By Michelle Carruthers

COVID-19 has created a demand unlike anything we have ever experienced among older people needing help to live independently in their own homes.

As huge numbers of over-65s have been ordered to shield from Covid-19 or have heeded stay at home advice, tasks once seemingly as simple as going to the supermarket have become impossible.

Our charity’s teams of volunteers have been getting groceries to older people – many of them disabled or suffering from ill health – for 25 years, ensuring they have enough food to eat well. But the call for our services since March has been unprecedented.

We have seen a 60 per cent increase in people using our established weekly shopping service, where we take peoples’ shopping lists, collect their groceries and store them in their homes. We are currently supporting 3,065 people every week, compared to 1,905 before the pandemic.

Thankfully, the number of shopping service volunteers supporting us has risen from about 800 to almost 1,300, working across Dumfries and Galloway, West Lothian, Stirling, Dundee, Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, Clackmannanshire and the Scottish Borders. They are making a massive difference to lives as – adhering to all public health advice – they fill our vans and make deliveries. The response we have had has been truly gratifying.

Yet we know there is a need to reach even more people. To help do that we have launched a new service – Food Train Connects – which individually matches a client with a volunteer who will collect and store away their shopping. It is our hope that this will extend the reach of our charity beyond the areas in which our main shopping service operates as increasing numbers of people and organisations ask how we can expand our work to their communities.

This is something that will continue beyond the increased pressures fuelled by the Covid-19 emergency because demand for the work by charities and organisations supporting older people is increasing all of the time.

While the coronavirus pandemic has forced an increased number to stay in their homes or away from crowded places such as supermarkets, it has served to highlight the daily struggles that a great many over-65s face to live independently and healthily in their own home in what we would have previously thought of as “normal times”.

These day-to-day challenges have undoubtedly grown over the last 25 years as we have seen the older population grow. Increasing numbers are being cared for in their own homes, many with long-term health conditions and more of whom are dying where malnutrition is a factor. All of these “mores” are unfortunately met with worrying number of “lesses” and” fewers”: less community meals service, fewer day centres, less time in care packages and fewer local shops.

We cannot afford to forget any of this as the world moves beyond Covid-19. As our care systems evolve – and as older people consider longer-term changes in response to Covid-19 – it may be that demands on organisations which support independent living grow even greater.

Thanks to tremendous support – including that from the Scottish Government – we have been able to help more of those who need us during the pandemic. But I hope that one of the legacies of the crisis is a wider appreciation of the struggles older people face and of the need to secure sustainable support to care for them.

Michelle Carruthers is chief executive of Food Train