HAIRE is about “a good old age”: project progress in Laakdal

Thanks to our colleagues in Laakdal for sending us a news article which was published after a large stakeholder event discussing the co-creation and prioritisation of local social innovations. Below is a translation into English of the article by Annelies Frederickx published on Wednesday 20th October, 2021. You can read the original article at source here.

The seniors of Laakdal debate four themes: mobility, leisure, caring for tomorrow and communication — © AF

Laakdal is the first municipality to undertake the European participation project HAIRE.

HAIRE’s pilot site in Laakdal involves a partnership between the local government and Welzijnszorg Kempen, an organisation specialising in the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable in society, including older people. In Laakdal, 28% of the population is senior, so the municipality is ideally suited to explore the possibilities of co-creation with older people. There is also interest from adjacent areas, Mol and Herselt, in working with HAIRE.

Katrien Serroyen of Welzijnszone Kempen takes an active part in the debate. — © AF

The first part of the started in September 2020 with a neighbourhood analysis (a mapping of resources with residents in the neighbourhood; see this earlier blog post for an overview of what this entailed in Feock, UK, one of our other pilot sites.) Volunteers were then recruited to carry out “Guided Conversations.” Sixteen volunteers set out from the community to interview 71 older people. The respondents were 60, 70, 80 and 90 years old and they lived all over Laakdal. The Guided Conversations contain place- and person-related questions, as well as a section on personal empowerment. The results yielded a long list of more than a hundred action points. In consultation with the municipal council, the project team has filtered four priorities from this: mobility, leisure, care for tomorrow (dementia and early care planning) and communication. The older people surveyed all expressed the wish to rename the HAIRE project ‘A good old age in Laakdal’, as the English acronym did not resonate as strongly.

Sofie Schepers is an expert community-oriented care provider in Laakdal. — © AF

During the kick-off in the local meeting centre, some thirty people over sixty set to work on the four priority themes. In each domain, they identified the most important difficulties and looked for possible solutions. Rosa Wilms took an active part in the debate as she has been involved from the start: “When I read the call in the municipal information sheet, I immediately applied to be a volunteer”, Rosa Wilms reveals. “I was alone and this seemed to be an ideal pastime for me. I like to chat and through the project I was also able to make new contacts. I had a total of ten conversations, four online and six at home. They were all intense but wonderful conversations.”

Rosa Wilms has been involved in every phase of the project. — © AF

“My chats showed that older people in Laakdal struggle with a lack of respect from neighbours, young people and from traffic”, Rosa Wilms adds. “Of course there’s not much a municipal council can do about that; we all have to work on that together. I completely agree with the four chosen themes. Choices must of course be made and it seems realistic to me that the municipal council can achieve things in those four domains. The most important thing for me, however, is that we are being listened to.”

Difficult points to resolve or improve were noted for each theme. — © AF

Sofie Schepers, who leads the project for the municipal government, had good news for the participants. “The municipality is buying a van and it will be available to all older people in Laakdal. It can be used to provide transport to activities in all boroughs and we are also looking at the possibility of, for example, providing transport to the local market. The aim to provide ‘A good old age in Laakdal’ has only just started, but we are well on our way.”

The impact of HAIRE: A profile from our Cornish pilot site in Feock, UK

Cathy Whitmore, HAIRE’s administrative officer in the Parish of Feock, UK, is a key point of contact for community members. Over the last year, Cathy has spent her time fielding phone calls and organising support for community members throughout the various lockdowns and beyond, and collating points of view from all stakeholders invested in the improvement and development of products and services that aspire to support and enhance the lives of older people – most importantly from older people themselves. HAIRE has offered residents an opportunity to speak up on matters close to their hearts.

The project has provided a sense of purpose, energy, and confidence during a difficult period for those volunteering or working in the community, including businesses, schools and faith groups. The spirit of community has been tested throughout the pandemic; in a previous post discussing the kindness of volunteers at the peak of the covid crisis, 150 volunteers come forward to help their fellow villagers. Because of that, Feock had no difficulties recruiting “HAIRE Enablers” – these are the volunteers who meet with older people to understand their needs and service desires. In fact, there was a 50% over-recruitment of volunteer HAIRE Enablers in the parish, which exceeded all expectations.

A recent interview with volunteer Sue Thomas in Feock featured in our project funder Interreg 2 Seas‘ “Virtual Voyage” online event, which was created for European Cooperation Day on September 21, 2021. Sue joined the project in order to help and support her local community. As part of the HAIRE volunteer preparation process, Sue took part in training sessions designed to provide skills in listening, interviewing, safeguarding and other skills that not only benefit the individual, but the community as a whole. With Interreg showcasing the work of people on the ground all over the 2 Seas area in Europe, we were given a glimpse into Feock volunteers’ achievements. Sue’s interview can be accessed on YouTube here.

Cathy said the project has created a rallying point for key figures in the community – social weavers and influencers. These are people already involved in volunteering, offering and running group activities, and council members, for example – all people who have a vested interested in making the lives of our older people better. To work together on the central theme of healthy ageing will ultimately enable stronger and more linked up solutions. Feock Parish is made up of several communities, and HAIRE has enabled them to envisage themselves as a family of villages within Feock Parish, with similar issues and concerns, rather than separate entities on a scale of importance and status, so that more people can benefit from local initiatives.

