Getting the heart back into our high streets

In the same week that the “Portas Pilots” were announced to revitalise our local high streets, shoppers in Leeds were taken by surprise as more than 50 older people gathered in the Victoria Quarter of the city to dance to T-Rex ‘We Love to Boogie’.

A city for all ages

They were there taking part in a ‘flash dance’ – inspired by ‘flash-mob’ campaigns where a group of people suddenly start an unannounced coordinated action in a public place to get their message heard. It was organised by Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF) to raise awareness of their campaign to make Leeds ‘a city for all ages’.

Frustrated by the promotion of Leeds as a city for young people, with a heavy focus on nightlife and clubbing, they wanted to highlight the common needs of older and younger people. Things like better public transport, public toilets and seating that make it easier to get into and around the place. Making the city a destination for everyone; a lesson that all high streets should take on board. Continue reading “Getting the heart back into our high streets”

Mary Portas – Future of the high street

Mary Portas, the ‘Queen of Shops’ , has been asked by the government to do an independent review of the high street. This is Age UK’s response to the call for ideas  to ‘halt this decline in the high street and create town centres that we can all be proud of’.

Image: roberthunt1987 via Flickr

Older people’s spending reached an estimated £97 billion in 2008 (65 plus)‚ around 15% of the overall household expenditure, and is set to grow. Age UK believes the High Street is missing out on the spending power of older consumers because the design of town centres and shops do not take their needs into account.

Design age-friendly neighbourhoods so that older people can use the High Street.

Lack of public transport, or somewhere to sit down, or access to clean public toilets limits how far people are able to go. Poor-quality pavements or poor street lighting in an area can stop people feeling confident enough to go out at all.

Leeds Older People’s Forum told us  “The city centre is viewed as a young person’s playground, with acknowledgement from planners that more must be done to make it accessible to young families, yet there is little consideration beyond the realms of social care for the needs and wants of older people in the city.”

This is not a problem that can be fixed by focusing on the High Street alone. People need to be confident to travel between their homes and town centres.

Age UK is calling on councillors to support our Pride of Place campaign to help them improve neighbourhoods for people in later life. Councillors have a good idea of what is important in their ward and can bring the co-ordination and leadership to make improvements happen.

Age UK is inviting councillors to become a Pride of Place Advocate, which means they will:

  • Make time to listen to older people.
  • Make change happen to improve the neighbourhood.
  • Make an ongoing commitment to keep people involved.

Improve the retail environment to make it accessible to older people.

Businesses are unnecessarily excluding older people from their shops because of the way they provide the service.

Research by ILC for Age UK identified a number of recurring problems that older people experience when in shops, including:

  • A lack of rest areas and seating, making shopping tiring.
  • Poor store layout (particularly narrow aisles and poor shelf signposting) making shops difficult to navigate and goods hard to find.
  • Shelves at a height that are difficult to reach (high and low), a particular problem for those with limited mobility and dexterity.
  • A lack of adequate toilet facilities.
  • Deep trolleys which are difficult to get shopping out of (and scarcity of the shallow trolleys that are designed to mitigate this problem).

The barriers to feeling able to spend money in High Street shops are not only physical. For instance, participants in the ILC research said they were deterred from shops where the staff used technical jargon when asked about products.

Businesses should consider small changes such as easy-to-use trolleys and better store layouts. Combined with visible and willing support from shop staff this can go a long way towards opening up existing shop environments to older people.

The participants in the ILC research offered these suggestions to businesses:

  • Consult older people.
  • Put yourself in our shoes when going around your store.
  • Provide clean toilets and seating in your stores.
  • Publicise your support services.
  • Train your staff to provide for the needs of their older customers.
  • Reach out to isolated older people.