Sutton Council and Age UK Sutton are working together to make the London borough a more age-friendly place.
Work is under way to support older people to feel safer, more welcomed and increasingly connected to their local community with a stronger voice in the way decisions are made.
Three Pilot projects have been developed in collaboration with local older people - working with local businesses to make the high street more welcoming, encouraging take up of volunteering opportunities and improving feelings of safety at home.
The work is seen as a vital part of connecting older residents back in with community life as part of the recovery from the pandemic and reducing social isolation resulting from lockdowns and the shielding programme.
The WHO pledge
In January 2020 Sutton became the 40th member to join the UK network of Age Friendly Communities, part of a World Health Organisation initiative which has more than 1,000 members worldwide.
This network aims to ensure that older people are valued, supported, and recognised in communities, under eight evidence-based domains. Sutton Council and Age UK Sutton are working with a wide range of partners to become more age-friendly.
The joint commitment to become more Age Friendly, sits within a wider partnership framework known as the The Sutton Plan. This kick-started a series of listening events with older residents in the first half of 2020. This was carried out by Age UK Sutton, and funded by Sutton Council.
Initially face-to-face events were held, but events had to move to being held virtually due to the pandemic. More than 200 residents were involved and provided in-depth feedback.
Councillor Ruth Dombey, the Leader of Sutton Council, said: “What is really good about this approach is that it is about identifying practical steps that can be taken that will make a difference for older people.
“It is sometimes easy to just publish a strategy that then sits on the shelf and doesn’t always lead to tangible results. The pandemic has been very difficult for older people and we are determined to make Sutton a great place to live in later life.”
Age UK Sutton Chief Executive Nicola Upton said the listening exercise was designed to ensure it was properly representative of older people in Sutton: “We recognised straight-away that to make it meaningful we had to reach out to older people across our society.
“We worked with faith groups and BAME groups – we used our networks and members to make sure we got a really good distribution of people involved.”
A number of issues were raised from access to transport and feeling safe to being made to feel welcome when using retail and hospitality.
Ms Upton said: “What we found out was that older people were actually disappointed by their experience and the way they were treated. For example, when shopping for a phone they would say shop assistants make assumptions, directing them to big button phones and not even considering they may want the latest smart phone. It’s things like that that have a big influence in how older people feel, as well as the potential for businesses to make a sale.”
The three-pronged solution
The listening exercise has prompted a plan to pilot new ways of working that will create a more age-friendly environment. All of the work is being co-produced with local older people – a core principle of Age UK Sutton and Sutton Council’s approach to the programme.
The first step is to engage with local businesses to identify areas where they can make improvements to help older people feel more welcomed. A group of older people are to act as mystery shoppers and carry out reviews of the business and then develop suggestions for improvement.
The idea is to involve businesses from retail, leisure and hospitality. Eventually this could lead on to a local accreditation scheme being developed.
The second strand of work involves safety at home. Trained volunteers are going to work with older people to assess their home environment, looking at a range of risks and issues, including physical risk, psychological wellbeing, and connection to the community.
Ms Upton said: “We know lots of older people continue to feel worried about the virus. They have not been able to go back to their normal lives and have lost their confidence.”
As part of a third strand, Age UK Sutton and the council will be developing a campaign to encourage and support later life volunteering in the borough, including challenging stereotypes of the skills and interests of older people.
“We have a volunteer who worked in the Department for Work and Pensions for 30 years. He has great expertise and is a valued member of our team. Volunteering organisations can really benefit from some of the skills and experience of older people and for older people we know volunteering is a really valuable opportunity to keep people active and engaged,” Ms Upton said.
Nicola Upton, Chief Executive, Age UK Sutton: firstname.lastname@example.org
Communications Team, Sutton Council: email@example.com