Land of the Rising Fun: Big in Japan

The visit from a research group from the University of Osaka in Japan, proved to be highly successful for Circle last May. Studio L produced a report as part of their academic work and they sent us a copy, unfortunately for us the report was in Japanese. We sent a request out for a translation and thankfully we were successful in our endeavors.

During WW2 all the men were at war so there were very few babies being born, until the end of the war when there was a sudden explosion in the birth rate due to the men returning home. Many of those ‘babies’ are now well into their 70’s and far outweigh the younger generation as the birth-rate quickly cooled down. So Japan has a large elderly population with too few young people to care for them.

The question is how Japan can continue to care for its elderly?
We looked for solutions, hence the focus on Circle.

The aim of the "Rochdale Circle" is to solve the problems of social isolation and loneliness of elderly people. All the members are 50 years and above. The idea of the Circle started from South London and it helps elderly people to be independent and able to help each other when there are difficulties in life. 

After the first Circle in Southwalk, Hammersmith and other areas in London have developed the Circle and it became London Circle CIC.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of funds, these Circles were closed in 2014. Two circles were opened in England, with only Rochdale able to progress.

We were able to visit Rochdale Circle.

The Circle offers two main services for the Members; one of them is to offer practical support when it's needed. The other service is to offer events where Members can socialise with each other. 

The first type of support offers services like, gardening, cleaning, fixing things etc.

The second offers 20 to 30 events every month. The events calendar will be sent to members. The fee is 30 pounds per year and the members receive the events calendar as part of that fee, they can also attend up to 2 events for free to try Circle first, and pay extra fees for more event.

The Circle offers charged or free practical/social support. Voluntary helpers or other members offer the free support. The monthly events are organised/suggested by the staff or based on the requests from the Members. For instance, some Members offer game events in their own home, helpers give members lifts to hospitals, and offer weekend trips etc

It was May when we visited, the members were dancing Zumba, going to football stadium, listening to Jazz etc. Also, there were many organised lunches and afternoon tea events for members to enjoy social time.

The office manager Leanne showed us the Coffee and Catch up event. The place was 5 minutes drive from the Circle office, Spring Hill Hospice runs the cafe. The interior design in the cafe was very pretty, the table-cloth and cups looked very British with pretty flower patterns.

There were around 20 members in the cafe; Leanne introduced us as the special guests from Japan. The members gave us a very warm welcome and we were able to have a good time with them.

Normally, it's very difficult to talk to strangers or feel comfortable with strangers straight away, but we felt that the Circle has created an atmosphere where people can chat with strangers easily.

We have learned that the Circle offers opportunities and events for people with similar interests despite their age, sex or race.

Central to the success of the service is a genuine bond of trust and confidence between service users and staff. Members feel like they have a say in how events are planned, and what happens in their groups.

Furthermore, the service brings people together based on their social ties, interests and personality - not shared attributes such as age, sex or colour. 

The Circle offers services which respect the capacity of the members rather than just fill in their basic needs (these kind of services have been around since the 50s).

The services, which were offered at the Circle, didn't give us a feeling of "services for elderly". The cafe we visited offered menu, which were suitable for any age.

Elderly people want to be connected to people from younger generation, but as they get older (weaker), they become scared of going out or talking to new people. The cafe for example, creates a space where they feel comfortable to be and give them the confidence to be connected with others again. The Circle receives the elderly who were isolated from society and supports them, so that they can go back to the places they want to be and do the things they want to do.

When we visited the Circle, more than half of the members were ladies, they seemed very happy with their conversation and it seemed like a pub or club rather than an elderly gathering. Speaking to Circle staff, there will always be somebody chatting to them as they walk by; some members said "they are like my own son or daughter".

We asked why they were so popular with the members, they said " we’ve have done nothing special, we just enjoy a good chat..."

Circle staff members have had different jobs, one used to own a pub, she felt a little bit lonely after retired from the business, when she was asked to organise an event for the Circle, she started as a volunteer, then now works as part time. When she was asked whether she likes her job, she said "I love it." Then she added, "I will need some support like them someday..."

The effectiveness of the service is evaluated by 3 methods.

1. Data - how often do people go? Do they come back?

2. Psychological change. Calls are made to check on the members and monitor how they are coping and how the service is impacting on them emotionally.

3. The analysis of individual case studies.  

There is an interest in bringing this model to Japan in the future, but this is difficult due to the bureaucratic nature of Japanese government, and such a service might work much better on a smaller scale, non-government, unofficial format. 

Noriko Deno, Studio L
University of Osaka