Age Platform meeting on age friendly environments

AGE Europe 250

Chris Walsh, Wise Age Chief Exec, went to a meeting on Best Practice on Age Friendly Cities / environments last week in Brussels. This is an important element in improving the age friendliness of our local boroughs as well as London wide and it is crucial that older people themselves are involved in carrying this out, as well as to get sufficient funding to allow this to happen. Here is his report of the findings which he found quite inspirational and along with the example of Manchester could serve as a basis for future activities in London and across the UK.


Report on Age Platform Europe meeting on Age Friendly Environments

First was a Report about Mobility Scouts Project – By Netherlands rep Laura Christ.

It was funded by Erasmus Plus and is a best practice development network around the theme of encouraging an Active life for the 80+, with the involvement of 5 countries Austria, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, and the Netherlands. It is an approach which can be rolled out across other EU countries , including the UK.

Its main focus was valorising potential, knowledge and skills of the over 80s. It is also an example of how it is possible to Engage older people in creating age friendly environments.
It is interesting that while many older people see themselves rightly as offering valuable contributions and active engagement with wider society and the economy even they tend to consider those even older than them as less able to do so. This project shows that whatever age you are you have something to contribute and in doing so extends active and healthier ageing
The first aspect involved training older people in facilitating the project- and also involved the meeting of younger people and local community with those in the nursing home and the surrounding independent living houses . This pilot approach involving all 3 generation still continues after the formal end of the project as older people became more active individually and as a group plus the project set up a youth club which has ongoing activities run by and for the youth themselves.

In Italy the project was called ‘E noi?’ – what about us – meetings took place where older people said and they should be acknowledged and developed new perspectives around ageing, tools and older people becoming agents of change.

Lithuania’s programme was based on a training programme for professionals, and volunteers to facilitate and support older people, where older people carry out the projects following training based on their ideas and wishes in community.

The Austria ‘Samenkracht’ or Joint Strength programme was a dialogue including mutual advice and creative problem solving as a collaboration between professionals and residents in a community building.

The common denominator was they are all Bottom Up Approach based. The first meetings in the Netherlands were hosted by the organiser in Laura in her house - with adverts put in local paper - and started with fortnightly meetings of older 80+ local people with coffee and cookies - That developed into conversations to translate into practical action using the WHO Age Friendly audit topics which then formed the basis for the participants into what is important to be covered in the local town Age Friendly audits – the leaflet to promote this was entitled Who Owns the City.

Most important benefit for older participants was social contacts / social relationships – meet others / neighbours - this is commonly stated in survey as the MOST important indicator for happiness and wellbeing.

The reason the project was titled Mobility Scouts was it represents pathfinding and movement.

The Training programme for Mobility Scouts was to help train members to assess, develop , plan and monitor implementation – a process of co-design between the project co-ordinators, research professional and the older participant members. The actual audit started with the built environment by taking photos of your environment both positive and negative.
As part of the alternative living design the project Architect wanted local terraced housing – made up largely of social housing – to include one house with a tenant living up stairs while the downstairs living space being open as a community space on the ground floor , to change the use of what is already there making communal space easy to enter and enjoy.
In the ensuing discussion it was noted that while BIGGER CITIES are starting the process of becoming age friendly ( even if currently many are not actively engaging with older people as active participants in the process – which is a recommendation of the WHO ) while smaller cities and towns are often unaware of concept of Age Friendly environments
As an example of different approaches to environmental auditing one person followed his cat to get to know the neighbours whose land crossed the cat’s path.
In terms of actively working with the council they started gaining the support and engagement of one sympathetic councillor and now at the local level this approach is now supported by three political parties.

The Age friendly physical environment / street audit process.

After recruitment of older members interactive training is started, not just on how to carry out the and use the WHO audit tool and process, including the questions to consider and what is to be looked at – but commencing with training on raising awareness and images of ageing . What are your images of ageing – both older and younger – It transpires that many people (regardless of their age) say older people are in need of care –anyone who is older than them, so 60- 70s talk about 80s, active 80s talk about support for inactive or those even older. This discussion around general issues of ageing then results in further discussions – eg around an alternative vision on your environment from perspective of older people. This raising of consciousness and the development of a real life picture of life for older people in your community and an alternative vision of the future can then play a positive role in elections.
The Training process then moves onto a list of problems and opportunities linked to the audit initial findings. The project designed a poster with existing good practice exemplified – the idea being to promote and encourage good practice where you are drawing on small examples from nearby plus good practice from similar endevours
There now needs to be a consolidation of what are the proper training tools and processes that can be agreed by professionals involved in both training people to use the WHO model and also how best to interest, involve, empower and educate participants- older people themselves throughout the process including public discussions, report writing and presentation and then campaigning with the media and public and decision makers and lobbying for the implementation of proposals
So these elements need to include

a) Understanding the issues involved – and linking the wider environment an issues to one self and one’s own situation
b) Discussing engagement – how to involve older people – how to ensure that all types of older people are involved, from different localities, wealthy and poor, different types of tenure, women and men, different ethnicities and cultures, identities and beliefs, different generations
c) If and when need experts in carrying out the audits and making specific recommendations - like urban planning and architects –then you have to hire experts, nut they can be volunteers and they can also be retired or semi-retired experts.
d) Experts also need to be questioned, especially those responsible for the current situation – such as the architects who do not include age friendly designs in their plans ( eg accessible toilets, benches and ergonomics) so that training is also aimed at current and future professionals

The final key point that was raised is the positive benefit on older mental and even physical health of those participating, at what level of engagement, by being actively engaged and empowered by this process. Involvement in Age Friendly environment audits and action plans help to break social isolation and loneliness both for those involved and at the end for the future beneficiaries

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