Age-friendly Communities: shaping places to support healthy and active ageing
AUTHOR: ANGE JONES, AGE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES MANAGER AT THE CENTRE FOR AGEING BETTER
An Age-friendly Community is a place where people of all ages are able to live healthy and active later lives. It involves local groups, councils, businesses and residents all working together to identify and make changes in both the physical and social environments. This could be anything from transport and outdoor spaces to volunteering and employment or leisure and community services.
With a framework and global network developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities has a strong and growing membership – currently 40 members, including several rural areas and the town councils of Melksham and Banbury. In places like the Isle of Wight, town and parish councils are pushing forward the age-friendly agenda; all of them recognising the opportunity of our longer lives and need to respond to the shifting demographic, which will see one in four people aged over 65 in less than 20 years. In many rural areas, the shift has already happened.
The role parish and town councils can play
The Isle of Wight was the UK network’s first rural community to join the WHO, in 2016.
Age-Friendly Island, as the Isle of Wight’s programme is called, has an active steering group of 29 local organisations including emergency services, local groups and businesses, which aims to improve the lives of local people over the age of 50.
As part of this, local charity Community Action Isle of Wight (CAIW) supports town and parish councils to assess their immediate areas and make improvements, using the WHO Age-friendly Cities Guide.
As a result, improved footpaths, new bench seats and more social events have been established across the Isle of Wight. Residents in the Niton and Whitwell parish now have the opportunity to take part in regular minibus trips, including shopping and café trips. According to Vickie Ford, Niton and Whitwell Councillor, attendance has grown from four parishioners on their first trip to now requiring a 27-seat minibus to accommodate participants.
CAIW’s work has also resulted in the establishment of a dedicated community connector role, which the Isle of Wight has called an Age-Friendly Champion. This role is taken on by an interesting local councillor. Town and parish councillors volunteer as community leaders to support changes that they are passionate about.
Age-Friendly Champions in the Isle of Wight have supported the completion of a number of projects including the Totland and Freshwater parishes’ outdoor gym equipment, the age-friendly walks set up in the Nettlestone and Seaview parishes, and digital inclusion support offered to older people in Seaview.
So far, 22 town and parish councillors have become Age-friendly Champions, leading the way on changes and coming together quarterly to share best practice. Kevin Berry, Age-Friendly Champion for Nettlestone and Seaview, says that his parish has the highest number of people aged over 90 who are single in the country, and the challenge for him is helping people who have lost a partner to feel supported to be able to come out into the community.
For residents of the Isle of Wight, efforts by town and parish councils to create age-friendly communities have had tangible results.