Welcome from Deborah Alsina and Julia Neuberger

Yet we have seen some light come through the darkness: communities coming together to support each other, an increased appreciation of the natural world around us, and new ways of working remotely that have probably changed our behaviours and organisational cultures for the better and for the long term.

At Independent Age, before the pandemic hit us, we had started a major transformation programme, clarifying our direction, increasing our impact and, above all, renewing our mission. At the start of the year we put in place a talented and experienced Senior Leadership Team to deliver this ambition, and we have since focused on three key elements: strategy, culture and foundations.

But we also had to respond to the pandemic as rapidly as we could. We had to close our offices and move all our face-to-face services to phone and digital platforms. We launched new services, such as our phone coffee mornings, to bring people together who were feeling even more isolated during the pandemic. We also continued our policy and influencing work, including launching new policy research on bereavement, poverty and older people’s mental health and their lack of access to services. You can find more details later in this report.

Early in the pandemic we also carried out phone-based welfare assessments of all the people who regularly use our connection services and all our annuitants – around 3,500 people. This enabled us to address any welfare or safeguarding issues that emerged, and we were able to link those who needed help with our Information and Advice team.

As part of our COVID-19 response, we also released £2.5 million of our reserves to set up a COVID-19 Grants Fund to support charities with an income of less than £1 million that work with older people at greatest risk from COVID-19. These include those living with physical and mental health conditions that increase their risk, people from black and other minority ethnic communities, and those at risk of being out of sight, such as people living in situations of domestic violence, older carers and older refugees and asylum seekers. By the end of 2020 we had made 203 grants worth a total of £2.3 million – being involved in this has been one of the most humbling and inspiring aspects of our work in 2020.

We were incredibly grateful for the generous funding we received for the Grants Fund from some of our corporate and trust supporters – including The Scheinberg Relief Fund (£500,000), Pension Insurance Corporation (£250,000), 3i (£16,500), Boundless (£10,000) and Ashurst (£5,000) – enabling us to make more grants in early 2021 to support organisations to begin to reopen their face-to-face services. By the end of our five grant rounds, we will have made grants of more than £3 million and will also have a firm structure in place to continue grant-giving in the future.

Alongside this backdrop of major change and turbulence, we also completed work on our new strategic plan for 2021–23, plus our directorate implementation plans to ensure that the charity is tightly focused on increasing the impact of our work with and for older people. We also renewed our vision and mission: our vision is that we can all live a happy, connected and purposeful later life; and our mission is to ensure that as we grow older, we all have the opportunity to live well with dignity, choice and purpose.

We also clarified the charity’s focus and thematic priorities. We agreed that we will challenge ageism and discrimination and tackle the inequalities that exist in older age. We will focus our resources on the critical areas of health and care, loneliness and poverty, and concentrate our efforts where we will have the greatest impact and reach.

We also spent considerable time working on our culture, values and behaviours. We started
by introducing a new set of values for the charity: purpose-driven, compassionate, expert, collaborative, accountable and inclusive. We also began work on developing a behavioural framework. We tried to bring our values to life by discussing and role modelling those behaviours in our day-to-day interactions and in how we make and communicate decisions. More work on this will be a priority for us in 2021.

We also reviewed and focused on building firm foundations for the charity and made good progress in reviewing our policies and procedures, developing our safeguarding, assurance and compliance frameworks, and improving the quality, safety and use of our data.

While 2020 was more challenging than we had either hoped or expected, we have been so grateful for how our staff, volunteers and supporters have risen to the challenge and worked tirelessly to ensure we could continue to deliver high-quality services for the people who need them and to effect positive policy change. We offer sincere thanks to everyone who has been part of our work in 2020, and look forward to continuing to work with you as we begin to deliver our new strategy in 2021.

Deborah Alsina MBE and Baroness Neuberger DBE