Older people helping others in the community

Older people helping others in the community

Mearns and Coastal Healthy Living Network

Led by: Mearns and Coastal Healthy Living Network


Older people in the Mearns area run their own network, strongly supported by CLD and other partners, which provides the kind of services which, as their own research shows, have a preventative impact by increasing the independence of older people, and improving their capacity to take part in their communities.


The Mearns area, the rural southern part of Aberdeenshire, has a sizable elderly population living in dispersed communities or remote farmhouses. The Healthy Living Network started there in 2002, through a partnership response to rural disadvantage, with a strong Aberdeenshire Council CLD role in coordinating the approach.  Based in Laurencekirk, in 2008 it expanded its remit to take in the coastal communities south of Stonehaven, doubling the population served, and became the Mearns and Coastal Healthy Living Network (MCHLN), a charitable company. Now some services are provided across the whole of Aberdeenshire and there are 6 part time members of staff


Throughout this time, the Board of Directors has been made up of local older people. They work with and support an Older People’s Network of representatives from groups and communities in the area.

The Aberdeenshire Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2012 predicts that:

·         The population over 75 will rise from 18,700 in 2011 to 42,400 in 2033

·         People with a stroke will rise from 3,600 in 2010 to 7,100 in 2033

·         People with dementia will rise from 3,200 to 6,300 in 2033.


Actions taken

 MCHLN works with Aberdeenshire Council CLD service and other partners to improve the health and wellbeing of older people[1]. It offers:

·         Practical support to individuals through: help with shopping (home delivery or accompanied shopping); transport (using volunteer drivers); gardening; and a handyperson scheme for small jobs around the house and garden

·         Group and learning activities such as gentle exercise groups, health walks, computer classes, reminiscence groups and a group for people with dementia

·         Capacity building for volunteers and community groups through training, volunteering and involvement in the running of the organisation and the Older People’s  Network. 


It also produces newsletters and other information booklets, holds regular information and advice events and runs occasional intergenerational projects.

Around 200 older people use these services and activities each week, provided by a team of 80 volunteers, supported by the part time members of staff and other sessional workers.

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund for its first five years, the organisation has had to adapt to a more competitive funding environment. It now exists on a mixture of grants, contracts, fundraising and income generated.

Partnership and strategy

MCHLN grew out of and is still closely linked to Mearns Area Partnership, a registered Rural Partnership of statutory, voluntary and community organisations focused on addressing the needs of the area. 

Since its initial involvement, Aberdeenshire CLD Service has had a long history of working with the MCHLN to develop intergenerational learning, identify participants, access funding and evaluate aspects of the work.

One of the Aberdeenshire wide activities delivered by MCHLN, on behalf of the Community Planning Partnership, is the ‘Your Voice’ Capacity Building with Older People project[2]. This aims to develop structures to allow older people to have their say on issues, primarily a set of Older People’s Forums. The priorities which it has helped older people to identify are now reflected in local Community Plans.

Evidence of impact

MCHLN aims to improve the health of older people by providing the services that they say are important. These are preventative measures that can increase their independence, and improve their capacity to take part in their communities.

For a small organisation, it has always had a strong interest in gathering evidence of its impact. After producing two sets of Social Accounts, it carried out a Social Return on Investment study in 2010, which remains the best source of evidence on the impact of its core activities. The study made extensive use of the project’s volunteers for survey work. The stakeholders who were consulted, both on the project’s impact and on how this might be valued, were older people, volunteers, Aberdeenshire Council, NHS Grampian, and a range of funders. The analysis was restricted to the shopping service, exercise classes, computer classes, and lunch clubs – the services which are most well used.

The headline ratios of the social value provided by each activity to the investment made in it (which includes volunteer time and other in kind contributions) were:

·         Shopping service         x 13.97

·         ICT groups                   x  3.93

·         Exercise groups           x  7.25

·         Lunch clubs                 x 4.30

Case study

T. is in her 80s, living in a very rural location and with limited mobility. A relative used to take her out shopping.  But he died, and taxis were very expensive. She has used the shopping service for 4 years, and it has been ‘indispensable’ in allowing her to get to the shops once a week. Without it, she says, she would not have been able to stay in the home she has been in for years. By allowing her to have a good and varied diet, the service has also meant that she has been able to reduce her medication.

The shopping service has also been a crucial link with the outside world. Since she is not able to get out at any other time, the service has become a day out for her, a chance to catch up with people in the community. Most importantly it has provided an ongoing relationship with the volunteer.


Overall conclusions included:


  • The ability of older people to stay living independently at home is significantly increased by having help with shopping and by regular exercise at an exercise group.
  • Opportunities for learning and exercise need to be specifically tailored for older people. Very few people going to MCHLN groups would have gone to another group.
  • Many older people are isolated. All the work of the MCHLN allows them to meet more people.
  • Volunteers think that they get much more back from volunteering in terms of community involvement, wellbeing and learning than they put in.
  • The work of the MCHLN can lead to considerable long run cost savings in social and health care for statutory providers.

The main focus of the evidence that was gathered was on personal change, rather than direct indicators of the potential costs that were avoided, such as reduced care or hospital admissions. But several of the impacts that were identified may have direct cost implications for services. We have extracted some of these in the following table.

Selected impacts identified in SROI that may have direct cost implications for services









Financial proxy


Shopping service

Aberdeenshire Council (Social Work)

£200 in kind contribution for staff support

Continuation and development of shopping service

More community support rather than Social Work support for older people

Older people presenting to Social Work later

Discussion with Social  Workers





Care costs

£19.50 per hour

NHS Grampian



Greater independence

Able to stay at home




Cost of residential care

£23,504 for residential home

Lunch Clubs

NHS Grampian

Staff support

Continuation and development of lunch clubs

Improved diet of older people

People reporting reduced GP visits




Cost of GP visit

£37 for home consultation

Exercise groups

Aberdeenshire Council

Continuation and development of exercise groups

Improved mobility of older people

Improved mobility

Older people can do more things




Cost of aids/ adaptations to house


[1] A film about MCHLN can be watched at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpWy5fkTS8o




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