16 Mar 2020
John Gray, PhD Research Candidate at Lincoln University and founder of Beyond 60, writes about the need for greater coordination of local government layers in creating age-friendly rural communities.
The Centre for Ageing Better’s recent event ‘How can local leadership deliver better later lives for us all?' made me, as a 72-year old reflecting on the implications of research I’d done in the village I live in, eager to hear the discussions and find out what the speakers had to say about rural population ageing.
Unfortunately, there was no way public transport options could get me the 80 miles to Manchester in time for the 9am start, so I sat in on the event’s YouTube live stream instead. Knowing I’d be unable to attend, I had emailed a question to the Centre for Ageing Better before the event:
“In rural Newark & Sherwood’s 87 parishes the 60+ population is usually 30% or more of total population and, in a substantial minority, is much higher – as high as 45% in a few cases. Should we expect our Parish Council, District Council or County Council to take a lead in making our villages “age-friendly”, or should we expect to fend for ourselves individually?”
I was glad that the Chair for the event posed my question to the panel, but disappointed that the responses didn’t pick up on the implications of the county, district and parish layers (across Nottinghamshire) that I had intended.
We’re all well aware of the pressure on resources in local government, but I believe that problems are exacerbated by the layering and the concomitant risks of failing to join up the various organisational agendas that affect older people and their wellbeing.
Remote from the political centres of gravity, rural areas feel the disconnect.
In their 2017 ‘Health and wellbeing in rural areas’ report, Local Government Association and Public Health England said that “District, town and parish councils are key players” in developing community centred approaches to rural ageing issues, but unfortunately the speakers in Manchester did not address this.
It’s disconcerting too that the recent ‘Marmot Review 10 Years On’ makes scarcely any reference to rurality, and none in the context of its frequent references to social isolation. Yet that social isolation is a real risk for older people ageing-in-place, perhaps alone after a bereavement, often unable to drive and without adequate public transport, or other local services, as documented in Rural Housing for an Ageing Population: Preserving Independence and graphically reinforced in Government Office for Science’s Future of An Ageing Population.
At the Centre for Ageing Better event, speakers referenced housing, transport and isolation as key themes. This was welcome reinforcement of the 3Bs “Buses, Bungalows & Buddies” slogan I use in presentations to parish councils, aimed at encouraging age-friendly awareness and action.
Realistically, I don’t expect any of our village’s local government layers to provide the coordinated leadership needed. Building age-friendliness in most places will probably depend on individuals spotting what ticks the boxes politicians and organisations need ticking and being ready to nudge their actions in the direction of locally identified age-friendly benefits. Organisations like the Centre for Ageing Better can help communities to do this by creating off-the-shelf templates, checklists and support documents to support grassroots action aimed at the 3B priorities: mobility, housing and social networks.
If you’re interested in learning more about John's work on age-friendly communities, you can contact John via the Beyond 60 website.