I live in a small town in Hampshire. When I leave my front gate, I walk along a pavement which is the responsibility of Hampshire County Council. The bus stop is the responsibility of the borough council – but the bus service is run by a private company, with funding from central government. I may cut through a local footpath which is maintained by the town council to shops which are run by private companies and pop in for a cup of coffee at the community hall which is owned and run by a committee of volunteers.
So if I wanted to improve my neighbourhood – who would I talk to?
Way back in 2007, the last government produced a discussion paper called ‘Towards lifetime neighbourhoods’. It explored the need for neighbourhoods ‘which offer everyone the best possible chance of health, wellbeing, and social, economic and civic engagement regardless of age.’ This led to a ‘national strategy’ for lifetime homes and neighbourhoods published in 2008.
Given the political upheavals of the last 12 months, it’s not surprising that both these documents have now been confined to the archives. But what of the concept? Where are lifetime neighbourhoods going now?
A recent paper from the International Longevity Centre (ILC) on ‘Localism and Neighbourhoods for All Ages’ asks why it has been so hard, under both the previous and the current governments, to bring about lifetime neighbourhoods. This is absolutely the right question to be asking.
And in particular, why neighbourhoods have been so hard to tackle, compared to progress on lifetime homes – despite the fact that research (quoted in the report) shows that the percentage of older people who are dissatisfied with their area remains significantly higher than those who are dissatisfied with their home.
The ILC report suggests two reasons: that more specific criteria for lifetime neighbourhoods are needed, and that we need further evidence of the benefits. I would add one more.
As a campaigner, my instinct is to analyse the power structures and ask the question: who can deliver? This leads me to the conclusion that one powerful reason why there has been so little progress on bringing about lifetime neighbourhoods is that there are so many different agencies involved.
Which brings me back to my front door and that walk into town, using the services and infrastructure provided by at least half a dozen different organisations. If I wanted to improve things – who would I talk to?
At Age UK, we believe that local councillors have a unique role to play here. Within their ward, councillors have both the local knowledge of the area and the electoral mandate to take action
This week, we launch our new Pride of Place campaign for better neighbourhoods. We are calling on all local councillors to show their commitment to improving neighbourhoods for older people by signing up with us as Pride of Place advocates.
We’ll keep you posted about how we get on.