One Year On: What Have We Achieved?

A year ago on 10th February, 2020, the fledgling HAIRE team sat down to eat together in a little bistro in Lille to celebrate the launch of the project, Healthy Ageing through Innovation in Rural Europe. It almost seems decadent in retrospect. No-one could have predicted the year that was to follow and the difficulties the world would face in the throes of a global pandemic.

Covid-19 struck at the heart of our target group, exacerbating the very problems HAIRE had been designed to address. Not only was access to health and wellbeing services made more difficult, our already vulnerable target suffered increased loneliness and isolation in many cases. Face to face interviews (HAIRE’s Guided Conversations) could not go ahead as originally planned. As Europe-wide lockdowns took hold, alternative methods to talk to older people had to be found, and fast.

Our first challenge was to secure a remote simultaneous interpretation platform so that we could easily talk to all of our European partners online. Thanks to everyone working together to find solutions, the Guided Conversations – the technique used to establish older people’s needs and desires – were adapted to take place virtually or by telephone according to participant and volunteer comfort. Crucially, they evolved with the unique situation in every locality. HAIRE’s place-based, person-centred approach was (and continues to be) carefully managed at every step of the toolkit adaptation, from content planning to execution. One of the features of the toolkit is the use of a site-specific image to help participants articulate their needs and desires in relation to both interior and exterior spaces. This co-design work involved all partners and brought about a deeper understanding of each others’ localities.

It is a testament to their commitment that throughout 2020 each partner continued to be fully engaged in the project despite Covid-19 obligations in their country. East Sussex County Council and Rother Voluntary Action hosted several online HAIRE-branded community talks for an Ageing Well festival, which other partners attended as well.

The level of every partner’s commitment has not waned even though each partner has had to flex their approach to other HAIRE activities and information gathering, such as the Neighbourhood Analysis and community reports. (These elements of the toolkit establish the extent and nature of individual social networks and connections, and what opportunities, such as activities and services, are available to participants in each community.) There too, partners have helped each other find workarounds and helped problem solve for each other in order to gather the data.

In our most recent partnership meeting, we used Sli.Do to ask partners for one word that describes the work of HAIRE. As the word bubble took shape, three words stood out: Empowering Community Together. So it is perhaps not surprising that, despite Covid-19 lockdowns and limited face to face contact with older people, we have overachieved on Enabler recruitment. Enablers are the volunteers and health professionals who are trained to use the HAIRE toolkit and conduct interviews with older people. We had an original recruitment target of 80 Enablers – and we now have 147, with 115 of them trained so far. And despite delays, we are on track to achieve 600 participants for the Guided Conversations: we have 282 recruited participants, with 126 having already started their conversations.

HAIRE is being designed with future users and sustainability in mind. Partners are already presenting the project to potential future users of the toolkit. In the UK, Devon Mind has introduced HAIRE and the team to CoLab Exeter, a cross-sector, multi-agency co-working hub that is home to some 35 different projects and services that work collaboratively. Other conversations have taken place between Sussex County Council, Rother Voluntary Action and Hastings Borough Council.

Across the 2Seas region, our partners have been talking to local governments’ social services departments; in Belgium, conversations have taken place with the Province of Antwerp and LiCalab (Living and Care Lab). In France, the University of Artois has developed a partnership with 30+ organisations in their area, called ‘Cluster Senior’; our French partners have also connected with the Interreg Project Buurtzorg. Pilot sites in all countries have been in regular contact with their Observer Partners. In total, the HAIRE partnership has engaged over 350 local groups, voluntary groups and a variety of organisations.

The transferability of HAIRE is not just geographic but also crosses sector boundaries to unexpected targets: we are seeing opportunities for its person-centred approach to be applied widely, e.g. tackling homelessness and drug addiction. 2021 and beyond may be a tough road for many communities. We are confident that HAIRE will not only rise to the challenge, but will also offer solutions and tools for communities to thrive beyond this pandemic.

 

What is HAIRE?

Healthy Ageing through Innovation in Rural Europe

The Social Innovation Group (SIG) at the University of Exeter is a multi-disciplinary team of researchers who work on place-based and person-centred issues. We collaborate with organisations in the third sector, health and social care, the environment sector, and local and regional government, to create positive change in communities and improve people’s wellbeing. HAIRE is designed to promote healthy ageing through innovation in rural Europe.

The HAIRE project, led by SIG, aims to bring about social innovation and empowerment for older people. Rural communities are at risk of dying out: their populations are ageing and poor public transport, lack of local support and facilities, out-migration of young people, reduced services, isolation and fragmented health and social care systems all negatively impact the health and wellbeing of older people. HAIRE will tackle the problem of loneliness and isolation amongst the older population in rural areas, leading to greater community integration, better wellbeing, social innovations and empowerment. These solutions will be based on their own individual interests, capabilities and preferences and supported by the voluntary, private and public sectors.

How will we do this?

HAIRE brings together existing tools for development and deployment in rural areas. These include the Guided Conversation, Social Network Analysis and Neighbourhood Analysis. The “Guided Conversation” has been developed by the University of Exeter in conjunction with our partners to make sure it is appropriate for each specific location. It is a person-centred tool that allows people to reflect on their own needs, desires, interests and aspirations. The other two tools (Social Network Analysis and Neighbourhood Analysis) help communities to understand their own assets, levels of vitality and the potential for social innovation from the ground up. By training volunteers to deploy these tools, HAIRE hopes to develop a genuinely grass-roots approach to communities developing solutions that reduce loneliness and isolation in villages. Meanwhile, HAIRE also brings together local people, local government, agencies, organisations and the voluntary sector to innovate in service design and delivery.

How will HAIRE be delivered?

There are 8 pilot sites – 2 each in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and France. Volunteers in each pilot area will be trained to administer the HAIRE toolkit which comprises a Guided Conversation tool and easy-to-use Social Network Analysis and Neighbourhood Analysis tools. Each pilot site will undertake around 75 Guided Conversations with people over the age of 60 who are no longer in employment, from which action plans will be produced. Each community will receive its own Community Report based on these baseline data. Partners will get together to share their experiences and prepare new models of service design and delivery for their areas. The ultimate aim is gaining the participation of older people so that they have a voice and the power to design or improve access to services and products that meet their needs and wishes beyond the pilot project and into the future.