11 Feb 2020
Sandie Williams, Ageing Well Health Improvement Advisor at Cheshire West and Cheshire Council, and Viv Gee from Brightlife Older People's Alliance, write for us on what they learned from their visit to a leading Age-friendly Community.
As members of the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities, Age-friendly Cheshire West were lucky to visit the Isle of Wight using an Age-friendly Inquiry Visit bursary. This enabled us to travel to an Age-friendly Island event and see first-hand the amazing work being done there to make the Island a great place to grow old in. We enjoyed our visit and learnt a lot, not just from our hosts and the people we met with but from the conversations with partners and Islanders about the things that were most important to them.
Our first meeting was with businesswoman Fiona Grist about an ‘Olderpreneurs’ project delivered in partnership with the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce. The project is aimed at people over 50 who may be partially retired, looking for opportunities after redundancy, or thinking of starting a new business or becoming self-employed. Research shows that older adults are more likely to succeed than younger people as entrepreneurs.
The project highlighted the important role coaching and mentoring plays in encouraging people to believe in themselves and their capabilities. This meeting was particularly useful as we are currently looking at opportunities to work with our local Chamber of Commerce around entrepreneurship. We are also looking at how the Chamber of Commerce can encourage local businesses to develop age-friendly business practices and help spread the word that adopting an age-friendly approach is good for business and improves the customer experience for everyone.
After visiting Community Action Isle of Wight to meet Age-friendly Island Development Officers working with Town and Parish Councils, we went on to the ‘Are we ageing better on the Isle of Wight?’ event. We took part in a session delivered by Isle of Wight Ageing Better Programme Manager Megan Jones and Dr Naomi Harflett from the National Development Team for Inclusion. We heard from them about living alone on the Island and the many reasons people can become disconnected, isolated and lonely. People may have good networks but rarely be in contact or be too far from the mainland. A couple may retire to the island and know few people but be content in their own company, then through bereavement everything changes and the surviving partner finds themselves alone with few connections to others.
Transport is a challenge for both the Isle of Wight and Cheshire West, so we were interested to talk about this too.
The event also included café-style table sessions in which we discussed some really interesting themes, particularly around the issue of living alone. Many people live alone through choice, have good networks and are happy. Others however, are alone as a result of bereavement, divorce, separation, employment, mental health issues, employment, or because of children leaving home. We discussed how good neighbours, buddying arrangements, mentoring, activities, volunteering and local transport can enable people living alone to connect and develop friendships.
Volunteering was also discussed - the challenges of reaching people and recruiting volunteers, competition between organisations and how to make opportunities more attractive. We need to understand what motivates people from a volunteer perspective, be flexible about expectations and develop new pools of volunteers.
Transport is a challenge for both the Isle of Wight and Cheshire West, so we were interested to talk about this too. Rural transport issues, frequency of busses, distance to walk to bus stops, challenges of getting to hospital appointments and social activities, parking costs, giving up driving and the need for more creative joined-up solutions to transport were all raised. We heard from Islanders about the positive impact of the age-friendly training on the ferry and bus services and how travel and customer service is now much improved as a result.
Learning from our meeting with Emma Lincoln, Age-friendly Development Officer at Age UK Isle of Wight, and from the table discussions on transport, has been shared with our Senior Transport Manager. We are currently exploring how we might influence current practice through contracting and looking at funding opportunities to enable us to deliver age-friendly training to our transport providers. We would like to thank the Age-friendly Isle of Wight team for being great hosts and making our visit run so smoothly and special thanks to Wilma Jackson for being an excellent travel agent and tour guide! We will come back and visit!
Sandie Williams, Ageing Well Health Improvement Advisor, Cheshire West and Chester Council
Viv Gee, Chair, Brightlife Older People’s Alliance