HAIRE has given inspiration and motivated fresh personnel to come forward with ideas and offers of support. An intergenerational project has been initiated by a local artist who discovered HAIRE through conversations with the team and they are now putting together plans for a “Memory Shanty Festival.” Older people in the community will share their life stories and unique points of view with schoolchildren, who will work with musicians to produce sea shanties based on real lives in their community. In general, HAIRE has provided people with an opportunity to be creative and innovative – there is “no such thing as a wrong idea”. There is something very powerful in seeing one’s ideas turn into positive action.

The conversations with participants have provided a better understanding of life changes and their impact on a multi-generational level. Ageing impacts us all, not just “older adults”. There is widespread recognition of the danger of a shrinking life world as we age, which puts us at risk of loneliness. Knowing this, it means individuals can start to plan for the future earlier, with the involvement of supporting organisations.

All pilot sites aim to improve the services already in place that have value and link in to them. In Feock, social prescribing’s growing importance and availability means that residents can be signposted to local activities for a range of different reasons, including bereavement, anxiety or loneliness. HAIRE’s volunteers are available “buddy up” with community members depending on their interest – such as swimming, gardening or walking.

The volunteers provide a guiding ‘hand-hold’ to help people discover or return to social activities, developing trust and relationships. The team has created a ‘What’s On’ list and ‘Directory of Groups, Service, and Helplines’ which can be sent to residents, who are later contacted by telephone and given the offer for further advice and support if required in the future. All the activities in the parish are advertised and reviewed on a regular basis in an accessible and inclusive format. They even advertise opportunities in a community phone box.

The CREATE workshops held throughout the summer months brought people together in a safe place to share ideas, voice opinions and feel listened to and respected. HAIRE has been able to respond to comments and requests to make quick wins in the short term with opportunities to grow in the long term.

We are all thankful for the work of the amazing volunteers involved in this project. During June’s National Volunteer Month, service users were asked for any comments they would like to pass on to Feock’s volunteers as well as posting on Facebook pages for anyone who would like to thank a member of the community for their support. A beautiful “thank you tree” was put together by a talented resident and used as a backdrop to the CREATE workshop sessions.

Importantly, the work to look at the relevance of services and the creation of new ones won’t just “stop” when the research comes to an end. The communities involved are developing the sorts of skills and opportunities that can really make a difference and can evolve with the times to ensure an organic, thriving culture of listening and learning for positive, age-friendly action with the voices of residents at the fore.

The HAIRE project involves its stakeholders at regular intervals and in different ways throughout the project as we continue to pursue widespread, sustainable system change and to initiate and support innovative models of service delivery. One element of this is to hold regular steering group meetings, such as the Parish of Feock’s HAIRE Action Group Meeting. This took place in September 2021.

Neighbourhood Analysis: Research in a Tea Garden

The Neighbourhood Analysis is one of the three tools being used in HAIRE to help us understand healthy ageing in rural places. The University of Exeter research team were able to visit a local pilot site in Feock parish and listen to what people had to say.

Feock’s neighbourhood analysis took place outdoors in Linden Hey Garden Tea Room in August. Linden Hey has been an important meeting place for people in the Feock parish, and for that reason might well provide a future site for other activities and meet ups. We were able to safely social distance, with three round tables at which community members were seated.

It’s a beautiful setting, and during the session we were joined by small birds, mostly robins, flying in and out of the garden. In one session, a vole even peeped out at us. We talked about the neighbourhood as we drank tea from red and gold floral china cups and ate lemon drizzle cake made by the owner of the tea garden (there may or may not have been scones with cream and jam. Local tip: jam first in Cornwall!)

Feock’s HAIRE Project Co-ordinator and Administration Assistant, Bex and Esther, put the session together. Bex put a flip chart on the glass windows of the cafe and the analysis began. This is a tool developed by our Dutch partners at Solidarity University and will be used by all the pilot sites in the HAIRE project. It involves the creation of a “rich picture” in words through brainstorming and mapping the neighbourhood. People were asked to talk about:

  • Local people who share knowledge, skills, experiences, offerings and expertise with others in the parish,
  • Physical elements of the community such as community buildings and meeting rooms where activities take place and where people organise gatherings and meetings,
  • Networks in which people can communicate in a less formal manner and the physical places where people can meet to discuss local problems and challenges,
  • Collaborative forms of organisation and local partnerships connecting the community and its members – for example, connections promoting and supporting positive change,
  • Associations, community groups, recreational groups, clubs, tenant organisations, and other services run by institutions, such as schools, health centres, general practitioners and emergency services,
  • Economic connections in the community, including local companies, business leaders and entrepreneurs, such as supermarkets, local shops and tourism related companies,
  • Identifying important places, traditions, and activities that are of cultural meaning to the community, and
  • History and heritage, including places and stories of particular local interest as well as past processes, plans, and efforts in community development.

There are many individuals who support others in the parish of Feock already. The trust and relationships within the community are important to recognise. This exercise helped us gain an understanding into these relationships as well. Questions and comments flowed, and during a break, people asked more questions about the project and chatted about local planning, who was moving into the area and other local issues.

The resources collated during the sessions will be used and and built on during the rest of the project. The information collated will provide a useful starting point to link and support, wherever possible, individuals to activities, groups and organisations they may not have been aware of and identify venues or spaces that may be appropriate for new activities, groups and organisations.

We continue to learn so much about our pilot sites from the communities themselves. It is an integral part of making sure that any innovation, new product or service is relevant, because it will come from the very people it is designed to serve.