Treasuring skills in the over-50s during COVID-19

Seniors at home using smart phone

Credit: blackCAT / Getty Images

A project funded by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Healthy Ageing Challenge is helping local communities weather the economic storm caused by COVID-19.

Since 2013, Local Treasures has helped customers in the south of England find help with home chores, such as:

  • DIY
  • cooking
  • shopping
  • gardening
  • companionship.

The one thing these workers all have in common is that they are over 50.

Economic impact

As the economic impact of COVID-19 began to emerge in 2020, Local Treasures founder and Chief Executive, Sarah Heyworth, noticed that the virus was not affecting all communities equally.

Sarah believed her company was uniquely placed to help kickstart local economies. She wanted to connect over-50s workers, or ‘Treasures’, living in a town that had been disproportionately affected with customers in another that seemed to be thriving.

Using funding awarded by UKRI’s Healthy Ageing Challenge, Sarah ran a pilot project to connect the towns of Eastleigh and Winchester. The collapse of the airline company Flybe early in the pandemic shattered Eastleigh’s local economy. Whereas in neighbouring Winchester, house prices rose.

Sarah said:

I was inspired to set up Local Treasures after moving house and realising that my father had a host of DIY skills that I could use.

Unfortunately, he lived miles away. But it sparked an idea: how to embrace this wealth of untapped experience among the older community to plug skills gaps and provide local communities with useful services.

And since the over-50s are more likely to shop in their community, it was also a way of re-distributing money back into the local economy.

We focused on providing jobs within a 10-mile radius of Eastleigh, so that it was still relatively easy for Treasures to travel.

The approach worked, with the business bringing 400 new Eastleigh-based Treasures onboard.

Digital tools

Until last year, however, most of the work involved in connecting Treasures and customers was done manually, using spreadsheets.

The company improved their technology as a result. This included the development of a new, easy-to-use app that allows customers to connect, hire and arrange payment digitally.

Sarah said:

Making the app easy to use was vital because you’re asking an older user group, who may not be so confident with technology, to do all this online.

The app had to be intuitive and that involved a huge amount of work.

Using artificial intelligence (AI) technology

Using sophisticated AI-based technology, the app uses keywords, such as ‘leaking tap’ or ‘fixing cupboards’, to create one-to-one profile matches. Sarah believes this approach makes Local Treasures unique.

Sarah explained:

There are other recruitment services out there but none of them focus on older people in the way we do or offer a single match.

We can also use this technology to track customer numbers, jobs taken on and money earned.

We are now working with Southampton University to incorporate a series of questions on issues like mental health, welfare and spending habits. The data this creates will help build a more detailed picture.

Positive feedback

Sarah receives regular positive feedback from the ‘Treasures’ involved in the project, such as:

Lisa, aged 63:

I am so pleased I found you. I was beginning to think I would never work again.

Sarah, aged 65:

I don’t know what I would do without Local Treasures. They help me make ends meet at the end of the month.

It is feedback like this that motivates Sarah and the team to keep developing Local Treasures, especially as the early 2021 COVID-19 lockdown put a pause on many job requests.

Next steps

Sarah is now certain that the full economic impact of COVID-19 on the over-50s has not yet been felt and believes the requests for work will come flooding back.

Sarah said:

In many ways our work hasn’t even started. We’re ready, though, and now looking for our next two towns.

For me, the future of work for older people is about blending flexible opportunities to suit both needs and lifestyle.

Thanks to the Healthy Ageing Challenge, we’re geared up to deliver that change.

Last updated: 7 June 2021

NOTEThis is the first phase of our new website – let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.