Cross-border Learning: Belgian and UK partners exchange experiences

In early November, SIG‘s HAIRE team were delighted to welcome our Belgian partners Sofie Schepers and Katrien Serroyen who were visiting Cornwall from Laakdal. After a weekend of cultural and historical activities – taking in Guy Fawkes’ night and a tour of Falmouth’s Tudor castle, Pendennis – they spent a day exchanging experiences with Feock (one of our pilot sites) before travelling to East Sussex pilot sites and meeting our partners at Rother Voluntary Action and East Sussex County Council.

The East Sussex team were keen to give as broad a picture as possible of their locality and took our Belgian colleagues on a tour that took in the quaint beauty of Rye (cobbled streets and the fifteenth century Mermaid Inn), Tilling Green social housing estate, new housing in Winchelsea, and a relatively new community hub – The Hub on the Hill – which runs many classes and services for the community with an emphasis on older residents.

Katrien and Sofie are smiling, standing in front of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall

Katrien and Sofie at Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, Cornwall

The cultural exhange and sharing is important for Interreg2Seas funded projects. They promote cooperation between regions and countries to enhance economic and social development in our own countries and across borders. Our HAIRE 2Seas partners share the common challenge of supporting people to age well in rural areas, where loneliness and isolation and mobility problems are just some of the themes being tackled. Having had very few opportunities to meet due to restrictions brought about by the Covid pandemic, it was inspiring to share experiences and perspectives from nearly three years of HAIRE action and learning in our respective locations.

The HAIRE teams from East Sussex and Belgium are looking over a vista of housing and fields near Rye

Steve, Sue and Naomi from East Sussex taking the Belgians on a tour of their locality

At the initial meeting in Devoran, the village in Feock parish where the council offices are located, the difference between locations felt quite stark to our Belgian colleagues: Laakdal is a municipality with a population of around 16,000, whereas the population in Feock Parish numbers around 3,700. The larger East Sussex pilot sites felt more familar to the Belgian team. Yet one of the most difficult challenges for all locations has been reaching members of the community who may be in need, or may benefit from HAIRE’s activities, but who are almost “hidden.”

The extended HAIRE team pictured in the "warm space" at Feock parish council

The extended HAIRE team pictured in a community space at Feock parish council

However, as a result of the emphasis the HAIRE toolkit placed on listening to residents, the needs of the older population as a whole can be better taken into account. Now that HAIRE and its ethos of co-creation and listening is familiar to each department and area of responsibility, the views, opinions, needs and ideas of residents are being heard, and this has led to subtle changes in the system. Different methods to listen and co-create products and services have been introduced in all of our pilot sites to ensure their older residents are included in important decisions.

Feock now has an information and help line, originating out of the Covid pandemic, but which has become a staple of the parish. A legacy of HAIRE is that parish-based decisions take into account any impact on the older population in a way that they may not have been so obviously before. It is the same in Laakdal: the planning department, for example, is aware of the way its decisions impact the elderly – and they are now prepared to consult the HAIRE team for information about how they might best move forward with their works.

East Sussex partners have done an excellent job by instigating local and national design innovations after working with the RSA, the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce (“committed to a world that is resilient, rebalanced and regenerative, where everyone can fulfil their potential.”) Their Hastings and Rother Ageing Network meets monthly to network with local organisations, groups and individuals with a focus on how they can work together to make Rother and Hastings healthy and supportive places to grow older in.

From a longer term, strategic standpoint, Feock has made the decision to work with partners to develop a formal age-friendly community as our partners in East Sussex have done. The Guided Conversations in pilot sites illustrated the multiple dimensions of ageing well, which prompted the need for a holistic system response, and the UK arm of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Communities programme is well aligned with the aims of the HAIRE project.

As Katrien and Sofie pointed out, the pilot site comparisons were useful, showing commonalities and differences and making them reflect on what went well in their own communities – and how “HAIRE thinking” could be built into longer term planning.

“Feock felt very isolated in comparison to Laakdal. The lack of public transport, the lack of shops, the very rural environment, the huge amount of second homes … I would think that building the community would be very difficult. Yet they succeed to organise meetings where 80 people attend and they make the most of small things (the red phone booths made into small libraries). Well done Feock! Rye felt more like Laakdal. What stood out was that both pilot sites are much more in contact with the church. In Belgium the church doesn’t organise much and in our pilot site the church isn’t involved. What was also different is the health part. I think that in the UK the health partners and health “input” is bigger than in Belgium. In Laakdal it’s more community building and well being than health. What I think both pilot sites did very well is thinking about life after HAIRE right from the beginning of the project. I believe that that will make it possible to continue and embed HAIRE better.”

