In conversation with: Fred Horley - From environmentalist to advocate for getting older people online

In conversation with: Fred Horley - From environmentalist to advocate for getting older people online

If you have ever wondered whether there is a long-term benefit to being a Churchill Fellow, beyond the immediate opportunity it brings to undertake international learning and bring that knowledge back to the UK, then Fred Horley (CF 1992) has the answer.

Some 30 years after being awarded a Fellowship for an environmental investigation that, with the benefit of hindsight, was truly ahead of its time, Fred has once again used his Fellowship to help his community. Ever keen on his personal development, he’s always exploring opportunities to improve himself and the lives of his peers, and it was this that led him to get back in touch with the Churchill Fellowship to ask for help with a new project.

Energy conservation in buildings

Back in the 1990s, Fred was working for Cornwall County Council as a training centre manager, running projects to get young people into work and retraining unemployed adults.

Among the skills the trainees learned was insulating homes, as part of a wider initiative to improve energy efficiency in Cornish properties.

Fred was made redundant when his centre closed and, aged 60, he faced an early retirement with his wife, Joan.

Still curious, and with time on his hands, it was a chance visit to a library that led to Fred’s Fellowship. He picked up a Churchill Fellowship leaflet, and – with just two weeks to go until the deadline – submitted a successful proposal to travel to the United States to study energy conservation and building methods.

While the environment and climate change dominate the news now, back in the 1990s this was way down the political agenda.

It was pre-internet days, so Fred armed himself with a laptop donated by the local electricity board and set off for America, where he visited ten states and over twenty organisations including the government’s Department of Energy in Washington.

Fred learned a great deal about energy conservation. For example, he discovered that in California, there was an environmental tax on plastic and cans, along with a deposit return scheme for bottles, with big bottle banks at supermarkets that would dispense a few cents for each return. In Washington, he learnt about an energy rating system for homes.

On his return, Fred tried to encourage the authorities to adopt some his ideas. Sadly, while his local council liked the idea of the bottle return scheme, it wasn’t taken up.

However, Fred had more success with the property rating scheme. He contacted the National Home Energy Rating body (the NHER), which at the time was looking into this very topic. The NHER was liaising with the Department for Trade and Industry about the introduction of property rating scheme; what Fred had learnt in the US helped inform their thinking. A US style property energy rating scheme is now part of the housing market landscape in England and Wales, with homes given an energy performance certificate before they go on sale.

The Fellowship also gave Fred an opportunity to become involved in the creation of new energy advice centres in the UK, and he successfully campaigned to open a centre in his new home town of Plymouth. He even had a weekly slot on BBC Radio Devon and West Country television, giving energy advice.

All this, because Fred had picked up a leaflet from the library which made him decide against a quiet retirement, but to throw his energies instead into expanding his learning.

“It was a life-changing experience and really opened my horizons as to what was going on. Having the Churchill Fellowship was a door opener for me, and I was able to find out so much.”

Helping older people get online

So, fast-forward to 2020, Fred had another brainwave, for which he once again called on the Churchill Fellowship.

Fred himself is very tech-savvy but realised the same could not be said of most members of his weekly seniors lunch club - so he decided to do something about it. Covid put his plans on hold, but post-pandemic he was ready to take action.

“The other lunch club members often used to say they wanted to be able to get to grips with computers. So, I talked to the excellent lady who runs the club, to see if we could fit some training in. I set about looking for funding, and saw from the Churchill Fellowship newsletter that funding could be available for Covid orientated projects.”

Now, for half-an-hour before each lunch, Fred runs an IT training session. He picks topics or gives one-to-one support to members with any IT issues and he’s used the grant to buy tablets and a laptop. The funding has also covered the purchase of protective equipment, like wipes and masks.

“We started with just tablets but found some people weren’t comfortable with touchscreens, so then bought the laptop. Funnily enough, we have also used some of the grant to buy chairs with armrests, so people – who are all 55 plus – can get out of them more easily, after sitting at the screens.”

Thanks to Fred, lunch clubbers are now using Facebook to contact relations, are able to order their medication online, and he’s unlocked the mysteries (and potential) of many people’s smart phones, including pairing their hearing aids. They can also access the local library services, as Fred has taught them how to order and renew books, and peruse online newspapers.

One grandmother is able to video chat to her granddaughter in Australia for the first time, thanks to Fred introducing her to WhatsApp and Facetime. When we spoke to him, he was getting ready to help a member complete their Lasting Power of Attorney online.

“One I was really proud of was when I helped Richard, who’d had a stroke a few years ago and couldn’t communicate. He was using a notepad and pencil, and I introduced him to using an iPad which he could type into. The iPad has the ability to be able to talk from written words, so that opened up a whole new world for him.”

Next in his sights is his GP surgery, which is using software to enable patients to access services. Fred has managed to persuade the software developer to provide a demonstration model. He plans to run a training session at the lunch club, so he and they can become familiar with the system, and put it into practice when they contact the surgery.

“I admit I probably am an exception in being this active. I’m very lucky that I really don’t feel my age. I’m not quite as mobile as I’d like to be, but apart from that, all’s well.

“Because I was made redundant the Fellowship gave me an opportunity and a purpose in life and it’s carried on ever since. I’ve said this IT project is the last one I’ll do but perhaps not. I may well be contacting the Churchill Fellowship again. Watch this space!”

Words by: Jo Smyth


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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