As the debate intensifies in the London Mayoral elections, are the candidates committed to creating cities that are fit for our ageing population?
The World Health Organization is working towards an 'age friendly world'. One in which people of all ages actively participate in their community, it is easy for older people to stay connected, for people to stay healthy and active even at the oldest ages and appropriate support is available to those who need it. The Centre for Ageing Better supports these aims and so as well as working across England on specific topics, we want to work with communities to become age friendly.
The Mayor's Design Advisory Group recently launched Ageing London, which calls for the development of innovative new models of housing for older Londoners, the establishment of "lifetime high streets" to support older residents in starting new businesses and new intergenerational community spaces. Ageing Better has prioritised the issue of homes and neighbourhoods and will work with others to gather and apply evidence to enable more people to live in homes and neighbourhoods that are age friendly.
Last week, Age UK London launched 'Making London a Great Place to Grow Older', its manifesto for the mayoral candidates. If London truly committed to just one of these goals - to Make London an Age Friendly City - many of the other issues would have to be addressed. By engaging with people to help design the solutions and working with other organisations, including businesses and employers, local councils, and housing developers, the Greater London Authority and the next Mayor of London will be able to create a sustainable city which can harness the opportunities of an ageing society.
I recently met with the network of age friendly cities in Manchester and was impressed by the energy and commitment of those attending and the diversity of practical approaches being adopted. In Nottingham, local businesses are supporting the 'take a seat' initiative to provide older people with somewhere to stop and rest when they are out and about. In the Isle of Wight they are creating age friendly GP surgeries and providing tailored employment support for the over 50s. Political leadership was considered to be critical to ensure ageing was not simply seen as a health and wellbeing issue but central to the wider strategy of the local authority. The City of Manchester is already working towards becoming an age friendly city. More recently the Greater Manchester Combined Authority announced it will make this a priority for the whole of Greater Manchester supported by an Ageing Well Hub. Leeds City Council has set out to become the "best place to grow old" in its plan for 2015-20.
On a recent visit to Leeds, I visited one neighbourhood that despite being only 15 minutes walk for a fit person from the city centre is completely cut off with little reason for anyone to go in or out of the area. Older people who lived there, the community worker told me, had no reason to leave their homes. Apart from a takeaway, a tattoo parlour and pharmacist, most other shops and services have shut down. There are three boarded up pubs and a church with no resident clergy. There is no library and no post office. The only way to access cash is an ATM that charges £2 a withdrawal. But at the heart of the neighbourhood is a community centre, where a lunch club was in full swing when I visited, with happy faces and much laughter as they joined in Play Your Cards Right. A lifeline for those who attended. It seemed a million miles away from the new apartments and busy retail district.
It is vital that the future plans for our cities reflect the changing demographics and that the leaders of our cities commit to creating age-friendly places for us all to live in.