Learning from the Bristol Ageing Better programme
Last week saw the close of Bristol Ageing Better (BAB), a seven-year National Lottery funded programme that saw over £6 million invested in projects to improve social wellbeing among older people in Bristol.
We reached an estimated 30,000 older people, and the evaluation conducted by UWE and our team of Community Researchers (all volunteers aged 50+) showed direct improvements through reductions in isolation and loneliness. Projects like the small grants fund and group mental health and wellbeing services demonstrated the power of communities and voluntary organisations as conduits for friendships and social activities that transform people’s lives. None of this would have been possible without Bristol having a strong third sector that works collaboratively rather than in competition, and without the efforts of volunteers. Around 2,000 people gave their time for free to make the programme happen: over 63,000 volunteer hours. Many older people also volunteered to help shape the programme from the top, with our Programme Board including older people with lived experience as Bristol residents.
Changing the conversation on loneliness
The last few years have seen a dramatic shift in the way we talk about and understand loneliness. BAB began in 2015, as one of 14 areas across England successful in securing funding from the National Lottery Community Fund’s Fulfilling Lives: Ageing Better programme. This investment came after decades of mounting evidence about the impact of loneliness and social isolation on people’s mental and physical health, and how many of common events in later life combine with problems in the built environment to create a gap between the kinds of relationships and social connections we want and those we have.
The legacy of the BAB programme has been to create lasting changes in many communities, leaving the city with a large body of evidence on the initiatives that improve social wellbeing locally. We’re also thrilled that five of these successful models will carry on through a 12-month programme funded by the NHS Healthier Together Ageing Well Fund. A new ‘Connecting Communities’ programme will see some of the successful BAB projects expanded to North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, as part of community-led approaches to improving health in older age. These models include bereavement peer support, integrated care clinics, social activities and group wellbeing sessions.
Towards an Age-Friendly Bristol
It’s also a time of progress for Age-Friendly Bristol, the BAB-led project which saw us working with the city office, the council, VCSE organisations and older citizens to create a strategy that secured the city’s membership of the WHO’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in 2018. Coronavirus and other environmental changes have created new challenges and opportunities in improving inclusion and reducing the health inequalities people experience as they age. This is why I’ve spent the last year working on a new iteration of our Age-Friendly Strategy, launched last week, which you can read below. This is complemented by an Action Plan, which sets out the detail of who’s leading on each age-friendly initiative, and I’ll be publishing an update on its progress later in the year.
We may be considered a young city – and indeed, older people do form a much lower proportion of the population than our neighbours across the rest of the south west. However to think that demographic ageing shouldn’t be a focus of Bristol’s long-term planning would be a mistake. The proportion of people aged over 75 in Bristol is set to grow by 40% by 2043, a greater percentage than for any other age cohort. Our older population is also increasingly diverse, and seeing older people as a homogenous group overlooks the experiences of older people of colour and older LGBT+ people.
All Bristolians are facing a future where they will reach pensionable age at an older age than the generation before them. We need to ensure the city can offer good jobs for all that protect workers’ health and wellbeing and provide equal opportunities to people throughout their working lives. The age-friendly goals align with the city’s other goals including zero-carbon, race equality, and economic renewal, and seek to ensure that what makes Bristol unique – our cultural institutions, the strength of our communities, and our green spaces to cite just a few examples – can be enjoyed by everyone growing older in our city.