A view of London overlooking the Thames.

When will London join the Global Age Friendly Cities Network?

#agefriendlylondon? – when will the capital join the global Age Friendly Cities network? Manchester and Bristol are marching ahead and Southwark has taken the plunge – so what can be done to commit London to join the global Age Friendly Cities Network? New York is a member but when you search #agefriendlylondon you find yourself reading about London in Canada! London’s piecemeal approach is indicative of lack of leadership and collaboration on older people’s issues.

A new report #agefriendlylondon – building on the power of older people prepared for the Greater London Authority (GLA) considers what older change-makers, Londoners who are leading and mobilising others to make London more Age Friendly, feel could be improved. It concludes that if we are to develop better practice there is a need to share learning and support older people’s organisations to strategise and organise. Becoming an Age Friendly City would galvanise London’s older people-led and age-focused agencies to co-ordinate, exchange good practice and come up with new solutions at borough, city and international level.

The World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Framework promotes a comprehensive approach to active and healthy ageing, placing people in later life at the heart of decision-making, and working across sectors to bring a wide range of local actors together.

Older people having a table discussion.
The WHO’s Age Friendly Framework wants older people themselves to be at the heart of decision making.

One of the exciting elements of the Age Friendly Framework is the emphasis on older people’s contribution and agency – their potential, motivation and power – to create better cities for themselves and future generations. The network promotes a citizen-based policy approach to ageing which goes beyond seeing older people as patients or consumers of health services to recognising older people as citizens and the need to change social structures and attitudes to ageing. This approach chimes with the Mayors focus on active citizenship but needs work to become a reality. As one research participant commented “There is still only one image of old – a Zimmer frame, invisible and unimportant.”

One of the questions investigated in the research was “If you had three wishes to make London a better place to grow old what would they be?” The most frequent answer was for ‘respect and understanding’. “Respect – older people have a lot of experience, but feel that others think older people are past it, a nuisance.”

Directly quoting older change-makers and packed full of ideas drawn from their experience as leaders the report identifies 8 insights and opportunities for change. Innovations that can harness the skills and capacity of older citizens and challenge us to re-think how we use existing infrastructure. Suggestions include building on the Freedom pass which makes London a great place to grow old, an older people’s leadership academy, age aware volunteering and equipping older Londoners to negotiate with planners.

Principles of respect, social and civic participation are vital to drive age inclusive practice, alongside the provision of services to meet core needs. There is a clear demand for London to become more age friendly and to nurture intergenerational understanding. The report found that older Londoners are not resigned to being overlooked by society but are determined to be heard.

Download #agefriendlylondon – building on the power of older people.

Jane Scobie

Jane Scobie is a 2017 Clore Social Fellow who has been funded by the Tudor Trust and John Ellerman Foundation to bring creativity and new thinking into the older people’s sector.

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2 thoughts on “When will London join the Global Age Friendly Cities Network?

  1. This is a welcome and unusual report and at Kilburn Older Voices Exchange we’re pleased to have made a contribution to it. What should now be concerning people is the best way to take it forward. London has had an unhappy history through which associations of older people find themselves caught up in over-stretched committee structures and forums exerting little influence and bogged down with tiresome procedures. Until a dozen or so London boroughs throw their weight behind the age-friendly city idea the GLA will struggle to make any progress on its own. What they should concentrate on is Jane’s excellent suggestion (page 5) for a London older people’s ‘leadership academy’ – the non-elitist activist-supporting version, that is – and perhaps steer clear of the ‘older people’s board’ for now.

  2. Overall what comes over is the ethos of older people being pro-active and in control of their lives and their contribution to their communities. Treating older people as clients and recipients of care is detrimental to older people’s health and well being and diminishes their feeling of self worth and is a loss for their communities. Older people are experts in being older and their views should be invited at the planning stage rather than what feels like an afterthought and tick box exercise once decisions have already been formed.

    Whilst this is a study across the London boroughs it is also relevant to a range of large towns and cities and elsewhere in England. I will certainly be forwarding the report to colleagues

    On reading information about other services – Advocacy in Barnet provides a range of independent advocacy for and with older people: AgeUK in Barnet provides befriending and other services
    Advocacy for Older people in Greenwich provides independent advocacy for older people in Greenwich.

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