Are you sitting comfortably? Campaigning for a place to rest

What’s the problem?

For fifteen years, Ageing Better in Camden partners Kilburn Older Voices Exchange (KOVE) have been campaigning for improved street environments, for benches, improved crossings and more public toilets. They know that a lack community seating on top of health issues and poor mobility is a significant barrier for older people when thinking of venturing out. People wonder “Where will I stop to rest with my shopping?” “Where can I sit to have a breather or a chat?”

A lack of benches increases social isolation and loneliness. The provision of community seating helps bring a sense of wellbeing and community identity.

KOVE members on a bench-to-bench walk

KOVE members on a bench-to-bench walk

What did we do?

For many years KOVE have successfully campaigned for community seating, mapping the area and helping the council update their records of community seating, conducting surveys of local older people, and working with the local authority to get new benches.

According to a recent KOVE survey, a massive 95% of older people said that having seating near markets, outside shops and the train stations would help them get out.

KOVE have trained local older people to produce films about their local environment, including All Aboard!, which highlighted issues that made it more difficult for older people to use buses. The film was nominated for a Charity Film Award. The group have garnered much public support by working with local media to publicise what they’re doing.

KOVE also do regular bench-to-bench walks to local places of interest, with stops on benches along the way to enable people with mobility difficulties to take part.

What have we learnt?

Public seating can be a contentious issue and along the way KOVE have been met with resistance to new benches in the borough. Both local residents and some Council Officers have concerns about them becoming focal points for anti-social behaviour.

KOVE have not been sitting idly by. In these situations they work with safer neighbourhood police teams and Camden community safety teams to ensure that all voices are heard and objections resolved.

KOVE believes that these concerns can be met, and the positive side of benches more than offsets any negatives. Despite initial concerns from Officers, KOVE have secured a contract from Brent Council to consult older people on community seating and supply four benches on Kilburn High Road through Community Infrastructure Levy.

Moving forward KOVE are having to be innovative, as Council funding for benches becomes limited, looking at other ways of raising funds for future benches for the area.  KOVE is exploring using Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) in association with other community groups to secure new benches, as well as looking at opportunities for sponsorship of new benches and family/ KOVE dedication scheme to encourage people to fund a bench.

All KOVE achievements had been led by older people so it is not impossible to navigate the bureaucracy and barriers and form productive relationships with the council and other agencies. 

It helps to get the local press on board to highlight the issues to the wider public.

KOVE benches all have their own ‘stories’ to tell. Two have been stolen but eventually replaced!  One KOVE bench dedicated to murdered Kilburn café owner Huseyin Gulbudack was stolen. A lesson learnt here that expensive benches need to be installed and cemented in especially on busy urban high streets. The benches on Kilburn High Road continue to receive KOVE’s watchful eye!

Find out more about Ageing Better in Camden and KOVE.