Working together for an Age-friendly Newcastle

Author:  Professor Julie Byles, Global Innovation Chair in Responsive Transitions in Health and Ageing, University of Newcastle

The Hunter Ageing Alliance (HAA) and the City of Newcastle (CN) came together in August 2021 to facilitate a community engagement workshop on the topic of developing an Age Friendly City.

Age-friendly communities mean that planning takes the needs of older people into account, recognising that older people have the same desire to remain physically, intellectually, and socially active as younger people. This requires environmental adaptation, appropriate housing at all levels of affordability, easy access to information about services and facilities for older people, protection from elder abuse, health care services appropriate to the needs of older people and support for socially isolated people to ensure their physical and psychological well-being.

Happily, HAA and CN share the same goal for a socially just, inclusive, and age-friendly city.  To help guide our actions, we invited members of the community and various organisations to come together to consider creative solutions to five priority problems:

  • Overcoming social isolation and creating connections
  • Affordable, age-friendly housing
  • Employment, education, and community participation opportunities past age 50
  • Education, training and employment opportunities in the aged-care sector and other services.
  • Services for older people and how to access them (including, but not limited to formal aged care)

Other priorities identified during the workshop included inclusive social services; inclusive and accessible public transport; affordable and inclusive facilities/spaces; access to information and effective communication; social connection and connection to place; inclusion and diversity; and a perceived lack of events and activations.

The workshop was run as a “world café” where Groups initially gather around separate tables, with each table having a well-defined issue to discuss. After ten minutes the groups “travel” to a different table to apply themselves to another problems, which has already been discussed by an earlier group. In this way groups cross-pollinate the thinking about one problem to the solution for another. However, since some members could not attend because of COVID-19 restrictions Since some participants could not attend in person, we also introduced a parallel exercise for online participants.  These participants were organised into Microsoft Teams rooms and invited to undertake a root cause analysis for the different problems. In this process, the participants broke down each issue to define the problem, identify why it matters and for whom, and to explore why the problem exists, and what we might do about it.

Photo by City of Newcastle

What was clear from the discussions is that there are many opportunities to re-orientate our community and services to be more accessible to older people and to be more inclusive. It was also apparent that sometimes it is not what we do, but how we do it, having the wrong messages (eg. assuming older people are vulnerable and needy, rather than strong and engaged), lacking flexibility, not designing for and with older people, and leaving people on the wrong side of the digital divide.

In both the world Café and the root cause exercises, we attempted to not let an insignificant fact like REALITY inhibit our thinking. Sometimes the best solutions come from what might seem to be the silliest suggestions.  However, we also recognize that we need to take stock of what we can and cannot influence, and so our next step is to identify “low hanging fruit” which are actions we can take in the short term with little extra resources, opportunities that we can work towards, and wicked problems which are too important to ignore even if we don’t yet know what to do about them.

Photo by City of Newcastle

Hunter Ageing Alliance is a group of citizens who are working together to get all levels of government, business, NGOs and citizens to focus more on older people and work together to make the Hunter an age friendly community.

You can find out more information on HAA here.

Newcastle as an Age Friendly City

The Age Friendly City workshop will now inform the City of Newcastle’s social strategy, the Local Social. The Local Social strategy will address barriers to inclusion and equal opportunity, encourage community participation, and strengthen community wellbeing. It will set Newcastle’s aspirations for a socially just and inclusive city and will guide Newcastle’s collaborations for social change over the next decade. This period also coincides with the World Health Organisation Decade of Healthy Ageing.

You can find more information on the Local Social here.

Photo by City of Newcastle