OPEN Age’s rapid response to the pandemic gave vulnerable over-50s a crutch to lean on in lockdown and the charity’s sterling work has been recognised with a shortlisting in the prestigious London Sport Awards.
Spearheaded by Physical Activity Manager, Jade Dalton, Open Age runs programmes for local residents, aged 50 and over, across Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea as well as Hammersmith and Fulham.
Open Age’s ability to stage successful exercise sessions online in the blink of an eye gave many a lifeline in such hard times.
Now it is one of three final nominations shortlisted for The Health and Wellbeing Award, in association with Gympass, to be revealed at London’s Guildhall on December 6.
“We were very excited [to hear we had been nominated], it’s the first time we’ve been shortlisted,” said Dalton, 26.
“I think for the team it has been really good recognition for the programme that is quite unique, we’ve not had to do something on Zoom before, and we were really happy.
“We have some members that have only ever met on Zoom that have since gone out for what was initially meant to be a coffee that turned out to be an Aperol Spritz!
“They’ve never met each other beforehand and only on a screen, which is quite a bizarre concept when you think about it, but that’s how familiar they became with each other and really felt they were friends.
“People always say it has been a lifesaver, a godsend, they’ve had some of the best experiences they’ve had, they’ve tried new activities, they’ve got new purpose. We’ve had some really good feedback.”
Over the last five years, the annual London Sport Awards, in association with the City of London Corporation, has grown to become the biggest celebration of grassroots physical activity and sport in the city.
And this year’s showpiece event will once again recognise, celebrate and shine a light on the stories of the incredible individuals, groups, and organisations for their outstanding work across the capital, helping Londoners of all ages and backgrounds to be physically active.
With nearly 30 years of experience championing an active lifestyle for the older generation, Open Age had seen it all until Covid-19 threw a spanner in the works but the charity responded in some style, helping to upskill participants’ online capabilities as well as checking in on them regularly.
With restrictions easing and the new hybrid delivery system well underway, it is easy to forget how up in the air things were back in March 2020.
Dalton added: “There was a lot of debate at the start about how are we going to do this? Can we get people in their 70s or 80s on the floor or doing pilates or dancing around their home?
“Are they going to be able to access Zoom? Are we going to be able to use Zoom without having used it before? So we did lots of testing and training for instructors too.
“I don’t really know what we would have done if we had not carried on the sessions. There have been huge benefits for people, quite a lot of them have still chosen to stay online which I think really proves the value they’ve found in the Zoom classes.”
Fitness instructor Ashia Thompson has been teaching others for over 20 years and working with Open Age for the best part of a decade but had to go back to the drawing board when tasked with holding virtual classes.
“It was very, very different teaching on Zoom because you are looking at little boxes on screen and not being able to necessarily correct people with what they are doing regarding exercise,” the 57-year-old said.
“It was very important to keep going because if you are on your own a lot you can feel quite down and depressed, exercise is really good for lifting your spirits. People were together on screen and were able to have a little chat before and after.
“I think it’s amazing [to be nominated] because Open Age does so much and we are very lucky to have it in London because lots of places don’t have anything like this – it’s well deserved.”