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Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 16:17 UK
Fred O'Donnell: Back into battle

Fred O'Donnell in 1948
Fred O'Donnell survived his prisoner ship being torpedoed in WWII

Fred O'Donnell is no stranger to battle.

The 89-year-old, who was raised in Paddington before joining the army in 1937, was a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II and survived when the ship he and his fellow prisoners were being transported on was torpedoed and sank.

Now, Mr O'Donnell once again finds himself at the heart of what he believes is a just fight.

Along with fellow residents of sheltered housing in Northampton, Mr O'Donnell is actively protesting the local council decision to remove residential wardens from his housing scheme.

It is, in every sense, an uphill battle.

"The older ones were at the front, some with sticks…when we went up hill we got a bit tired you know," he said describing a recent protest march through central Northampton that saw dozens of elderly people taking to the streets.

"But us Brits can take it you know - we have to don't we?" he said of the stress of being on the march at this point in his life.

Security lost

The decision to replace residential wardens with teams of floating workers who cover up to six housing complexes and rely on a mixture of visits and new monitoring technology to keep tabs on vulnerable older people has galvanized senior citizens and their families.

Fred O'Donnell on the march
Mr O'Donnell joined a rally calling for a return to residential wardens

Many feel that they are losing a level of security.

They also argue that they agreed to go in to sheltered housing on the understanding that there would be a warden in residence to help them cope with day to day life. A provision they feel it is unfair to remove.

"It's the first time I've really ever got my teeth into something like this. I've never, ever kicked up a fuss until this," Mr O'Donnell said of the ongoing protest.

It's the first time I've really ever got my teeth into something like this. I've never, ever kicked up a fuss until this
Fred O'Donnell

Mr O'Donnell and his late wife, Daisy, were moved into a sheltered housing bungalow after her Alzheimer's symptoms became too much for him to handle on his own.

Nearly blind himself, he said the support provided by his resident warden who lived around the corner was invaluable, even after Daisy was moved into a nursing home.

"When the wife passed away I was completely lost," he told the BBC's Panorama. "(The warden) was so helpful, she read all my correspondence, made phone calls for me…I was so grateful and still am."

'Not consulted'

Mr O'Donnell said his protest is in part to benefit generations who have not yet experienced the vulnerability of old age, people in their 20s, 30, even up to 60.

"They're probably sitting at home watching the telly or going out having a pint or a smoke and all that. They're in good health, no worries, no aches, no pain. But when they get older, suddenly these things come about, don't they?

"I hope the younger people are listening to this, it's then you'll suddenly look round for somebody to look after you or to try to help you."

So we have a minority - an important minority I don't deny - who aren't completely content with what we're trying to do. But the vast majority of people do seem to be telling us that what's happening is fine
Lesley Wearing, Director of Housing, Northampton

He said in addition to losing the consistency of the resident wardens, he and his fellow residents were not consulted on the changes and were only informed after the decision had been taken.

Northampton Borough Council said they conducted an independent survey and that more than 85% of residents responded that they were "broadly satisfied" with the service they receive under the new system of rotating wardens.

Lesley Wearing, the director of housing for Northampton, said the move is designed to assess the elderly and match the level of support they receive to their needs, while allowing them to continue to live independently.

"What we've done is move to a team of support workers to look after groups of properties and individuals.

"I understand it is something that people feel very passionately about - I do as well."

Ms Wearing said the protest march included 30 or 40 elderly residents, while her teams take care of more than 2,000 people across the community.

Minority

"So we have a minority - an important minority I don't deny - who aren't completely content with what we're trying to do. But the vast majority of people do seem to be telling us that what's happening is fine."

Fred O'Donnell in pub
Fred O'Donnell said he still tries to get down the pub to socialise

Mr O'Donnell said he and his neighbours disagree. He said there are some supports that you cannot tie to a needs assessment, including the benefits of a friendly face and a regular visit from the same person who is familiar with your own issues.

He said he is missing the peace of mind that comes from that familiarity.

"I sometimes get a bit worked up about it…because I do miss this friendliness. To have that warden walking about the estate who knows everybody and talks to you, it's a great thing you know, it's a very cosy sort of thing."

Panorama: Gimme Shelter, BBC One, Monday, 24 August at 8.30pm.



SEE ALSO
Archive: Growing old in 1961
Friday, 21 August 2009, 17:02 GMT |  Panorama
Vivian White on Gimme Shelter
Friday, 21 August 2009, 13:16 GMT |  Panorama
Why elderly residents are fighting back
Friday, 21 August 2009, 13:10 GMT |  Panorama

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