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

Guest Blog: The Dublin Declaration – a large step in the right direction

As part of our Pride of Place campaign to promote better neighbourhoods for older people we invited Paul McGarry from Manchester City Council to write this guest blog about his experience of Age Friendly Cities.

I’ve just finished reading an article by well-known social gerontologist Prof Alan Walker who argues (and I’m paraphrasing here) that social policy, in connection with older people, has become dominated by an “individualisation of the social” at the expense of what are sometimes called ‘structural’ explanations of, and policy responses to, ageing societies.

It is a position I have some sympathy with.  Too often it seems that we – the age sector – downplay how society creates the social, economic and political circumstances in which older people create and live their lives.  The result can be the endless pursuit of ‘evidence-based’ short-term interventions, whilst feeling frustration at not being able to tackle the underlying causes of ill-health, poverty or social exclusion in older age.  And sometimes researchers appear content to describe the lives that older people live whilst falling short of setting out arguments for change.

That’s why I’m very enthusiastic about my time at the First International Conference on Age-Friendly Communities held in Dublin on 28th-30th September and which launched the ‘Dublin Declaration.  More of that later.

The conference, which was expertly organised by Anne Connolly and the Irish Ageing Well team, attracted 400 delegates from 42 countries and featured presentations from leading European ageing researchers such as Chris Phillipson, Tom Scharf, Jenny de Jong Gierveld and Sheila Peace as well as planners, designers and political figures from across the globe.  It was also an opportunity to hear the latest from innovative programmes grouped around the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly cities such as New York and Lyon as well as those from the emerging economies.

I shared a platform with Grace Chan who leads an inspirational project in Hong Kong, setting out Manchester’s vision and describing some of the work we’ve done since 2003.  A well-stocked information stall was well received by delegates and Councillor Sue Cooley, Manchester Older People’s Champion, signed the Dublin Declaration on Age Friendly Cities and Communities on behalf of Manchester.

The Declaration builds on the work done by the World Health Organisation’s age-friendly environments programme.  It is a tightly argued two page document which sets out nine propositions relating to ageing in the C21st and commits signees to short-term action and longer-term objectives.  You can find it here.

I am a member of a small group that is now charged with developing a roadmap for the next phase of this work.  In the UK a number of partners are focusing their work on this agenda through a working group of the Age Action Alliance as a step towards establishing a UK wide network of cities.

My view is that in these difficult days the Declaration and the international movement attached to it offer an excellent opportunity to tackle some of the tough structural challenges we face.   I would encourage all local authorities, other agencies and in particular public health teams to endorse the Declaration and join the movement to create places, which as we say in Manchester, are “great to grow old”.

Paul McGarry, Senior Strategy Manager, Valuing Older People, Public Health Manchester

Find out more about our 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?”

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.

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.