The Belgian team are pictured with people from Feock and the University of Exeter - and the HAIRE mascot, a Corgi called Treacle

The Belgian team with Feock and the University of Exeter – and the HAIRE mascot, Treacle

East Sussex Conference: Innovations in Healthy Ageing

View from the De Warr Pavilion

19th October 2022 saw our colleagues at Rother Voluntary Action and East Sussex County Council hold a Healthy Ageing social innovation workshop at the De Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea. The conference brought the community up to speed on what the team has achieved so far through HAIRE. It was a thought provoking day, with our partners not only sharing innovations devised so far, but also brainstorming with the community about new place-based innovations for healthy ageing.

Kate Leyshon stands with two colleagues from RVA

HAIRE’s PI Catherine Leyshon with colleagues from Rother Voluntary Action

Collaboration between VCSOs, public and private sector and older people continues to lie at the heart of much-needed changes to the design and delivery of services, and it was exciting to see so many people present who were clearly committed to improving the lives of older people. From the start, there was a lot of energy in the room, and there was a very high level of interaction and ideation throughout.

Four key themes emerged from the HAIRE project’s Guided Conversations and form the basis for innovations in Rye and Robertsbridge and beyond: Loneliness and Isolation; Transitions and Life changes; Planning for the Future and Staying Active.

A tweet describing the Life Transitions service briefly and calling for volunteers

The Life Transitions Service pilot was launched in summer 2022

One result (that crosses multiple themes, in fact) is the team piloting a “Life Transitions Service.” This has, at its heart, the simple truth that the further ahead you can plan, the better the outcome. The Guided Conversations showed that sometimes, the decisions people make when moving to rural areas are not always ideal, as they can fail to take their ageing needs and later life changes into account – and end up encountering loneliness, isolation and other difficulties.

The aim of the service is to help people arrive in later life as prepared as they could be, and to provide a listening ear and a signposting service to help individuals make important decisions that can help make a positive impact on later life. Volunteers have been recruited and trained in using the approach as an example of a new model of service focused on prevention. The volunteer model for the Life Transitions service is being rolled out next year, and the team are considering ways to extend the service beyond their local area.

Designers were asked: How might we create joyful place-based opportunities for people across generations to improve planetary health?

Another innovation scheme in progress is the RSA/HAIRE Design Competition. The RSA – the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce – is all about social impact, and the competition includes factors that go beyond personal, social and community issues. The partnership came up with a competition for design students to combine planetary health and ways to work intergenerationally to inspire healthier communities.

Winning designs will be tested in the summer of 2023, and included in the Age Friendly programme to ensure a long-lasting legacy. In parallel, there will be a community design competition, which was kicked off at the workshop: “How might we create fun opportunities in local communities for younger & older people to come together and improve each other’s health & the health of the planet?” All sorts of ideas were mooted: from Ready, Steady, Cook at the local food bank to a rickshaw club for greener, healthier, intergenerational transport.

Attendees all smiling as they write down their ideas for green healthy ageing initiatives

Kudos to product design student Jacob, who travelled down from Loughborough to hear all about HAIRE in order to better shape his design team’s submission.

Regarding strategic, system level innovation, East Sussex continues to develop a formal ‘age-friendly community’. The Guided Conversation analysis illustrated the multi-dimensional and interconnected dimensions of ageing well, which prompted the need for a holistic system response. The team (ESCC and RVA) worked with Rother District Council  – who are an official observer partner – to write an application to join the UK arm of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Communities programme, as their approaches and domains of interest are well-aligned. The application was approved by the Rother District Council Cabinet and then by the Centre for Ageing Better, who run the UK AFC Network. The HAIRE Project collaborated with Rother District Council, local volunteers, and other stakeholders to develop the local AFC programme, holding a visioning workshop with key councillors and other local stakeholders to identify and agree priorities. These were presented and discussed at the conference, which finished on a futuristic note and a brainstorming session creating innovations 50 years into the future.

It was an inspiring day! 

Paul Bolton standing at the podium at the HAIRE conference

“It was great to bring aspects of the HAIRE partnership together and highlight the wider dimensions of the project. Our aim was to focus on the innovations to boost the momentum around Healthy Ageing going forwards and to set out the HAIRE legacy.” – Paul Bolton

 

Kate’s Grand Tour Part 4: Farewell Belgium

This last instalment of our PI Kate’s travel blog covers her last day in Belgium in April 2022, the final stop of a ‘grand tour’ in which Kate met members of the community through various meetings, lunches and gatherings. Sadly, the popular singer Kate mentions below – Juul Kabas – has since died unexpectedly. You can read a tribute to Juul here. 

On Wednesday it’s time to meet the Mayor of Laakdal, Tine Gielis, and Alderman Gerda Broeckx. Gerda has specific oversight of HAIRE and is keen to hear about progress and successes, of which there are many. We meet for lunch with a group of older people who gather regularly for a subsidised meal and conversation. The atmosphere is very convivial.

