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Age friendly communities: Lessons from Glover Park

Posted on July 27, 2015

During my recent visit to Washington DC, I had the pleasure of meeting Holly, Edna and Marion. Together, these three sparky seniors run one of DCs growing networks of Senior Villages.  Far from the retirement village I imagined, these three older women have built their Senior Village right within Glover Park - where they have collectively lived for 150 years – helping make their community a better place to grow older.

What Holly, Edna and Marion are doing is not so different, by the sound of it, from what they have been doing all their lives – building community to support each other through the life stages.  They reminded me of a cross between neighbourhood forums and local Age UK charities, spanning a range of support services from grocery shopping to befriending or something so simple yet vital, like changing a lightbulb.

So why did Senior Villages pique my interest? Before leaving for America, my last big piece of work at Age UK was delivering our General Election campaign calling on the next Parliament to help make the UK ‘A great place to grow older’. We set out our vision for later life and highlighted the gap between this and the reality of pensioner poverty, cold homes, negative attitudes, a lack of care and support for older people, today and tomorrow. There also needs to be a shift from protecting to enabling the rights of older people – valuing not just their economic contribution but their knowledge and value as citizens.

One of our priority calls related to Active Communities – where people could continue to work, rest and play in later life, able to live independently within their own homes for longer. We also suggested neighbourhood networks could help support people to connect with others, as well as access information, advice and support services.  

Being led by older people, for older people, Senior Villages provide a good model for this and, in Glover Park’s case, they and their services are there for anyone in need – regardless of age.  Marion also told me how she became involved, benefitting first as a recipient and later volunteering to help others. This is something which needs to be encouraged.

As the demography of the UK continues to age – the population over 75s is projected to double in the next 30 years, according to the ONS - neighbourhood networks could become an increasingly important ingredient for living well in later life.  

Just the other week I heard the Secretary of State for Health quote Age UK’s shocking statistic that a million older people haven’t spoken to another human being in a whole month, many citing their TV as their only form of company. So while our grandparents might have expected to live a few years beyond retirement, medical advances mean that most of us can expect to live for decades longer. The question is how will those extra years be spent?

When I grow older, I hope I continue to be lucky enough to live in a community which cares – one which still connects with my life, even if one day I cannot get out and about as I once could. I also hope my local council is committed to being age friendly – like the DC State Office and as the recently published LGA Task Force report Ageing: The Silver Lining recommends.

So could Senior Villages be the silver lining for the UK? One thing’s for sure, Holly, Edna and Marion are greatly contributing to their community and have inspired me to do yet more in my own.  Yet they also reminded me of a common problem – as in the UK, these networks tend to thrive where there is existing social and financial capability.

So the Senior Village model works well, but do tend to be concentrated in affluent white areas – which might be to do with racial segregation.  Unlike other ‘villages’ Glover Park does not charge membership fees – enabling more residents to benefit - and they take an intergenerational approach, which is important for these schemes to be sustainable and non discriminatory.

The challenge it seems, on both sides of the Atlantic, is how to share this kind of good practice and good fortune more widely, so that everyone – regardless of age,  ethnicity, income, abilities and diversity  - can hope to love later life in a great place to grow older.

 

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Emily Georghiou

Emily Georghiou

Advocate for diversity and older people

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