Launch of Golden Guide Stockton

Jun 23, 2011   //   Spread the word

Older Persons’ Assembly, 13 June, 2011

Many thanks for inviting me – I’m delighted to have the chance to come and say a public thank you to Stockton Borough Council, to NHS Tees and all the others who have helped support this third edition of the Golden Guide Stockton.

For those who don’t know me – my name is Heather Alabaster and I’m an independent publisher, (based in Durham) and I specialise in guides and handbooks for families and communities.  I was originally trained in information work and was always fascinated by finding the best way to get information out to the people who needed it – preferably before they needed it.

I’ve produced all sorts of children’s and family and teenage publications but I started on guides for older people when my mother-in-law died and my father-in-law and didn’t quite know how to start finding out the information he needed.

So I just set about it, spoke to people I thought might be interested too, and started on the first Stockton guide 6 years ago in 2005.  It was launched by then Mayor Mick Stoker – at the Books and Banter group in the Central Library. And there was such huge demand that the copies ran out in a couple of months and we had to do a reprint of a further thousand copies.

Later – having found it very useful for Social Care workers and for signposting of all sorts, the Council requested a second edition, helped with some funding and it came out in 2008.

Some of you know the guide from earlier editions, and hopefully most of you know it now! This is the 3rd edition – delighted with the fact that it’s become so well liked.

As you will know the Golden Guide is a free handbook of services and information relevant to older people in Stockton Borough.  I’m very proud to say that this time it’s serving as the hard copy partner to the new Online Directory for Adult Services that will be launched a little later in the summer.

Now let’s look at the Changing Nature of Information
My firm belief is in the enormous value of reliable, local information.  Good local information, especially at a time of rapid change, can make an immensely valuable contribution to quality of life.  It’s empowering. It helps to reduce confusion, simply by explaining what’s out there, how it works and how to get in touch.  And in turn, this reduces anxiety and stress and allows people to be more independent and more confident in being able to sort things out.  One lady who rang up for a copy said “This guide is so helpful, it’s the raft we all need as we get older…”
But in my view it isn’t just ‘as we get older’, it is actually as all our lives become ever more complex.

Whatever age we might be – you have to say it’s more difficult than it used to be to navigate through certain issues to get to an answer.

For instance

  • There are more complicated rules and regulations e.g. the changes to the Retirement age and Pensions.
  • More ways to approach the same problem, someone seeking help with disability might approach social care, the health service, the pension service, the carers’ centre etc.  Links amongst all of these are getting better, but you might still end up calling more than one.
  • More specialist people you might have to contact. Helplines are mushrooming for quite specialist advice e.g. Tax Help for Older People, or the Disability Law service.
  • Just more people with a problem – the sheer weight of numbers of enquiries makes for long waiting times on phone calls or getting appointments for face to face help, complicated systems for dealing with phone call queues and so on.

No wonder it can be with a sinking feeling that we approach another of those long phone calls (My personal gripe is a certain large phone company – it seems they can never sort out one problem without causing me another – I sound like ‘grumpy old consumer’ I know…)

It can all get too much and it almost seems as if the information out there has a life of its own – as if the more of it there is, so an ever greater volume of enquiries is generated as people strive to manage their homes, their finances, their health care, and all their other activities. Information overload!

So what do we do about it all?  Well as usual, there isn’t a magic bullet.  There are so many ways people have tried to communicate information – look at smoke signals, semaphore and hieroglyphics – down to billboards, banners in the sky and even Speakers’ Corner!

But there isn’t one perfect way to communicate – because people absorb information in all kinds of different ways – and then use it for different purposes too.  So what we have at the moment, although it often seems like information chaos – it’s actually a brave stab at getting across to us the flood of knowledge we now require to cope with our concerns – which may be technical, financial, personal, civic and many more.

  • So Yes, we need ‘mass market’ information – large websites which are regularly updated (daily for CAB) – carrying comprehensive information, linking to many other websites and subject areas to cater for as many situations and as many people as possible. Unwieldy but necessary.
  • Yes, we need face to face advisers and customer helplines, with trained staff who can talk us through our problem and help unravel it.
  • Yes, we need the specialists for their expert information on particular issues e.g. when the computer goes wrong, or the car breaks down.
  • And yes, we need physical, printed publications like the Golden Guide.  What the Golden Guide does is to sift through, digest and bring together what seems to be the most relevant local information to suit its audience, and then deliver it directly into the hands of that audience. So it’s got its own niche too.  And by making it handy and accessible without needing a machine, electricity, a phone connection, or an appointment – it is truly free information for the people who receive it.

As Elizabeth Briggs from Age UK Teesside said – “It’s the kind of thing you keep behind the clock – you might not want it straight away, but once you have a copy, it’s there when you need it”
There’s nothing else quite like it.

This year’s campaign
So to be able to get it published this year has meant a great deal.  It’s meant that all that usefulness can flow out again to give another 5000 people that very convenient helping hand.

And it’s a big project that relies on commitment and a lot of goodwill.  Because it doesn’t happen just through me.
There are all those people who give us information and updates, people who take it out and about and get it to where it’s needed, – care managers, health workers, pension service, etc.  People who send them out in the post, people who recommend it to a friend.  Even the people who design it want to set out the pages as clearly as they can.

And then of course there are the sponsors – without them it wouldn’t happen at all.  This year was a very difficult year for fund-raising and so it has been wonderful that we have been able to find help from the Borough Council, NHS Tees and all the others who are keen to see that older people can find the support they need, or the advice that would help them.

Many of them have helped the guide for some years; it helps add to the feeling that the Golden Guide really is a shared resource which people feel is worth supporting.

So although at times it was touch and go …

  • we didn’t have to cut the number of copies,
  • we didn’t have to cut the number of pages
  • or reduce the quality….
  • and in fact,  the Golden Guide is not only still here but came out better than before– because we still went ahead with our plans for a great new design and a full colour print.

A big thank you then, for all the support and encouragement coming from Stockton.

So it remains our goal – when there are so many changes people need to know about – that what we should do is continue improving the Golden Guide to make it the best local information source possible.

We want it to be easy to get hold of, (lots of copies) easy to use (keep it as a book) and well-known enough so that everyone can share in it as a valuable resource. We hope that the more people use it the more they will all be helping to keep it going.  I hope, between us, we can do it.