Recently Anna Kingston interviewed Susanna Shotter, Occupational Therapist and CEO of Aspire Creating Communities for Huddersfield Times, and she spoke about her passion for working with older people and her deep interest in isolation, mental health conditions, and dementia and the impact they have on the lives of older people.
Susanna is a qualified Occupational Therapist by training, and her previous work was based around older people’s mental health in Leicester. She has always felt an affinity with people older than herself, often volunteering with ‘older’ members of her dad’s church as a teenager. In 2013 she and her family relocated to Huddersfield, her husband’s home town, and at this point she took a career break for a couple of years. Upon seeing an interesting job advertisement in 2015, she launched a community group based at St John’s Church in Birkby, where her training and interest in connecting older people came into its own. Her previous experience was an excellent fit for a job role asking for someone with “a heart for older people”.
Over the next three years, other groups were launched in different areas of Huddersfield, and in 2019 Aspire Creating Communities became a registered charity. There are now 7 community groups in 7 separate locations, supporting over 150 people over 55 years of age. 6 trustees, 5 paid staff members, one administrator, and more than 20 volunteers all work hard together to maintain this vital network to the people who use the charity.
During the last 12 months or so, how services are delivered has changed significantly: group and face-to-face sessions were obviously off the menu, but the charity rose to the challenge. They have still been able to deliver differentiated support to clients, including telephone support and the creation of targeted craft bags which have gone down incredibly well with recipients. Aspire is very inclusive and adapts its programme of activities to discreetly support those with difficulties or disabilities of any type.
Susanna describes Aspire as a perfect role for her as the hands-on element breaks down barriers and forges lasting friendships between people. Although she is the CEO, she describes her role as ensuring a real team approach, saying that she holds things lightly. The charity is a safe space for staff as well as clients, and they take care of each other’s mental health and continue to get to know each other, especially through the pandemic.
Aspire has created new partnerships with other organisations so that they can continue to support their clients in diverse ways. This includes ULink, (a local IT social enterprise), and AbilityNet, a national charity that provides IT and technical support to older adults and adults with learning difficulties. In June 2020 Aspire launched their successful digital inclusion project, Creating Connections, lending 60 tablets out to local people to access the internet. If they can secure more funding, they hope that this project will continue into the future.
What does the future hold for Aspire? Susanna says that volunteers are always needed, and that she would welcome new trustees, especially anyone with experience of charity, finance or HR work. As a charity, any form of financial support is always welcome, whether by donation, fundraising, or sponsorship from local businesses. Non-financial support from local business would also be very useful, such as training or marketing support. Susanna is hoping that real-life events and community days will take place soon, to showcase how Aspire supports the over-55s in Huddersfield, and to encourage support for the charity.
Susanna says that Aspire really cares about people, and it’s obvious that her passion extends far beyond her clients to include her staff and volunteers, as well as other organisations who support Aspire’s work. If you’re feeling inspired, fancy volunteering, or are a business who could support Aspire in any way, why not follow the links below to find out more?!
Aspire Facebook page
Aspire Twitter account