For the last two weeks I have been lying in bed, lounging on a sofa or sitting in a pub glued to the London 2012 Olympics on TV. This retirement lark has real advantages.
The joy of the Olympics is in the winning. Gold is in the eyes of all the competitors in the four years of effort before the games begin. It’s still there on finals day, at the starting line, when you are a champion for even getting there. Even though there is only one gold, everyone – competitors, coaches and spectators all stand proud in the reflected glory of the achievement. The disappointment of the losers on the day, is quickly lost in the lasting glow of taking part and being there on the day.
That Olympic flame still shines in the eyes of the elderly. Some who have won their Olympic medal years ago and some who are still waiting for the moment of glory. That is why prize-winning is such a strong motivator and why just taking part is a valuable end in itself.
The challenge in the ExtraCare Charitable Trust was to keep that flame shining and to give everyone the opportunity of taking part and becoming winners again. As age catches up with you, there are fewer opportunities for sporting achievements, but talent and desire for recognition don’t fade with age. So we tried to create as many chances as we could for the value of older people to be recognised.
I probably started with the Buzzwords Suggestion Scheme, which symbolically said we were interested in the ideas people had and prepared to act on what they had to say. This began in a small way with token prizes for each suggestion and eventually led to over 3,500 suggestions being made every year. The prizes for the best suggestions were “David Winter Ceramic Cottages” mounted on wooden pedestals forever labeled with the name of the suggester. This sent out a powerful message that residents’ views counted.
The prizes idea later extended to gardening, where awards were given out annually at a “Garden in Bloom” ceremony. This became so popular that medals, cups and certificates were and still are avidly competed for, but it is the taking part that gives so much joy to so many people.
The narrow focus of the gardening idea was later broadened out to include many more talents in “Residents in Bloom”. Crafts and skills of every description – painting, photography, crochet, knitting, writing, poetry, baking, flower arranging, pottery, woodwork. The medals and gongs abounded to Olympian levels.
The years make the elderly all champions in their own way. All their talents should be recognised and rewarded. They all take part in life and they can all be winners at something.
My medals were won for me by other people and just like the Olympics, we can all share in the reflected glory of medal winners.