A new recovery project designed to help older people rebuild their lives after suffering abuse is launching in Fife.


In a first for Scotland, charity Action on Elder Abuse Scotland, which will run the Elder Abuse Recovery Project, said the programme staffed by trained volunteers would help dozens of abused older people regain their confidence and independence.


The charity is actively recruiting volunteers of all ages, with a view to launching the project later this spring. It is hoped the Fife project could act as a blueprint for wider rollout across Scotland.


Estimates from academic research and polling data suggest around 10% of older Scots experience some form of abuse each year – over 100,000 people. This can include physical and sexual assaults, financial abuses such as theft, psychological torment, or neglect by people or institutions that should be caring for them.


In Fife, around 7,500 people may be suffering from elder abuse each year, although much of this abuse remains hidden because victims may be unwilling or unable to speak out.


The new recovery project is currently recruiting volunteers of all ages, who will receive extensive training in the skills they need to aid an older person’s recovery. Abuse victims will be matched with volunteers who may themselves have experienced abuse, or have similar hobbies and interests. The structured programme runs for a year and aims to bring about a significant improvement in people’s wellbeing so they can put their experience of abuse behind them and move on with their lives.


Unlike general befriending services, the unique project goes much further by focusing on recovery, building resilience, and helping older people regain their independence. Older people will be helped to work towards defined milestones to allow them to move on and no longer require the support of their volunteer. Project volunteers might start by providing friendship and emotional support, and then start introducing support to help the older person recover from their experience. Depending on each older person’s needs, the volunteers might then help the older person to leave their home, take part in things they used to enjoy, or even take part in new activities or hobbies.


Action on Elder Abuse already runs similar projects in the south of England, mostly in the London area. These schemes have received 47 referrals to date, with the majority of victims supported being female and aged over 70.


The project’s launch comes just months after the publication of a draft Scottish Government strategy for tackling loneliness and isolation. A consultation on the new strategy, launched by Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman in January, runs until April 30th.


Lesley Carcary, Action on Elder Abuse’s Scotland Director, said:


"We know that loneliness and isolation are really significant factors in why somebody might be a victim of elder abuse, because it can make them vulnerable and an easy target for unscrupulous individuals.


“But it also makes it much harder to recover because these people often don't have social networks to speak up about what's happened to them. They might never report their abuse, especially if it’s happening in a care home setting or if the perpetrator is a family member.


"With the new recovery project launching in Fife, we’re trying to target people who’ve become isolated and withdrawn because of the abuse they’ve experienced. Because they may be traumatised, these people often don't leave the house anymore, and this can really affect their mental health and in turn their physical health as well.


“We’re actively recruiting volunteers who want to make a difference in their community. Older people will be able to choose what sort of person they're matched with, so we’re looking to build up a pool of people from a range of backgrounds. We’re very interested in hearing from people with good people skills and the patience to work with someone over a long period. Key attributes would include empathy, listening skills and an ability to build rapport with someone who has been abused.” 


Fife MSPs and MPs from across the political spectrum have welcomed the project's launch.


Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and MSP for North East Fife, said:


“It’s good news that Action on Elder Abuse has launched this new project in Fife. Our growing population of elderly people deserve good support on how to ensure their years of retirement are fun and fulfilling. Developing skills and strategies for tackling loneliness is a key part of that. I hope that people across Fife will volunteer to make this a success.”


Dean Lockhart, Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said:


"I very much welcome the launch of the Elder Abuse Recovery Programme based in Fife and the support it will provide to those elderly people who have suffered abuse. Elderly abuse can take many forms from sexual abuse to financial abuse and this programme aims to lift elderly people out of the loneliness they endure as a result of the abuse they have suffered.

"I extend my best wishes to all those involved in the rollout of this programme and I would encourage anyone who would wish to offer their support through volunteering their time to contact Action on Elder Abuse to find out more details."


Stephen Gethins, SNP MP for North East Fife, said: 


"I am very pleased to hear that steps are being taken to help elderly people in this way. Many elderly people may be unlikely to tell anyone about abuse and will continue to suffer. Having someone you can talk to and share concerns with is very important and, as well as helping the elderly person and boosting their self-confidence and independence, I think involvement would be very rewarding for volunteers. 

"This project is a great example of how charities like Action on Elder Abuse Scotland can take forward the Scottish Government's strategy to tackle loneliness and isolation and help people who are suffering in silence."


Lesley Laird, Scottish Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said: 


“We like to think of retirement as a positive journey, but for vulnerable pensioners who have experienced abuse, old age can be a lonely and frightening existence – often as prisoners in their own home.

“As a society, we should be doing all we can to protect and help them, and this project’s aims –  to provide friendship, restore confidence, and help people live an independent active life again – is fantastic.”


Anyone interested in volunteering for the new Elder Abuse Recovery Project should contact Action on Elder Abuse Scotland’s services coordinator, Brian Rapley, on 07496 323 801 or visit https://www.elderabuse.org.uk/in-scotland.