What would it mean to live in an Age Friendly London?

by Gordon Deuchars, Age UK London

Along with Ageing Better in Camden, on 19 September we invited older people and stakeholders from Camden and across London to discuss what makes a city age friendly, and to focus in on one particular topic: streets and pavements. London as a whole and some London boroughs are working towards becoming Age Friendly, and we hoped to start finding out how older people would like that process to go. (You can read more here on London becoming age friendly).

Our participants on 19 September were a mixture of older people, representatives of local voluntary or community organisations, councillors and officers from several London boroughs. Becoming an Age Friendly City or Community involves developing a plan of action to change policies and services in order to make the local area more inclusive for older people. It is not something that happens overnight, and it is vital that older people themselves have a key voice in making their community age friendly.

According to the World Health Organisation “An age-friendly city encourages active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. In practical terms, an age-friendly city adapts its structures and services to be accessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities.” The WHO looks at age friendliness within eight domains including outdoor spaces and buildings, which we concentrated on for this discussion.

Our guest speakers on the 19th included Peter Lush from Kilburn Older Voices Exchange (KOVE) who focused in on the need for seating facilities in public places after a general look at outdoor space issues, and Patricia Edeam from Living Streets who looked at issues around pavements and streets. Councillor Alison Kelly, Camden Council’s Older People’s Champion, talked about steps Councils can take and encouraged participants to make specific pledges to support age friendly communities. We recorded the pledges that participants made.

They included some quite striking pledges from a public sector point of view, like:

  • Set up a London-wide partnership of Age-friendly boroughs

  • Work with older peoples’ groups to obtain views on our services proposals for street improvements

  • Buy more benches

Older people and voluntary sector representatives pledged actions like:

  • Report any issues around my local estate. Also speak to my local councillor. Take photographs of rubbish dumps

  • Campaigning for benches

  • I will voice my needs to my peers, to people in power, at meetings. It is always best to say it!

 Discussion sessions brought out a wide range of issues issues that the participants from their various perspectives thought were problematic for older people, and some proposed solutions.

Problems included:

·         Shortage of benches

·         Uneven pavements (particularly for people with disabilities)

·         Slippery pavements (seasonal – ice or wet leaves)

·         Lack of info re. planned roadworks

·         Difficulties with road-crossing time-allocation

·         Unclean or poorly maintained public toilets

·         Antisocial behaviours

·         Pedestrians not paying attention (on phones or listening to music)

·         Air pollution

Suggested responses included:

•             Provide intergenerational meeting places

•           Ensure sufficient public toilets with a better definition of ‘accessibility’

•           Improved seating (including ‘higher seating’)

•           Provide more dropped kerbs for wheelchair users crossing

In relation to streets and pavements, some of the problems were:

•             Rubbish on streets

•           Rubbish bins taking up the whole pavement

•           Street ‘embellishments’ (e.g. trees planted in pavements)

•           Poor drainage (blocked drains)    

•           Cobbled streets

•           Broken paving stones and uneven paving

•           Narrow pavements

Among the changes which people wanted to see:

•             Councils should employ staff to conduct ‘health checks’ on streets

•           Develop a culture of reporting repairs (not just on internet)

•           Quicker response to making repairs (hotlines to highways department?)

•           More enforcement of ‘idle parking’ regulations

•           Better street cleaning

•           Enforce against cycling on pavements

•           Enforce against parking on pavements

•           Better sign-posting around roadworks

•           Prosecution against fly-tipping/littering

•           Reduce street ‘clutter’ (e.g. café seating and advertising boards)

•           Street auditing

•           Increase crossing times at pedestrian crossings

This is just one discussion with one group of older people and stakeholders, about one of the “domains” contained in the WHO’s definition of age friendly cities! Shows that there is a lot to be thought about on the way to making a community age friendly.