In February 2017 the engAGE programme, a three year project with Kellett funding, was launched at the Linskill Centre with the aim of creating opportunities for people aged 55+ to share and learn new skills, whilst meeting new people. Nearly eighteen months later over 300 people from the North East have participated within activities and taster sessions, resulting in the engAGE programme going from strength to strength as the word gets out.

Charlotte Mulvaney, Older Community Project Lead commented, “engAGE is a unique user-led programme where the member’s forum identify decide on the activities they want to experience as a group or identify places they would like to visit. My role is to then facilitate these activities and encourage participation from existing members and encourage new attendees. This formula works well as many of the taster sessions, like tai chi and floristry, have proved so popular they have gone on to develop into regular self-funded classes. The ethos of engAGE is simply to come along, try an activity and meet new people – if you like it then come back, if not suggest a different activity as we are always open to suggestions.”

Many of the original engAGE activities have resulted in groups forming and meeting on a regular basis: Scribblers is for creative writers and they are now on the production of their second book of short stories, Page Turners meet monthly to review and discuss a chosen book and Digital Champions is a weekly drop-in session offering assistance with the internet, social media and PCs.

New additions to the programme this year have included: gardening, tai chi, contemporary dance, floristry and a film club. The Woolies is also a new group for those who like to knit or crochet and typically they work on group projects and often to support local causes. The group are currently making trauma teddies, as recently covered in national media, to donate to the emergency services, along with twiddle blankets for the Dementia Unit at North Tyneside General Hospital. The group have also made over 1,000 woollen poppies as a contribution to the WW1 Commemorative Project for their forthcoming display at Preston Cemetery in November, although more are needed and always keen to see new people at the sessions.

Working in partnership is fundamental to delivering the engAGE programme to ensure issues such as health and well-being, adult learning and social isolation within the older community are addressed. Collaboration with North Tyneside Arts Studio and Dance City have resulted in various dance and ceramic taster sessions.

Going forward two free taster sessions are planned for people to come along and try the programme. Mind Body Flow is a relaxation and well-being event (Wednesday 18th July from 10-11am) and a Summer Sing-A-Long (Thursday 19th July from 10-11.30am), once again you do not need to be experienced as it is all about socialising with others and having a good time. In response to feedback a Tea Dance is planned on Saturday 18th August from 1.30-4pm, in conjunction with Whitley Bay Tea Dance Club, for those who enjoy dancing or would like to try, with tickets costing £6.

There is a lot going on with the engAGE programme and above all, it is succeeding in its mission to provide opportunities for people aged 55+ within the region. Many participants have experienced: bereavement, relocated for family reasons, retirement or personal health challenges. Many engAGE participants express their joy, and often relief, at having found somewhere to go locally where they are welcomed, can continue to learn or share skills and above all meet like-minded people to engage and socialise with.

One engAGE volunteer moved from the Midlands to North Tyneside and found that relocation in retirement was not easy, having to adapt to new people, places and local cultures whilst trying to establish roots. The Linskill Centre, especially the engAGE programme, was a great discovery for her due to the variety of social activities on offer. In her own words she commented, “At Linskill I found people with heart, and the most welcoming, open-door policy imaginable. To have found such a wonderful community resource on the doorstep is beyond measure.”

The engAGE programme is for all people aged 55+ from any area in the North East and most activities are free, or a small charge applicable if materials are required. If you are interested in finding out more about the engAGE programme, or want to book onto any of the forthcoming activities please call 0191 257 8000, email charlotte@linskill.org or visit www.linskill.org.