The Mayor, Alderman, Laakdal Team and I discuss the familiar issues of community engagement, encouraging younger volunteers and making sure that everyone’s voice is heard. We also explore how new models of service design and delivery can bring together the public sector and the local community groups and volunteers. I also meet Freddie, Laakdal’s Super Volunteer, who does a great deal in his community. He is part of HAIRE and has conducted several Guided Conversations. Stalwarts like Freddie can be found in every community, and are greatly valued.

My last day in Belgium sees me attending the Seniors’ Party, a twice-yearly event which, pre-Covid, used to attract 600 older people from the municipality for entertainment, drinks and a sandwich lunch. About 250 people attend this lunch, seated at long tables set out in a sports hall decorated with fairy lights around the walls. There is a stage, lighting and an impressive sound system. Alderman Gerda Broeckx makes a speech about HAIRE. The entertainment is provided by Juul Kabas who sings popular sing-along classics and gets everyone clapping. Freddie is also volunteering at this event and tells me that Juul was badly affected during lock down, unable to do shows. Juul signs off his set with the phrase “If you lose your smile, you lose your heart”. The Seniors’ Party was a model of community action, with everyone working hard to create a joyous atmosphere.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to East Sussex and Belgium. I met people who I have only previously met over Teams, and I relished seeing them in action at the various events I attended. Everyone worked hard to make me welcome, which I really appreciated. There’s amazing work going on in our pilot sites and I am really looking forward to a few more trips before the project ends in March 2023. A huge THANK YOU to everyone involved in planning and making this trip a reality.

Kate’s Grand Tour Part 3: Training in Adjacent Areas

One of the objectives of our project is to extend the use of the HAIRE toolkit beyond the borders of our pilot areas. Kate’s visit to Laakdal (one of our pilot sites) included training new volunteers in the village of Bergom in the neighbouring municipality of Herselt. This region is a good example of how the toolkit can be customised to suit the community it is used in. Assisted dying is legal in Belgium, and the toolkit needed to include training volunteers in conversations about end of life. This is the third of four short blogs about Kate’s visit to Belgium in April, 2022.

On my second full day in Belgium, myself and the local project team (Katien, Sophie and Severine) train Jill Van der Auwera from the neighbouring municipality of Herselt, which comprises the villages of Herselt proper, Ramsel, Blauberg, Bergom and Varenwinkel. The sat nav takes me to an empty field about 5k from our meeting point. Thank goodness for Google Maps.  

We meet in a community hall in a small village surrounded by farmland and forests. This area feels more remote than Vorst, with more small, scattered settlements. The team in Laakdal – including the volunteers – will help to train professionals and volunteers in Herselt in the next few weeks. The issues that face their older community – especially the rising cost of living – are very familiar. We incorporate the insights from Laakdal’s volunteers into the session, which really helps with the practical aspects of applying the HAIRE toolkit elsewhere. After our session, we walk through the quiet, neat village to the magnificent Catholic Church with its lofty, modern interior and high, vaulted wooden ceiling.  In the evening, I drive to Bergom to attend the training of volunteers in conversations about end of life. This is a particular focus for Herselt and an issue for which they have adapted their Guided Conversations. Although the training is in Flemish, I keep up with the slides by putting a few key phrases from each into Google Translate. The training covers why and how we should talk about and prepare for the end of life along with useful case studies. Assisted dying is legal in Belgium, so some of the training is about that. A new model of palliative care is presented which introduces elements of palliative care alongside continuing treatment in a more gradual way. This breaks down the cure/care dualism in which only when the search for a cure ends does palliative care begins. Instead, this model seeks to open up the conversation about the journey towards the end of life more gradually and in a supportive and empathic way. It is a moving and very productive session.

 

Kate’s Grand Tour, Part 2 of 4: Arriving in Laakdal, Belgium

Professor Catherine (Kate) Leyshon, our Principal Investigator, was able to travel for the first time since our project launch in early 2020. She referred to her trip as the “Grand Tour”! We asked her to write about her journey to East Sussex and subsequent visit to Laakdal in Belgium, and give us a writerly flavour of what those places look and feel like, since we’ve been unable to visit. Here’s part two: her first glimpse of Laakdal. More to follow!

I arrive on the Eurostar in Brussels and pick up a hire car for the drive to Diest, the town where I am staying about 25 minutes away from the municipality of Laakdal, in the province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises the towns of Eindhout, Veerle, Vorst, Varendonk and Vorst-Meerlaar, all of which are involved with HAIRE. Diest is a pretty, well-kept town with narrow cobbled streets and new buildings tastefully blended into its historic town-centre. I take a walk up through a leafy park and back through the town square, lined with canopied restaurants where diners are enjoying the warm spring evening.

