Article - A stitch in time

I was delighted to hear the other day, that Sport England had recently provided a substantial sum of money to help those of us who have sadly passed beyond the stage where we can comfortably call ourselves "middle aged" to remain fit and healthy.

I gather that the money will be channelled through an organisation called "Active Dorset" - which brings together sports clubs and others involved in providing sporting facilities locally. As there are a lot of these bodies in rural Dorset, a network of this kind obviously has a pretty wide reach and should therefore be able to help the elderly and the ageing amongst us to find ways of keeping fit, more or less regardless of where we happen to live.

There is a strong temptation, when one hears about something like this, to mumble and grumble about whether it is really a good use of taxpayer funds: I can almost hear someone asking whether it wouldn't have been better to spend the money on some really crunchy and absolutely necessary item like social care for the frail elderly or the NHS.

But this temptation really needs to be resisted - because the truth is that the strains we are currently experiencing in adult social care and the NHS arise partly from the fact that, as society gets older we aren't doing enough to keep ourselves fit and healthy. It's not only much nicer for the individual involved but also much cheaper for the taxpayer to invest in a little preventative exercise than to be faced with all the ghastly consequences of becoming immobile.

This really is a case of a stitch in time saving nine.

Of course, the sports clubs that do so much to help people exercise themselves in enjoyable ways, are by no means the only voluntary bodies in West Dorset that help to support the elderly. There are multitudes of voluntary sector organisations that help to do this in one way or another locally - and there are literally thousands of volunteers who help to sustain those voluntary organisations, as I was splendidly reminded when I was asked to participate in a splendid event organised by The Volunteer Centre.

I have mentioned this Centre before in this column. I think it's one of the most useful things in West Dorset, because it does such terrific work matching those who are willing to volunteer with those who need volunteers to help them carry out some important service for our local community.

When the social history of the 21st Century comes to be written I am sure that the power of the internet will feature heavily - and one of the main reasons for this will be the transformation that it has brought in our capacity to create networks that match demand with supply in innumerable areas of our lives.

It is encouraging and comforting that - through organisations like the Volunteer Centre - this usually powerful modern technology is being harnessed to expand the volunteering that has been such a signal feature of rural life in England since time out of mind.