AGE Connects Torfaen is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, we paid a visit to the charity's Widdershins Centre in Sebastopol to speak to service users about the support which the charity provides.

The charity offers services and activities that promote healthy ageing and wellbeing, with the aim of tackling loneliness and isolation amongst elderly people in the borough.

It started life as Age Concern Torfaen in October 1989, before changing its name in 2013. They moved into their current base at the Widdershins Centre, Sebastopol in 2004.

During 2018, it gave information and advice to more than 10,000 people and delivered direct services to 14,410 older people and their carers.

The charity offers much needed services for older people throughout Torfaen, in the form of specialised dementia services, support to older people in the community, weekly befriending hubs and an information and advice service.

They also have a transport service to make its services as accessible as possible

It also offers support for carers in the form of respite care, exploring the eligibility for carers allowance and providing a carers support group.

One area which the charity has put a particular focus on is supporting people with young onset dementia.

Dementia is defined as ‘young onset’ when it affects people of working age, usually between 30 and 65 years old.

It is estimated that there more than 42,000 people in the UK who have been diagnosed with this condition.

Free Press Series:

(Members of the Zest for Life Young Onset Dementia group offered craft sessions at their exhibition at Cwmbran Library. Picture: Age Connects Torfaen)

The charity received £324,209 from The National Lottery Community Fund in February to help develop its services for people aged 40 to 65 living in Gwent with young onset dementia over the next three years.

The young onset dementia group, Zest for Life, offers people affected by the condition socialise with each other and take part in activities, such as arts and crafts and singing workshops.

Zest for Life members Nicky Deacon and Susan Watkins said the groups offers a place to learn new skills in a friendly environment.

Free Press Series:

(Nicky Deacon, Susan Watkins, and Helen Roberts at the Age Connects Torfaen young onset dementia group.)

“It allows us to do new things," said Mrs Deacon. "We learn new crafts – I’ve learnt how to knit and make bags.

“These are things we wouldn’t be doing if we were at home.

“It’s just what we need. We couldn’t be without this place.

“It’s a special atmosphere. We enjoy each other’s company.

“We look forward to coming here. Everyone cares about each other. If someone is down, we all talk to them and try to cheer them up."

Free Press Series:

(Jamie Malvisi, Linda Jones, Lesley Shirley, and Emma Lindsay at the Age Connects Torfaen young onset dementia group.)

38-year-old Emma Lindsay, from Cwmbran, started attending the group after recovering from brain cancer.

She said: “I basically lost everything after I had brain cancer. It was like being a kid again. I had to learn to walk and talk and eat.

“The sessions are a release. I look forward to them every week.

“You get to meet people who are like you, so you don’t feel like you’re alone. It’s good to have the time around people that don’t question or judge you. Everyone is so accepting.

“I come here on the transport. It’s really helpful as I don’t really want to keep asking my nan to drive me – she’s in her 80s. If you don’t want to do anything, you can just go and do what you want.”

Jamie Malvisi, a Zest for Life project support worker, said the programme is adapted to the needs of its users.

“The men all tend to come for the Friday session,” she said. “We’ve started going to the Cwmbran Stadium with them to play walking rugby.

“They gave the arts and crafts sessions a go, but it wasn’t for them. They preferred exercise and getting out and about – as well as reminiscing with each other. It’s a different vibe on Friday.

“We can adapt the sessions to whatever they want.”

Free Press Series:

(Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle joined the Age Connects Torfaen young onset dementia group for one of their singing sessions.)

On Wednesday, Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle paid a visit to the Age Connects Widdershins Centre to speak with service users, including the Zest for Life young onset dementia group, and staff at the centre.

She said: “I have long been a supporter of the work Age Connects does in Torfaen to bring people together to reduce loneliness and create a sense of community. They are a real asset to Torfaen.

“I was lucky enough to join them recently at a young onset dementia event at the Widdershins Centre

“As an Assembly Member, I am deeply committed to my work as chair of the Assembly Cross Party Group on Dementia and I am really pleased Age Connects Torfaen is providing supportive and entertaining ways to bring people together.

“It was fantastic to hear how much everyone enjoyed the activities. I really enjoyed the singing, too.”

Free Press Series:

(The Young onset dementia service exhibition at Cwmbran Library.

In May, Zest for Life held an art exhibition and craft workshop at Cwmbran Library to illustrate the contribution that the group’s members are able to make to the local community, despite any impairments they may have.

70-year-old Margaret Hopkins took part in the exhibition and said the creative elements of the sessions were her favourite.

“It’s the crafts that I like,” she said. “It’s a nice, calm place to come. If you want to just talk, you can come here and talk. If you want to draw, you can draw. You can do whatever suits you.

“The exhibition was a good day. All of our work was on the theme of ‘seasons’.

“It was good for people to see our work, and for us to be there to talk about it.”

Free Press Series:

(The day activities group singing session at the Age Connects Torfaen Widdershins Centre.)

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the charity have launched a new fundraising campaign.

The ‘30 for 30’ campaign aims to find fun ways for people to get involved with fundraising activities with a ‘30’ theme to help the charity maintain its current services and provide extra support where needed.

Ms Reed said: “We support so many people in the area with many needs, from helping people to remain independent in their own homes to befriending schemes to dementia support; and we are also starting to support younger people with dementia. We provide many vital services that we know people want to get behind.

“So we thought we would launch the 30 for 30 campaign to let people think of interesting ways to celebrate our 30th anniversary while raising vital donations for the work we do.

“We are all looking forward to the ideas that this will spark.”

Some fundraising ideas include getting together with 30 friends for an afternoon tea, entering sponsored running events totalling 30km, or even donating a pound a day during the months with 30 days.