Challenging ageism in Age-friendly Communities: Bristol’s Age Proud campaign
This case study looks at how Age-friendly Bristol challenged negative perceptions of older age – in a style fitting of the city’s vibrant culture.
One in three people experience age-based prejudice or discrimination. Ageist stereotypes of older people as frail, vulnerable and dependent are damaging to all of us. And the way people currently talk about ageing and older age is largely negative.
To change this conversation, we created a downloadable guide to talking about ageing and older age, 'Challenging ageism’. It sets out five key principles to support organisations in communicating about ageing and older age.
All across the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities, local areas are working to challenge the ways we talk about ageing and older age. This case study looks at how Age-friendly Bristol has addressed the guide’s first principle and encouraged its older population to feel Age Proud by shifting associations with frailty, vulnerability and dependency.
Bristol’s Age Proud campaign was created to challenge negative stereotypes, celebrate active older adults and create an environment for Bristol’s residents to feel good about ageing.
Bristol Ageing Better (BAB) have acknowledged that ageism is an ongoing challenge, for example, in local media. In a review conducted with the Age-Friendly Communication & Information Action Group, made up of older Bristolians, they found that local media platforms were lacking age-positive language and imagery, contrary to the city’s ambition to be a brilliant place to grow old. The Action Group were critical of articles that described those over 75 as the ‘Silent Generation’, repeated the term ‘elderly’, and used images that exaggerated frailty, vulnerability and dependence rather than showing more diverse experiences of later life.
Pride is an antidote to shame.
Early in 2020, BAB led a three-month awareness campaign to encourage people aged over 50 to feel Age Proud, amplifying the experiences and advice of seven inspirational people from across the city.
Together with a focus group of older people, BAB identified three themes of Age Proud: 'Contributing in later life', 'Celebrating later life' and 'Challenging perceptions of later life'. The team recruited Age Proud Ambassadors under each of these themes by approaching a diverse range of older adults.
The BAB team, which included a colleague with editing experience, developed a suite of materials to celebrate their new Age Proud Ambassadors. The campaign included photographs of the Ambassadors out and about in Bristol and a video narrated by one of the Ambassadors. They promoted the campaign across the city including hosting a launch event for over 70 attendees
Through the Age Proud Bristol campaign, there was increased visibility of older people making a positive difference in the city. During the three months in which the campaign was live, materials were promoted in the media, articles published online and in print, posters displayed across the city centre, and videos shown in a prominent public location.
Through existing networks, Age Proud posters were displayed at GP surgeries, community centres and the Bristol Old Vic theatre – helping to share the spirit of Age-friendly Bristol with key partners.
A budget for the campaign enabled the team to display Age Proud posters and materials in busier places with larger footfalls, including a trendy, gentrified Old Market St, a thriving bohemian shopping quarter. Printed elements of the campaign reach approximately 800,000 people through various local news outlets and newsletters. And the YouTube video had almost a thousand views.
The campaign had an immediate impact on older people through the launch event which built in exercises to encourage older people to take pride in their age. Postcards distributed on the day encouraged attendees to finish the sentence 'I am age proud because …’. Responses captured many varied reasons to be Age Proud including life satisfaction, more time for fun, and increased self-confidence.
Reflecting on the campaign, Age-friendly Bristol identified the below key learning points:
- Real stories are key to campaigns about ageing and older age
- Community leaders may be able to confidently share their experiences, and some of these people can be identified through your existing networks
- Celebrate a wide range of ambassadors and work to include commonplace experiences of active ageing, as well as extraordinary examples
- Make the most of opportunities to celebrate intergenerational relationships in your community, to challenge stereotypes about divisions between generations
Older people not only have a present, but they have a past and a future.
Bristol’s Age-friendly Strategy sets out further intentions to improve the portrayal of older people in marketing and local media. As part of their ambition to further promote unprejudiced and positive representations of ageing, Age-friendly Bristol are hoping to work with local media outlets to improve their style guides and produce a Bristol-specific version of the guide to talking about ageing and older people. They’ll also work to support older Bristolians to act as critical readers, and contacts to provide quotes, for future local articles and features.