Age-friendly? What does that mean?

By David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Officer

Congratulations this week to all involved in getting Torbay’s bid to become Age-friendly up and running.

Three principle organisations are behind the bid – Ageing Well Torbay, Torbay Council and the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, though many more will follow over the coming weeks and months.

It is a big step for all involved and will mean a change in the way debates are conducted, and decisions implemented as the views of people aged over 50-years-old are taken into account.

In future over 50’s, who will soon make up more than 50% of the population in the Bay, will have to be involved in discussions on a wide range of subjects ensuring Torbay becomes not just Age-friendly but a better place to live and work for young and old alike.

Already there are around 30 cities and places in the UK that either have or are working towards Age-friendly status, and a further 700 across the world already have accreditation.

But what does it mean to you and me (assuming you are over 50)? It will mean that we are no longer told what to think and told what is best for us,  instead we will be asked our opinions on a wide range of subjects and those opinions will have to be taken into account.

Traditionally service providers have decided what they believe is best for us and the results foisted upon us without consultation and without tapping into the wealth of knowledge and experience that rests with the over 50’s.

We know what we need as we get older – we know we need some changes to our houses to allow us to keep on living there – but why build houses that are only suitable for the young and able-bodied in the first place?

We know that as get older we want to continue to enjoy outdoor spaces and amenities, but it takes a little bit of sensible planning to ensure that they are accessible to all ages and all abilities.

We know we need a good transport system if we are to continue to get around, particularly as we consider surrendering our driving licences. We do not want isolating at the top (or indeed the bottom) of one of the many hills that are features of the bay.

We want to maintain our independence wherever possible, and that means we need to remain mobile and a mobile person is more likely to live their lives to the full and not become a burden to the state. It’s a win-win.

Transport, housing and outdoor spaces are just three of the areas that we will be concentrating on, there are five others – communication and information, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, community support and health and social participation.

Interestingly all of the above headings were highlighted as important during AWT organised seminars across the bay with over 50-year-olds back in 2017. The journey towards Age-friendly Status will allow us to ensure they are taken into account when our statutory bodies make their decisions.

Age is not a barrier to being involved in decision making, on the contrary, our own research at Ageing Well Torbay has shown that the over 50’s want to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

We need to put the over 50’s back in control of their destinies as much as possible – who better to decide on what is needed for the over 50’s than the over 50’s themselves?

Being at the core of decision making does not mean you have to political, on the contrary there are already plenty of political organisations out there and they have a voice, whether you agree with what they are saying or not.

However, we will need the politicians of all parties to get on board with the drive for Age-friendly status, and in the upcoming elections, we will be asking all of them to include a commitment to Age-friendly in their manifestos.

We are on the verge of something very exciting here in the bay – other places that have already achieved Age-friendly status have proved that the over 50’s can be mobilised and they can make a difference.

In Greater Manchester, which became the country’s first Age-friendly region in March 2017, Mayor, Andy Burnham ensures the over 50’s are involved in decision making at the highest level.

In his own words: “We’re celebrating the fact that people are living longer. We’re pioneering a new positive vision of ageing, demonstrating the valuable contribution older people make to the city region and helping everyone live a fuller later life.”

Here in Torbay, we have the same ambition, and the outcome is a simple one – to make Torbay a great place to grow older.

There is a lot of hard work to be done, but Torbay’s selection to begin this journey is a fantastic accolade, and we need to ensure we all take the practical steps to make changes to make sure we’re living not just longer but happier and healthier.