Locality members OPAL in Leeds are a shining example of how together a local community can address the issue of loneliness among older people.

Isolation among older people is a growing problem. Many older people live alone and don’t have a proper conversation with anyone for days, if not weeks, on end. The NHS and the Local Government Association have warned that loneliness is a “major public health concern”.

OPAL, which stands for Older People’s Action in the Locality, supports 700 older people in the LS16 area in north Leeds to be part of the community, to meet up, see friends, go for dinner, dances, and day trips, and to live with independence and pride.

An older couple smiling at the camera while they dance

Award-winning staff and volunteers

OPAL is made up of five staff and around 100 volunteers.

Over the past few years volunteer numbers have shot up – there used to be only 20 – allowing OPAL to massively expand the number of over 60s it can reach. It used to support around 300 people, but now helps over 700.

The driving force behind OPAL is project manager Ailsa Rhodes. Ailsa won the “Microentrepreneur of the Year Award for Sustainability” this year for her incredible work securing a new home for OPAL (more of which below), helping bring in funding, and for the entrepreneurial skill with which she’s grown the organisation – meaning OPAL can help more people than ever before.

OPAL was recognised in 2015 when they were awarded the ‘Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service’ – the very highest accolade it’s possible to receive for voluntary work.

Ailsa, standing outside in the garden at Buckingham Palace
Ailsa at Buckingham Palace, for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

From pub to hub

When in 2014 it looked like OPAL might have to leave their current premises, it could have meant the end of the project.

Instead Ailsa and the OPAL team looked around and found a new building – an empty pub. First off OPAL got the building listed as an asset of community value. Then with a massive fundraising effort and help from Key Fund, OPAL bought the Bedford Arms, which they’re turning into a community hub.

The Bedford Arms pub
The Bedford Arms

The Welcome In, as the new centre is now called, will house OPAL’s services, as well as a community café, offices and space for other community groups to meet.

They’re funding the renovations with a mixture of funding bids, donations from local businesses, free labour from a number of different groups including Leeds College of Building students and some inventive and hard-working fundraisers.

Last summer OPAL volunteer Rhea took part in a challenge to climb 31 mountains to raise money for the Welcome In. And their ‘buy a brick’ campaign raised over £12,000 from OPAL’s members, friends and the local community.

At the time of writing work had just started work on half of the downstairs area to provide meeting rooms and the café area.

Support OPAL

If you’d like to help the amazing OPAL fund their new building and continue to provide outstanding services to older people in Leeds you can donate at localgiving.org/donation/opal