Last week Age UK London hosted a conference entitled “Tackling Loneliness Amongst Older Londoners”, as part of “The Way Ahead”, a project to strengthen London’s age sector, funded by the City Bridge Trust.
The conference was arranged to highlight the detrimental effects that loneliness has on our health and wellbeing, as well as offering an opportunity to promote projects that have helped to alleviate loneliness and social isolation amongst older people. It is vitally important to share such good practice and to learn from it – as our CEO Paul Goulden pointed out in his opening address, loneliness can be as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
We began by hearing from the Right Honourable Professor Paul Burstow who highlighted the new Transform Ageing initiative which will help shape future responses to loneliness, as well as noting that we must consider loneliness as a public health concern as well as a social issue. Professor Burstow also revealed that there are 90,000 people over 65 growing older without children and that we must keep this in mind when we discuss potential responses to loneliness.
The theme of the conference shifted somewhat when The Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, Matthew Ryder, QC took to the podium. Matthew Ryder started by explaining his role and the intersectional approach the Mayor’s office is now taking towards social integration before moving on to address ways to make London as age-friendly as possible.
It was at this moment that Matthew Ryder revealed that London has signed up to the World Health Organisation’s Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities as part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s aim for London to be recognised globally as an age-friendly city. Key actions the Mayor has already committed to include reducing barriers to decent jobs for older workers, reducing digital exclusion, providing more accessible and adaptable homes, and ensuring sports and arts and the transport system across the city are inclusive and responsive to the needs of older people.
Matthew Ryder expanded on this, stating:
“We’re very excited to be joining the WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities. The Mayor’s vision is for London to be a place where people of all ages can thrive. Older Londoners make an extremely valuable contribution to city life – as professionals, volunteers and carers. We want to encourage all Londoners to participate actively in community activities and to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their age. We look forward to working with other age-friendly cities and communities in the UK and across the world.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities (the Network) was established to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning between cities and communities worldwide. All members of the network display the desire and commitment to promote healthy and active ageing and a good quality of life for their older residents.
This move was welcomed by our CEO Paul Goulden, who commented:
“We’re so pleased that the Mayor has signed up to the WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities. This is a real step forward to make sure that older Londoners can enjoy everything that London has to offer. We look forward to working with the Mayor to help all of London to love later life.”
After a brief lunch, we heard from Professor Andrew Steptoe from the Department of Behavioural Science at University College London, who talked us through the negative impacts that loneliness can have on our mental and physical health – a notable theme throughout the conference. Next came Professor Jill Manthorpe, the Director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at Kings College London, who warned against overlooking isolation within care homes, pointing out that it is very easy to be “lonely in a crowd”.
To finish the event, we heard from: Dawn Stephenson, CEO of Age UK Hammersmith and Fulham; Graham Gardiner, CEO of Age UK Lambeth; and Tony Watts, Trustee of Enfield over 50s Forum all of whom explained the successes of several local live projects to combat loneliness.
Overall it was an incredibly informative day in which our audience had the opportunity to learn a number of different approaches to tackle loneliness in London. Such collaboration will be a key part of London’s transformation into a completely age-friendly city.