Councillors achieving Pride of Place

Last week the shortlist was announced by the LGiU for the Age UK Pride of Place Award. The award, which is one of the LGiU and CCLA C’llr Achievement Awards 2012, recognises a councillor who has taken the lead in championing the voices of older people in their patch and made a real commitment to improving neighbourhoods for them.

The shortlisted councillors are:

  • Councillor Sue Cooley (Manchester City Council)
  • Councillor Edward Davie (London Borough of Lambeth Council)
  • Councillor Olwen Foggin (Devon County Council)
  • Councillor Robert Johnston (Winchester City Council)
  • Councillor Howard Murray (Poynton Town Council)

Each of them, in very different ways and very different areas, has shown real commitment to listening to the views and needs of older people and then bringing about long-term change to their areas.

As I have highlighted on this blog over the last year, good neighbourhoods are key to helping older people get out and about and stay active as they get older. Things like broken pavements, street lights which don’t work, and public transport which isn’t accessible or available at all, place barriers in the way of people who want to stay active as they grow older.

The key insight of Age UK’s Pride of Place campaign is that local elected members have a pivotal role to play in bringing about neighbourhood improvements. They are the only people with both the local knowledge and the democratic accountability.

Through the campaign, nearly 200 councillors have demonstrated their commitment to improving neighbourhoods by signing up as Pride of Place advocates. 

This week we also held the first of five support sessions for these advocates. It was a lively session where we exchanged ideas and wrestled with problems such as how to provide accessible public toilets in the current financial climate and how to influence public transport providers. A recurrent theme was the importance of getting communities involved in solving their own problems.

The good news in all this is that change is possible – as the five shortlisted councillors show, improvements can happen. The award winner will be announced at a ceremony at Westminster City Council on 27 February: watch this space.

And if you are a councillor who wants to bring about improvements to your local area, why not sign up as a Pride of Place advocate now?

Find out more about Age UK’s Pride of Place campaign

Do you know a councillor who deserves an award?

Recent research for Age UK showed that more than half of people over the age of 60 say they have never had contact with their local councillor. Yet despite this lack of contact, nearly twice as many over 60s can name their councillor as can younger people, and when they do have contact, older people are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.

Councillors have a vital role to play in local life, and can make a big difference. That’s why Age UK is working with LGiU and CCLA to sponsor the Age UK Pride of Place award  as part of the 2012 LGiU and CCLA C’llr Achievement Awards. The award will be given to a councillor who champions the voices of older people in their ward or division and makes a real commitment to improving neighbourhoods for them.

Broken pavements, street lights which don’t work, the need for more seating, the perennial problem of poor public  transport, these are all ‘bread and butter’ issues for most councillors. They are also key issues for older people.

Age UK’s Pride of Place report, shows how relatively low cost improvements to neighbourhoods can enable older people to go on getting out and about and being active for longer. Continue reading “Do you know a councillor who deserves an award?”

At your convenience

Leeds Older People’s Forum are campaigning for better toilets in the city centre as part of Age UK’s Change One Thing campaign. In a guest post, their project officer Rachel Cooper reflects on their story (so far)…

A little over a year ago NHS Leeds produced the ‘Lav Nav’, a toilet map for Leeds City Centre. The intended purpose: to provide those for whom “your bladder controls your shopping route” the information they might need to access the city. The group that helped produce the guide evaluated each of the sites for accessibility. This information leaflet had an unexpected knock on effect. Such a visual representation of how few toilets there are prompted members of Leeds Older People’s Forum to take action. It wasn’t just the dismal number of toilets that was striking, but their poor accessibility. Furthermore, the toilets in the newest development were the least accessible: on the third floor, through a turnstile and chargeable.

For me, here’s where one of the lessons from the Change One Thing training and toolkit comes in. One of the messages of the training: don’t run to your timetable. Despite the economic situation, Leeds has continued to build new developments in its quest to be one of the top cities for shopping. Two new major developments are planned and based on the ‘Lav Nav’ experience we cannot presume that new equals better when it comes to toilet provision. If we wait for a more ideal time, say when we have less to do around the impact of the cuts, it will be too late for us to make a difference.

Like many Forums around the country we work as the strategic voice of older people in our area, acting as an interface between our members: third sector organisations and individual older people (a recent development), and statutory bodies. Campaigning is new to us but we see it as a valuable development for the Forum. Our member organisations have a key role to play when it comes to influencing change for older people but we really need individual older people as activists if we want to make things happen. I don’t think we are alone in the view that campaigning is the way forward; it reflects the mood nationally. The Forum has an important role in supporting that locally. But as I say, this is all new to us so we decided we needed some training and support. Change One Thing fitted the bill perfectly.

As part of our training we plotted routes of influence and who our allies are. There are many lessons to be learned from the training, but these are the ones that most struck a chord with us:

1. Joining forces with those who share the concerns gives you greater capacity and power, in this case: young families, disabled people, groups with concerns about city centre development.

2. Linking with disparate groups e.g. young people is a good way of attracting publicity and spreading the message further.

3. Plotting the routes of power and influence e.g. shops, Council departments with whom we don’t have a previous relationship (planning, marketing, city centre development), developers, ensures that we are targeting the right people. We adapt our message to suit different audiences. Continue reading “At your convenience”

Left behind

Photo: HelpAge International via Flickr

Scanning the press coverage of the current Disasters Emergencies Committee (DEC) appeal for East Africa uncovers a predictable range of approaches.

Most articles take the ‘Isn’t it awful? We must do something’ line. They show heart-wrenching pictures of emaciated children and dying cattle.

Others take a more analytical approach and seek to apportion blame on someone or something. Corrupt dictators, too many children, climate change, over-population, lack of aid, too much aid, unfair trade, conflict – the list goes on. I have a good deal of sympathy with some (though not all) of these arguments.

There is also plenty of coverage of how the situation is affecting children. I’ve even seen a plea for emergency aid for the animals affected. But I have yet to read any news article which mentions older people.

So why don’t older people don’t get a mention?

Firstly, I think there is an assumption by many (including some in the development community) that there aren’t any older people in developing countries. And if there are, they are lucky to have made it so far, they are living on borrowed time so we don’t need to bother about them. Children are the future. Older people are just past it.

So, before we go any further, some facts. Continue reading “Left behind”

Tales from the ward

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. Continue reading “Tales from the ward”

Lifetime neighbourhoods – a lifetime away?

Photo: Yaili via Flickr
Image from yaili via flickr
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.

Stop taking the p… ?

‘Closing public toilets will save money, reduce drug dealing and stop vandalism.’

Public toilet on a street
Photo: Paul Brady under Creative Commons licence

If you read the local paper where you live, you may well have come across a headline like this. With massive spending cuts looming, many local councils are planning the closure of their public toilets. The British Toilet Association is expecting at least 1000 public toilets to be closed in the next year. That’s on top of the 40 per cent decline we have seen over the last decade.

It is true that public toilets don’t come cheap – upwards of £25,000 a year for toilets with an attendant. And it is also true that some toilets – particularly unattended ones – can attract graffiti and anti-social behaviour.

Closure can seem like an easy win for councils – a way to save money and deal with undesirable behaviour at the same time. But hang on a minute…

For many people – older people in particular, but not exclusively – clean and accessible public toilets make the difference between being able to go out (for a shopping trip, to visit the library or the park) and being stuck at home. Continue reading “Stop taking the p… ?”