Joan Burrows is feeling just champion.
The reason is simple. She has a mission that is taking her across the county and she is thriving on the challenge.
It’s been a year of change for the former Chief Officer of Preston Council for Voluntary Services.
She was appointed as county councillor for the first time last May, having previously served for two years on Penwortham Town Council.
Then Joan was elevated to a new role as Lancashire County Council’s Champion for Older People. She was also chosen to serve on the county council’s health scrutiny and pension fund committees.
Joan, who had also chalked up valuable experience as Deputy Manager of Preston Citizens’ Advice Bureau for five years, is relishing her Champion role, describing it as “an exciting opportunity” and “a privilege”.
At the age of 66 she has both a personal and political interest in how county residents can age well, stay active and healthy and continue to contribute to county life.
The energetic Penwortham East and Walton-le-Dale councillor declares: “I’m looking at the positive aspects of growing old. I am going around visiting as many groups as I can. I want to make people aware these groups exist.”
She hopes to set up a county newsletter promoting such awareness and aims to visit a different organisation for older people every week.
Which explains how you may see Joan at choir practice, keep fit or coffee mornings. She said: “I have indulged in afternoon tea (that was easy), I have made craft items, I have learnt about keeping safe, I have danced and sung. I have held meetings with a number of voluntary organisations and attended and spoke at the Lancashire 50+ Assembly. I think, in these few months, I have seen some of the best things about becoming older.”
Above all the Conservative politician is looking to replicate good practice wherever she sees it.
She has a question to ask: “If you didn’t know how old you are; how old would you feel?”
The County Councillor says she is fortunate to be active and healthy and believes her mindset could be equivalent to that of somebody of 35.
She particularly wants to ensure residents are not sitting at home when they could be socialising with like minded friends, pursuing hobbies and interests.
She explains: “If people sit alone at home and are lonely it is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That’s the impact it has on your health.
“I always ask people what do members do if someone appears at their group for the first time. Do you have a buddy system – do one or two members sit with them and make them feel welcome so they come back again?”
She hotfooted it back to County Hall when she learned that a thriving Nifty Fifties group at Banks, near Tarleton, has 120 keep-fitters and a waiting list of potential members wanting to join.
She asks: “If that’s good practise why can’t it be rolled out across the county?”
The insights she is picking up, especially those on helping people continue to live independently, are being shared with the county’s director of public health, the director of adult social services and with Coun Graham Gooch, cabinet member for adult services.
Joan says: “They’ve got somebody willing to travel round Lancashire and be the eyes and ears to what’s going on.”
While acknowledging that not every elderly person in Lancashire is fortunate enough to enjoy good health and opportunities she says that initially, with the older generation on the increase, she is seeking to focus on combating loneliness and improving the active wellbeing of older people.
She says: “Times are changing – 70 is the new 50 and older people can now expect to live for many years after they retire.
“Older people are wanting to live a much more active lifestyle and get involved with activities such as walking, cycling, learning how to use new technology and studying for different qualifications. I want to do all I can to make sure they have the opportunity to learn and stay active.”
The councillor recently hosted a reception for older people at County Hall to celebrate the work of groups across the county which support those aged 55+ and said: “Being old in Lancashire should mean a person has an active fulfilling life and they should be participating in things that interest them.”
She has an annual fund of £10,000 which all county council champions receive to use in their work. She says: “I look to hand out grants to groups to support them in their work to help older people develop new skills, make a positive contribution and continue to live independently.”
Groups to benefit so far range from Chorley Pensioners’ Group, which got £500 for speakers, to the Queen’s Court Memory Café in Penwortham supported with a £200 donation towards a day out. Other grants have gone to Christmas parties and other celebrations and, for example, another £200 will help pay for posters to promote the A59 Friendship club for widows and widowers.
The Whittle-le-Woods Women’s Guild was given £300 towards speaker costs and Coun Burrows, querying its later starting time of 8pm for meetings, was delighted to learn this group has a long history:“It started out as Whittle-le-Woods Young Wives Club and they’ve grown old together - isn’t that fantastic? The meeting time of 8pm was from the dates they used to put their children to bed before they came out.”
Joan says: “Fortunately, in Lancashire, there is so much out there for us mature residents to involve ourselves in.”
Proving she practises what she preaches she recently completed, for the second time, the Coast to Coast walk covering 165 miles in nine days.
She said: “As well as the exercise (a health benefit to me) , I and the three other walkers, supported local charities. By being sponsored we have raised almost £15K and the final monies will be equally divided between St Catherine’s Hospice and the Rosemere Cancer Care Foundation.”
Coun Burrows is a member of the Girl Guiding Lancashire North West and has been a “Wise Owl” with the 5th Penwortham Brownies for nine years.
Meanwhile, her dog Lola has been assessed as a perfect dog to use in pet therapy. Coun Burrows takes Lola to Penwortham Priory Rest Home every week to meet residents and helps with other pet therapy work.
It is a busy life. Add in regular tours of her “patch” to meet residents and there’s not much time to spare.
But the city Rotarian, who belongs to the Rotary Club of Preston, also stresses: “I’m elected for four years and if I don’t stand again or am not elected I need to have a life. So I’m trying to keep up all my other interests because it’s important!”
To prove she also has the interests of the young as well as the young at heart in mind she also recently hosted a visit of Brownies to County Hall to show democracy in action.
Above all she believes Lancashire’s elderly have wisdom to share: “Wisdom isn’t something that we are born with, it’s earned and only increases with age. Why not use it, put efforts and energy towards creating a better Lancashire, now and for future generations?”
New Champions’ grants will be distributed from April 2018. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to apply.