By David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Lead
At the risk of blowing the Ageing Well trumpet too loudly – Torbay is very lucky to have this £6m lottery-funded project.
Well, he would say that wouldn’t he, I hear the dissenters say, after all, I am paid by Ageing Well and have been for more than ten months, and in those ten months my mind has been opened to a wealth of opportunities for the over 50’s.
I knew little about the project before I joined, but was vaguely aware of talk of an ageing population and the consequent challenges that was likely to bring for local councils and the NHSA in particular.
Massive financial challenges in what was then a time of austerity (though and this is not a political point I have not seen any marked loosening of the purse strings thus far – on the contrary, the narrative appears to remain cutbacks and rising costs.
But Ageing Well has been an opportunity for the over 50’s to look to themselves to ensure that they are a part of the solution and not part of the much-maligned problem. It continues to amaze me that people who would not be allowed to dismiss and deride such a large sector of the population if it were an ethnic minority or disabled, continue to target the ageing population?
It is time for the over 50’s to fight back – as I have written so many times before we have one of the highest numbers of them here in the bay, fast approaching 50% and whilst the picture is variable across the country there are already 11.9 million of over 65’s including 3.2million.
It doesn’t take a soothsayer (or a politician) to realise that our society is going to have change to accommodate those numbers, because they are only going to increase in both numeric and percentage terms. In broad terms, the number of over 65’s is expected to increase by a whopping 40% in just twenty years.
That means we have to get our housing stock – some of the oldest in Europe – in a fit state to be used by all age groups. As things stand 93% of our houses are not visitable to most people – that is to say with a level access to the entrance, a flush threshold, sufficiently wide doorways and circulation space and the all-important toilet at entrance level.
Nearly 38% of our homes in the UK date from before 1946 with 21% dating from before 1919, which while historic and sometimes aesthetically pleasing are in a worse state of repair than new homes and feature more hazards like cold, damp and fire risk.
We have to make sure that our communities are ready for those changes so that older people can be supported within their homes with good connections to services and social opportunities. Don’t be fooled ageing does not mean you stop socialising, on the contrary for many they do it more, only differently.
Health is clearly a key issue and is closely linked to prosperity during a lifespan. It is undeniable that poor people die younger than the wealthy but what is perhaps is the size of that difference – if you were lucky enough to have money and be born in Kensington and Chelsea, then you can expect to live to an average of 88-years-old. In Glasgow it it is only 81.
Once you reach the age of 65 it is too late to do anything about what has gone before, but you can still look forward, and you can still look to keep healthy, and across the bay, there are lots of exercise programmes tailored to fit the older body.
Our Community Builders have mapped a network of activities to ensure that there is something for everyone to get involved in and where there have been gaps, then they have filled them by starting club and organisations of their own.
Loneliness and isolation is a limiting factor, and it is common place in communities with ageing populations, but it is not exclusive to the older population, and it can strike in young and old alike, but here in the bay, unlike in large swathes of the country, Ageing Well is tackling it.
We haven’t got the answer to everything, but we have learned a lot in the four years that this programme has been running and lessons learned here – big and small – will eventually be rolled out across the country, not out of benevolence, but out of necessity.
An ageing population does bring its challenges, but the fact is, here in Torbay, we are already facing up to them, after all, ageing is inevitable, how we grow old is not.
You are not alone; there is a whole community of people in Brixham, Paignton and Torquay who are waiting to meet you and to welcome you in. To be ageing in Torbay is to be one of the luckier ones.