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Pensioners get their own Tower Hamlets champion age 73 on the council to beat loneliness and isolation

PUBLISHED: 13:34 28 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:16 04 July 2018

Pensioners get their own town hall voice... but maybe too late for these OAPs like 90-year-old Sheila Cope who want to continue running their own club at Raine's House in Wapping. Picture: Vickie Flores

Pensioners get their own town hall voice... but maybe too late for these OAPs like 90-year-old Sheila Cope who want to continue running their own club at Raine's House in Wapping. Picture: Vickie Flores

Vickie Flores

Pensioners’ facing loneliness and isolation have been given their own town hall ‘champion’ aged 73 to speak up for them who was appointed last night by Tower Hamlets Council.

New Tower Hamlets pensioners' champion Denise Jones, who took on TfL in 2017 over the 100 bus route being shortened that would affect the elderly. Pictures: Steve Bishop (inset) and GoogleNew Tower Hamlets pensioners' champion Denise Jones, who took on TfL in 2017 over the 100 bus route being shortened that would affect the elderly. Pictures: Steve Bishop (inset) and Google

Denise Jones, the authority’s cabinet member responsible for adults and wellbeing who was first elected a councillor in 1994 when she was 49, has been given the job of ‘advocate for older people’.

Her ‘mission’ is to tap into the East End’s diverse network of community groups to promote their interests.

“One thing we don’t do is ask older people is what they did in life—they have skills, but get written off,” she told the East London Advertiser.

“Hospitals always ask you in about your skills. I would like to do that and make sure people are recognised that can help prevent loneliness. They have so much to contribute through volunteering.”

The septuagenarian councillor has pledged to “break down barriers” to make sure their voices are heard on health and social care issues.

Sister Christine Frost has been the voice of the East End's OAPs since 1969, seen here protesting on housing issues in Roman Road in March 2016. Picture: Mike BrookeSister Christine Frost has been the voice of the East End's OAPs since 1969, seen here protesting on housing issues in Roman Road in March 2016. Picture: Mike Brooke

She had already taken on the fight against pensioners being isolated a year ago trying to stop transport bosses shortening the 100 bus route that connects her Wapping constituency with the City and south London.

The reduced service terminating at London Wall instead of Elephant & Castle could have “a damaging impact on the elderly and disabled” making connections to other services, she warned TfL at the time. But it fell on deaf ears.

Her appointment at last night’s cabinet meeting is part of Tower Hamlets Council’s ‘ageing well’ strategy setting priorities for the over-50s to keep their independence and quality of life in advancing years.

The council is finally following in the footsteps of Sister Christine Frost after half-a-century who has been running her Neighbours in Poplar charity since 1969 with its social clubs and making sure pensioners don’t face a lonely Christmas.

The charity helps the frail and isolated stay connected with a weekly luncheon club at St Mathias Church, taking them on outings and shopping trips and distributing 300 meals to their homes over Christmas and New Year.

Times past... OAPs get slap-up meal prepared by teenagers at St Hilda's centre in Club Row in 1957 who are all now pensioners themselves. Picture source: St Hilda's EastTimes past... OAPs get slap-up meal prepared by teenagers at St Hilda's centre in Club Row in 1957 who are all now pensioners themselves. Picture source: St Hilda's East

Now the elderly also have a town hall ‘champion’ as well, with last night’s ‘town hall champion’ appointment.

Angela Hancock, who chairs Tower Hamlets’ Older Persons Reference group, said: “We are people with wisdom and should be respected and valued for what we can give back.”

Pensioner Devika Jeetun, 67, who lives in Cllr Jones’s Wapping constituency ward and is five years her junior, wants to see an older people’s champion “do more to help improve health and fitness”.

She explained: “I have mobility problems and would like to take up yoga, walking and exercise.”

Cllr Jones, who is the same age as Dame Helen Mirren, another of her constituents in Wapping, keeps active herself running the Brick Lane Bookshop .

But she now plans to set up an older people’s advisory group with its wealth of experience to point the council in the right direction.

She insists: “I don’t believe in retiring—you should keep going as long as you can.”

Cllr Jones is a founder member of Bethnal Green’s Rich Mix arts centre who was also behind the revamp of public libraries into the Tower Hamlets Idea Stores. She also started fundraising to renovate Wilton’s music hall in Whitechapel and was on its board for 20 years.

Behind her busy life is the worry that the elderly are getting “written off” because no-one knows what skills they have to contribute to East End life.

An estimated 16,700 people over 65 live in Tower Hamlets, which is expected to rise to 26,700 in the next 12 years.

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