What we learnt at our Age-friendly Councillors’ Roundtable
Ageing Better brought together dozens of age-friendly councillors from around the country to share experiences and lessons learned.
Our Age-friendly Communities Network Manager, Charlotte Lewis, explains what common ground was found among different regional approaches and how they differed in working towards similar goals.
More than 40 councillors from across the UK recently came together in a roundtable to discuss how their localities are working towards becoming better places to grow old for their residents, specifically through adopting the age-friendly communities approach and what the role of councillors is in supporting this work.
As part of this roundtable we held a panel session where we were grateful to be joined by Cllr Sue Cooley from Manchester City Council, Cllr Paul Cummins from Sefton Council, Cllr William Gray from East Lindsey District Council and Cllr Ruth Dombey from Sutton Council. They shared what they learnt through their roles championing the age-friendly approach in their communities.
Here is some of what we heard:
Councillors have a key role to play in ensuring the voice of older people is heard in local decision-making
Councillors act as champions in their community, hearing and representing the voice of residents in local decision-making. As such they have a key role to play in ensuring that a diverse range of older people’s voices are heard as part of this. Age-friendly Communities across the country have political structures that embed the voice of older people. For example, in Sefton they have Sefton's Partnership for Older Citizens, where each borough's Older Peoples’ Forum elects two representatives to sit on the partnership board, who then consult on new policies and services around topics as diverse as health and social care, transport and housing.
However, innovative approaches are also needed to ensure a diverse range of older voices are heard. To do this in Sutton they have partnered with the local Age UK who have designed a new engagement event format, moving away from traditional forums and surveys, to support the participation of a wider range of older people. Whereas in East Lindsey they have taken a targeted approach to engaging specific groups in their community who had a unique experience of ageing and who are often under-represented in their rural area, such as those who identify as LGBT+ and those ageing without children.
Ultimately all the work to make communities more age-friendly is underpinned by a need to change negative or stereotyped perceptions of older people.
Age-friendly champions are needed at all levels across the community
In playing their role to support their community to become age-friendly, some councils have found it useful to have a specific councillor act as "Older People's Champion" who can help ensure ageing stays on the political agenda. However, it's also key to have champions at all levels, in all places, across the community. For example, in Manchester this means champions as diverse as neighbourhood co-ordinators, or leisure provider and library staff amongst others.
Age-friendly needs to be embedded into local strategies
Although the role of individual champions, whether councillors or community members, is key, the age-friendly communities approach also needs to embedded within local strategies to “institutionalise” this way of work. In Sutton age-friendly is a priority commitment in the council's boroughwide Corporate Plan, as a result of getting age-friendly in the administration's manifesto. Whereas in Sefton, the council has created a specific Older People's Strategy which feeds into, and is informed by, other local strategies.
The World Health Organisation approach provides an important framework
All of the councillors who shared as part of the panel highlighted the value of using the WHO Age-friendly Communities framework and joining the global and UK Network's for Age-friendly Communities to give the work structure and status. In East Lindsey getting age-friendly status even helped to enable local partners to draw in funding to deliver work for the benefit of older people.
We need to see older people as "valuable" not "vulnerable"
Ultimately all the work to make communities more age-friendly is underpinned by a need to change negative or stereotyped perceptions of older people. In Manchester their work has flipped the conversation around ageing from "how do we ‘solve’ our ageing population with social care interventions", to "how do we keep people well and living independently.” Taking this asset-based approach to the opportunities provided by an ageing population resonated with councillors in the room.
In our roundtable discussions participants shared how much they valued coming together to learn from one another as councillors working to make their communities more age-friendly.
If you would like to continue the conversation with others reach out to your local age-friendly community. Or contact us to learn more about the WHO Age-friendly Communities approach. Discuss joining the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities where you can access bursaries to visit other network member’s communities.