This blog was contributed by Sue Cooley from Manchester City Council, the winner of the Age UK award category of the LGiU Councillor Achievement Awards. This award recognises the achievements of a councillor who has championed the interests of older people in their community.
I have been a councillor since 1996 representing Brooklands ward in the city of Manchester. My role as lead member for Valuing Older People (VOP) and more recently the Age Friendly Manchester Programme began in the last years of the 1990s. At that time I worked closely with the then deputy leader of the council to develop an approach which said that the role of local authorities shouldn’t begin and end with its social care responsibilities, recognising that the vast majority of older residents -however we define them, do not get a social care services. Moreover, especially in a city like Manchester, many older people faced exclusion from a range of everyday services and activities.
This approach found an echo in the Better Government for Older People programme championed by the Labour Government in the late 1990s. When ground breaking research into ageing in cities (including Manchester) was published in 2002 it coincided with the council’s new project called Valuing Older People which was launched officially in 2003.
Since then VOP has grown from a modest project based in the Manchester Joint Health Unit to a wide ranging programme acknowledged as being innovative but at the same time rooted in Manchester communities.
I think the key to the success of VOP has been the on going involvement, drive and expertise of the board, a representative group of older residents which has met every six weeks since 2004.
The VOP team is a multi -agency group now based in Public Health Manchester has been able to attract significant human and financial resources to support the cities ambition to become a “Great Place to Grow Older”.
For me there have been many highlights over the years, to many to list here, But some are particularly noteworthy:
- The Positive images of Ageing campaign helped to change perceptions of older people
- The VOP locality networks have given a local presence and focus to the city wide programme
- The Cultural Offer has brought together close to 20 arts and heritage agencies with the common aim of making Manchester world class cultural services accessible ,and relevant to all the city’s older residents ,whatever their background
- And of course I can’t fail to mention the publication of the over 50s Relationship and Sexual Health Guide which proved to be so popular that we have had a number of re prints
- Most recently I was proud when Manchester was recognised by the WHO as a pioneering authority through its membership of the Global Age Friendly Cities Network
Of course the future for local government, especially in poorer areas such as Manchester is particularly difficult. So when the council launched Age Friendly Manchester at a conference of 300 people in October last year, I was clear that part of the job is to look at ways of mitigating the cuts experienced by older people.