I’m just back from the Local Government Group Conference in Birmingham where (in between admiring the range of free conference giveaways) I had some interesting and encouraging conversations with councillors.
One of the things Age UK was promoting at the conference was our new Pride of Place campaign which calls on local councillors to take a lead in improving neighbourhoods for older people – and what was particularly encouraging was to hear from councillors who are doing just that.
Two conversations in particular have stuck in my mind.
One was with a member from a south coast borough council. As with many south coast towns, his ward includes many older people who have retired to the area.
During his surgeries over the course of a few months, this councillor met three older residents who had all suffered falls on a particular stretch of pavement. In two-tier council areas, pavements are the responsibility of the county – so the councillor raised the issue with them. They duly inspected the pavement and reported that it didn’t meet their criteria for repair so they would not do anything about it.
Thankfully the member who spoke to me had a small ward budget – a matter of a few thousand pounds – but enough to replace the paving slabs on the problem area with smooth asphalt. Problem solved.
Another councillor I spoke to was from a unitary council in the north west of England. The problem came to his attention when some older residents mentioned that they were thinking of moving away from the area. When he asked why, they explained that they couldn’t walk to the shops any more. It turned out that they used to be able to sit down on a bench at a bus stop half way to the shops. But then the bus stop was redesigned, and the seat removed. Without somewhere to sit down for a rest halfway, walking to the shops became impossible for them.
My councillor contact then swung into action and was able to get seating installed near the bus stop. He told me it took a couple of attempts to find a design which didn’t get vandalised. But they got there. And now he says ‘Whenever I drive past during the day, there are always people sitting on the bench. I never realised that something as simple as a bench could make such a big difference.’
Two different places, two different problems, two different responses. And I’m sure there were many similar tales which could have been told in Birmingham this week. And hopefully as a result of our campaign, many more in the future.
If you’ve got a similar story to tell, we’d love to hear about it.