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”

Achieving Pride of Place

This post originally appeared on the ILC-UK blog.

Many older people have told us that they want to feel a sense of pride in their local area. While there are many things they love about their area, they also know what needs to be fixed. Physical barriers such as a lack of public transport, uneven pavements or poor access to public toilets are stopping people in later life from getting out and about. An age-friendly neighbourhood may be the key factor that enables someone to go on living in their home. But to date there has been a failure to take this vision of a better/age-friendly/lifetime neighbourhood, from strategy to the streets. Will a new focus on community empowerment turn this around.

The localism agenda has certainly reinforced the importance of communities taking responsibility for the future of their local neighbourhoods and service provision. For instance the community rights in the localism bill present an opportunity to set neighbourhood plans, to own community assets and hold local referendums. All represent powers that with the right ambition could help communities create their own age-friendly neighbourhoods. Yet this localist shift has high expectations for what a community can deliver. In a recent ILC report it was suggested that the success of the localism bill depended on three features existing in the local community: i) equitable access to cross-generational social networks; ii) interpersonal, intergenerational and political interest and trust; iii) substantial levels of community engagement. It seems that while many communities will thrive on this new localist approach, this isn’t a done deal.

This isn’t to say that localism cannot work, but the limitations need to be taken into account. Localism should also recognise that communities and local authorities can work together, providing mutual support and driving change. Age UK believes that, in addition to provisions the government sets in the Localism Bill, local councillors in partnership with local older residents are in a unique position to make change in their neighbourhood happen. Councillors are in a position to bring together an understanding of the specific needs of older residents in their ward together with a working knowledge of the decision making process of the council and local partners. Continue reading “Achieving Pride of Place”

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.

Shutting up shop

There was a time when we would take popping to the local shops for granted. We wouldn’t need to make a journey into a major town to get basic shops and services – they would be a few minutes walk away. Increasingly we’re finding that the corner shops and local bank branches are shutting up shop. This is not new, but the last few years have hit local retailers hard and 1 shop in 7 is now vacant on England’s high streets.

Yesterday, Living Streets launched their Neighbourhood Heroes campaign to let the government know how much we care about our local shops. They believe the government can change the planning system to protect our neighbourhoods by closing a loophole in the system. For instance, banks can change to a betting shop without planning permission – 81% think that communities should have a say when the use of a building is changed.

More than a quarter of adults (28%) feel isolated, or have a friend or loved one who feels isolated, because of a lack of access to essential shops and services within walking distance. These familiar stories show the realities of losing a neighbourhood with a bustling community life:

Our shop is the hub of the area: it displays local news and events and customers even get free samosas at Christmas as a thank you. There is no other shop nearby and if it closed many people, particularly those who are not so mobile, would feel much more isolated.” Nigel, Cardiff

When I lived in an area which had a baker, corner shop and polling station within a couple of minutes’ walk, I would walk there, and talk to and acknowledge people as I went. Now I just tend to do shopping on my way from work. I go behind my front door and only go out again if I really have to.” Viv, Worcestershire

If you want to do more to make sure your neighbourhood doesn’t lose local shops and services, you could join Age UK’s Change One Thing campaign. Whether it is access to shops or improving pavements, we’re supporting local groups to change the practical things that can make the difference between being stuck at home and being able to get out and about in the local area.

Future of cities: you’re in control

When we think about the future of our cities we often imagine a dystopian, dysfunctional Bladerunner scene. With this in mind it’s not surprising that many plan for the idyll of escaping to the countryside. But shouldn’t our cities be as relevant and pleasurable to older people, as they are to the young professionals drawn there? This morning at the Future of Cities debate, speakers challenged the audience to be more optimistic: cities can change for the better if they put people in charge.

Echoing the government’s proposals for decentralisation and a Big Society, Doug Saunders (author of Arrival Cities) set out his vision for regenerating cities based on autonomous, self-governing neighbourhoods. Based on his research into immigrant neighbourhoods in cities around the world, he believes that, rather than regulation and grand plans for our cities, the people that live there should be freed to create their own social and economic paths.

Put simply, it’s the people and their networks, rather than big business and big government, that should shape cities. If you want to open a shop in your front room you can, you shouldn’t have to battle the planning and trading regulations to do so. The messages seem to point in the same direction – if you want your community, city even, to change then it’s over to you.

At the moment older people are less likely than younger people to feel they can influence local and national decision-making. But there are already ways you can take control. Our new Change One Thing campaign for instance can help you make your neighbourhood better. Take a look, we’re going to be supporting local groups of people in later life to campaign to make their neighbourhoods better.

But there was still a word of caution. An audience member at the debate reminded us that one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. The question still remains: can we all have what we want?

Changing one thing in Rochdale

It takes just 2 hours to get to Manchester from London and only another 20 minutes to get to Rochdale by train. But when we arrive at the small cul-de-sac of bungalows, it feels a long way from Westminster and the Comprehensive Spending Review. But it is in places like this that the impact will be felt.

Welcome to RochdaleMy colleague and I are in Rochdale to meet with a group of older people. The driving force behind the group – I’ll call him Mr Jones – contacted Age UK because he was concerned about the state of the little cul-de-sac where he and his neighbours live.

I’m hoping that the group will take up our new Change One Thing campaign. We’re going to be supporting local groups of people in later life to campaign to make their neighbourhoods better.

We know from a wealth of research that the things older people say they need in their areas are often very practical – public transport to get around, benches and seats, accessible public toilets, and so on. We want to help groups identify the one thing which would make the most difference and run a local campaign to change it. (Hence the name!)

We’ve arranged to meet at the house of Mr Jones’ next-door-neighbour. While she makes us a cup of tea, Mr Jones pops across the cul-de-sac to gather the others. In the end we have a group of four.

We start to explore the problems that they face. Graffiti, litter and poor service from council and housing association contractors are all mentioned.

Two themes emerge from what they say. One is the degree to which they depend on ‘the powers that be’ (mostly the council and the housing association) for things like household repairs and maintenance, and the constant battle they feel they are waging to be heard by those powers.

The other is the support they give each other, and the sense of community they obviously have. I’m interested to see what the Big Society might look like here.

After quite some discussion, and with our encouragement, they settle on one issue to tackle: the poor state of the pavements in the cul-de-sac. Then we go on to think about who could deliver this, and how they can go about organising a campaign to persuade them.

If they can organise themselves, and stay focused, I think they have a reasonable chance of success. After all, in many ways, it’s a no brainer – the cost of repairing a few pavements is trivial compared to the cost of treating a hip fracture, or of providing home care to someone who is unable to get out and about after a fall.

But with cuts to council budgets inevitable, I have a nasty feeling that pavement repairs is exactly the kind of thing which may just not happen in the future. Let’s hope that councils will take the challenge of seeing the big picture.