Age Connects Torfaen CEO Angela Reed is celebrating 30 years’ service.
Angela Reed has seen massive changes at Age Connects Torfaen – not least with its renaming in 2013 – and oversaw the move in to its current home at the Widdershins Centre in Sebastopol.
“I had not been in the care sector before,” she said. “My background was in accountancy, so it was quite a struggle for me initially.
“About three years beforehand, I was having a baby and decided a 9 to 5 job wasn’t for me, so I went in to be a part time community worker.
“I saw Age Concern Torfaen were looking for a co-ordinator. When I went for the interview, it was basically only me.
“When I started, I was in an old back room in Pontypool Workmen’s Club. It had one desk and a photocopier in there, and that was it.
“I had my first volunteer through the door after about two years, and she is still with us now as my deputy.
“Actually, quite a lot of our staff and volunteers stay with us for a long time.
“We have such a great team here. People are keen to learn new skills and develop.
“It’s like a family. People are happy and we all try to support each other.”
“Unlike some other places where people come and just sit in a chair all day, they are encouraged to take part in activities here. You hear families say how surprised they are with it when they hear that.
“We have adapted well over the last 30 years. It’s been a big challenge, but we have a really good team here and some fantastic volunteers who give up their time.
“We are now being asked to go into other authorities to talk about what we do here and have had people come to see the centre from north and west Wales and England too.”
Having been CEO at Age Connects Torfaen for 30 years, Mrs Reed has overseen some major changes in the social care sector.
“It has changed so much in the last 30 years, and I think it has so much more to offer now,” she said. “People say there is a lack of funding, and there is, but there are a lot more people that can be cared for now – not just older people, but their carers too.
“Even though there is that lack of funding, you need to adapt in what you can offer.
“Assisted technology has changed the way we’re bringing people in. We are able to help so many more carers now.
“They are seeing a big difference in people’s attitudes when they get home.
“Nearly everyone in the centre has had their families buy them assisted technology over Christmas. By far the most popular are the electronic dogs and cats, which people can have resting on their laps.
“Back when we first moved in to the Widdershins Centre, we had just one telephone, so we would be running up and down the stairs to answer it.”
Age Connects Torfaen moved in to its current base, the Widdershins Centre in Sebastopol, in 2004.
“The building was derelict at the time,” said Mrs Reed. “We had lots of people say about the need for our services in the area and were looking for somewhere where we could provide all those services in one place.
We had to go to the local authority and persuade them of the need for our services.
“It needed about £500,000 spent on it, so the local authority needed some persuading.
“They said we could get the lease if we could raise the money.
“Our first port of call was the Big Lottery Fund. We were successful in applying for a grant of £300,000, but to get it we needed the lease to the centre.
“When we told the council, they signed over a lease, so we were able to get the money.
“We had a lot of volunteers who helped us raise the rest of the money. All-in-all it took us around four years to get into the centre.”
Looking to the future of the sector, Mrs Reed said she would like to see more bases like the Widdershins Centre in local authorities around the UK.
“I would like to see a centre like this in every local authority,” she said. “If there was a centre like this in every authority it would be a central point for older people to come and they know they will get the advice and services they need.
“I also think the Third Sector will have to become more innovative as there is not going to be that money available, so we have to make sure people can afford their care by getting the most out of their benefits.”
The charity continues to make inroads in to dementia care, with the launch of the Dementia Centre of Excellence in September at the Widdershins Centre playing a key role in this.
The centre provides practical support built on latest research and practical learning, with services including peer group support and one-to-one support and quiet time, as well as individual counselling sessions to individuals and carers.
And at 66, Mrs Reed said she has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“People say to me: ‘When are you going to retire?’ but I never think about that – I have so much more to offer,” she said. “That’s not going to come until I wake up in the morning and I feel like I have nothing more to give.”