26 Feb 2020
Gemma Black, the city’s Age-friendly lead, reflects on her experiences and the lessons she’s learned about creating a city that enables everyone to live well.
In December 2018, Liverpool City Council was invited by the Centre for Ageing Better to host the 2019 UK Network of Age-friendly Communities conference.
It was only in January 2019, when I took on the Age-friendly lead role, did I realise the task ahead. Being an age-friendly community means fostering healthy and active ageing, making it possible for people to continue to stay in their homes and enabling them to participate in the activities that they value and contribute to their communities for as long as possible.
It’s a big task. The conference brought a spotlight that forced me, as well as the wider city, to take a fresh look at ourselves; both our achievements and potential areas for development.
Huge amounts of progress have been made in recent years, largely down to the collective view that these were the right things to do for Liverpool.
Ours is a city that’s built on fairness – steps taken to make things more age-friendly and inclusive definitely make it more fair. Being able to put these developments within the context of our Age Friendly City status with the World Health Organisation was not easy for me to do, but our age-friendly story is now changing and gaining even more momentum.
Attendees of the conference gave the briefest of acknowledgements that progressing age-friendly is not always easy, but focus quickly turned to how to overcome any challenges. We shared ideas, challenges, opportunities and examples of achievements, including Chester’s bus interchange, development of lifetime homes, and Merseytravel’s fully accessible rolling stock which is due next year. All of these were achieved by challenging the statement ‘no, that’s not possible’.
I prepared the walking audit session, designing four differing routes to assess Liverpool city centre from an age-friendly perspective.
I quickly learnt how much I take my mobility for granted when I realised the distance between the different landmarks that I wanted to include, and that I needed to halve the length of most routes. I learnt a lot about the history of the city in the process, and with the help of some experts in the field, was surprised at just how many potential hazards can exist in one short street, even in an area many might ordinarily consider to be accessible. I also led one of these walking routes, covering an area with an open consultation for future redevelopment, feeding in to the consultation the assessments and comments obtained during this walk.
My personal highlight of the conference was the Building Momentum for Age-friendly Communities Session, and hearing Paul McGarry’s 10 Top Tips – my notes still sit on my desk in front of me.
I’ve stopped worrying about whether I’m creative enough and able to revolutionise the city and started focusing on what’s already worked elsewhere that might also suit Liverpool, trying to do one thing well instead of rushing to do five things badly. I’m building new relationships with the third sector, seeking opportunities to expand inter-generational working and support, working with those who are keen and passionate, hoping the rest will get swept along in the momentum. I’ve joined steering groups, reviewing gaps in service provision, linking people together and creating other opportunities. I am also monitoring the pilot Royal Mail welfare check service.
How we seek to make progress as an age-friendly city will be led by the views of residents.
Age-friendly Liverpool has relaunched with new governance arrangements as a result of the conference, and all the pre-meetings were full of tips and hints. Since January, I’ve been working closely with elected members, as Liverpool is lucky to have a Cabinet Member for Inclusive and Accessible City and two Mayoral Leads for Older People, all of whom have been very strong supporters of Age-friendly Liverpool. Purdah prevents me saying any more on that at the moment!
The local elections have slowed progress temporarily, thanks to Purdah. But I eagerly await the announcement of who the Mayoral Leads will be to continue the Age-friendly journey.
The first topic on the agenda is to discuss how as a city we should prioritise the rather large task in hand. This isn’t a decision for me as Age-friendly lead, but a group decision after the membership of the stakeholder network has consulted with their members as to their views. How we seek to make progress as an age-friendly city will be led by the views of residents.
Recently, we’ve had significant change within the council, with new Directors and a new Chief Executive, in addition to a metro Mayor. I am hopeful that with the reinvigorated commitment to our Age Friendly City status, it means that we can achieve even more.