefully, a prolonged period of sustained positivity that keeps everyone working together and supporting each other. Hourglass NI, the lone voice in dealing with older victims of abuse, have barely made it past exchanging numbers in Northern Ireland and we are not alone in the wilderness.
We produced the first-ever Safer Ageing Index for Northern Ireland, which underlined a growing population of older people across NI. It highlighted the needs of that older population and where it is safe to grow old. However, ultimately, older people remain under supported and there are a variety of factors that make that a real problem.
Of course, every facet of society in Northern Ireland is affected by the lack of a fully functioning assembly and executive. There is a void where expert opinion is silenced, the needs of the community are unmet and strategic progress is denied. These are the facts of life for someone living in Northern Ireland.
But for older people and for the third sector across the eleven local government districts, an inactive Stormont since February 2022 is just the tip of the iceberg. Hourglass NI is just one charity feeling the brunt of the logjam. After being active in NI since 2014 the organisation has yet to receive a penny of support from the executive, has just missed out on Community Funding from the National Lottery and exists purely through the charity’s own reserves. We appear to be locked out, and it’s not as if the population of Northern Ireland don’t need our 24/7 helpline, community response services and unique Knowledge Bank provision.
To be clear, Hourglass NI is totally committed to a future of growth and saving and changing lives. But we, like so many similar organisations appear to be trapped out in the cold and forever knocking on locked doors. It’s a frustration which seems to have no sign of abating.
Take the Department of Health’s core grant scheme as an example. It was closed to applications and no formal bidding approach for almost twenty years, was then rebirthed and announced with some fanfare. Only to dissolve into an omnishambles within a matter of months. Leaving organisations like ours simply awaiting news. It’s a fantastic example of where strategic thinking would work well alongside winning hearts and minds.
Is there a ‘need to know’ and ‘who you know’ culture which would benefit from transparency and adaptability? What’s the worst that can happen? Better provision, perhaps, for older people? Communication and collaboration across the many domestic abuse experts in Northern Ireland? But in creating this wish-list, we need to think about who might be the catalyst for that change. Who will ensure that stronger communication and a ‘can do approach’ will ensure that horror stories like Dunmurry Manor and Muckamore Abbey are lessons learned rather than the most recent example.
Hourglass NI and older people in Northern Ireland are often the Lone Voices. Those that battle for understanding and help. And, with the charity soon to celebrate ten years in NI, surely, it’s time for this organisation to get past the ‘getting to know you’ and move, along with the older victim-survivors, towards a positive understanding that delivers real change.
From a safer ageing standpoint, Northern Ireland is in a state of change. In the past year, a number of measures and new legislation have been instituted and underlaid to offer more protections to older people, specifically from a domestic and sexual violence perspective.