More than just swimming

I love a story about triumph over adversity and the latest Netflix offering called Nyad is just that. Annette Benning valiantly plays the role of Diana Nyad who, at 64 years of age, was the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Not only did Nyad swim over 100 miles; it took her 53 hours, and she did it without a shark cage, on her fifth attempt. Nyad relied heavily on her friend and trainer, Bonnie Stoll, played brilliantly by Jodie Foster, and on the navigation of John Bartlett, played by Rhys Ifans, who expertly used the eddies from the Gulf Stream to aid her journey. Imagine putting your faith in new technology that will keep sharks and box jellyfish at bay and trusting your team to keep you on course while swimming through some of the world’s most chaotic currents. 

This film is about more than just swimming, it’s about having a vision, building a team, friendships, and firsts, and not letting a small thing like age get in the way of achieving your dreams.

Luckily in landlocked Wiltshire, we don’t have the impending threat of a shark attack or a box jellyfish sting, but we do have other life-threatening challenges to contend with. As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, the number of excess winter deaths in the UK caused by living in a cold, damp home climbed by almost 50% last winter. Over 30,000 people live in fuel poverty in our county, and, on average, there are over 300 winter-related deaths.

We have been delivering a Surviving Winter programme since 2011, primarily providing grants to older people living in fuel poverty and others whose health would be put at risk because of a drop in temperatures and lack of heating. We offer those who receive the winter fuel payment from the government but don’t need it, an opportunity to ensure it can be used to help those who do need support. Last year, we awarded £363k through our Surviving Winter programme, supporting 1,892 households.

Our partnerships with Age UK Wiltshire, Citizens Advice Wiltshire, Citizens Advice Swindon and Warm and Safe Wiltshire enabled the delivery of 1,289 fuel grants and in addition, the partners provided advice and support which resulted in an increased household income for those supported through the programme, to a combined total of over £1million.

Getting older has its issues but it is always inspiring to read the applications we receive from our local community groups, many of which benefit from the support of volunteers who are of the age and the mindset of Diana Nyad ‘Never ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams. And even if something looks like a solitary sport, it’s a team effort’. This is apparent from the applications we received for our new Older People Programme. 

The programme specifically supports people who are over 65. We received 29 applications for funding, including community transport, dance, gardening, lunch clubs, music and cyber security and, if all are funded, will help approximately 4,000 disadvantaged older people in the county. The number, quality and variety of applications we received is fantastic, but we need more funding to be able to support them all.

Thankfully, I don’t have an overriding ambition that involves me swimming 100 miles in 53 hours through shark-infested waters, my vision is much simpler than that. I want to live in a county (and world) in which everyone has an opportunity to thrive. Just like the other 46 Community Foundations in the UK, Wiltshire Community Foundation understands the needs of our local communities, the solutions that a thriving voluntary sector can offer when funded well, and the life-changing results that happen when we connect people who care with causes that matter.

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