The next day, I drive to Vorst in Laakdal. Initially my car’s sat nav wants to take me to Vorst near Brussels but I realise this is in completely the wrong direction! I drive out of Diest and I’m quickly into the flat, farmed landscape of this part of Belgium. The road is straight and quiet. As I reach Vorst, I notice how quiet and tidy it is. We are meeting in the fantastic Gemeentehuis. Recently constructed and serving the whole municipality, it contains the library, a post office, meeting rooms, the only bank machine in town and some local council functions.

I meet four volunteers who have some fascinating insights into their experience of using the HAIRE toolkit. They are very generous with their knowledge, and – with a retired Alderman amongst their number – we have an in-depth discussion about new models of service design and delivery. The issues in this part of rural Belgium are familiar across the project: people growing older sometimes become less confident and stop going out as much. They become isolated and suffer some consequences to their overall wellbeing. The Guided Conversation has helped to reconnect them to the community. The partners are especially looking forward to taking ownership of a new minibus; transport here is very limited – it’s no surprise that getting around is a problem in all our pilot sites.

New Perspectives on Geography and Loneliness: Introduction

Jo Little, Shuks Esmene, Catherine Leyshon and Michael Leyshon, researchers at the University of Exeter, have been working on a new paper about loneliness which we introduce below. It’s one of the key issues for the rural ageing population in our study, and it’s particularly on our minds as we post, as it was recently Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and loneliness was the theme. For some practical tips on coping with loneliness in later life, the Mental Health Foundation has created a toolkit which you can access here.

Over recent years there has been growing recognition from government, policy makers, academics and the public of the significance of loneliness within contemporary society and with the associated deep and enduring negative consequences for wellbeing and quality of life. For example, a recent study characterises loneliness’s societal impact as follows: “Social isolation and loneliness has been classed as a major public health concern due to its negative physical and mental health implications, and living in a remote or rural area is a prominent contributing risk factor”. Loneliness has been referred to by the UK Minister for Loneliness as one of the greatest challenges of our time.

While the visibility of loneliness has increased substantially, and more understanding exists concerning its links to health, there are still important gaps in current research which we will explain and develop in our paper. We aim to develop critical scholarly understandings of loneliness that go beyond measurable indicators and risk factors (such as living in rural settings and mobility issues). While such indicators and risk factors are important in producing an overview of loneliness’s causes and impacts, loneliness is increasingly seen as not simply an individual problem and an issue that manifests due to a combination of risk factors, but as more inherently social, cultural and relational. As Geographers we are mindful of the difference that space and place make in both conceptual understandings of loneliness and its manifestation as a lived experience.

As we write, we begin with a review of the study of loneliness, summarizing some of the findings of what have been perhaps more traditional attempts to identify and measure experiences of loneliness. This provides an understanding of key trends but acts more as a springboard for the next part of the paper in which we, first, provide an improved conceptual understanding of loneliness as a dynamic part of the human condition, the definition of which derives from a set of cultural expectations as much as a lived experience which is embodied and performed in everyday life. We ask what is the connection between the apparent ‘epidemic’ of loneliness and the human condition in a world characterised by endless connection?

Second, and in a linked point, we call for more work on the multiple, shifting ways in which loneliness forms part of the lived experience. Much research implies a somewhat uncritical view of loneliness as a binary condition of being or not being lonely. This has implications for the sorts of solutions that are provided by governments, charities, communities, and individuals, which sometimes tackle ‘aloneness’ rather than ‘loneliness’. Loneliness has temporal and spatial dimensions, it comes and goes, can be experienced in a crowded place or when alone, has causes that are both identifiable and elusive, is linked to a sense of self and the place of the self in the community and wider society. Ultimately, loneliness should be understood as a profoundly subjective experience. Building on and developing Franklin’s 2009 paper, ‘On Loneliness’, we provide a critical examination of the key ‘taken for granted’ characteristics of loneliness. This will explore how loneliness is felt and experienced in contemporary society – and in particular how it relates to social bonds.

Our paper argues that a focus on space is a critical part of the complex jigsaw of loneliness – not simply that loneliness occurs more in some places than others – rather, that place can be central to the ways in which loneliness ‘sticks’ to identity. To explore these issues, we take as our focus rural spaces and the particular relationship between the constructions and contradictions of rurality and loneliness as part of its lived reality.

Kate’s Grand Tour Part One: A Visit to Rother

Professor Catherine Leyshon, our Principal Investigator, was able to travel for the first time since our project launch in early 2020. She referred to her trip as the “Grand Tour”! We asked her to write about her journey to East Sussex and subsequent visit to Laakdal in Belgium, and give us a writerly flavour of what those places look and feel like, since we’ve been unable to visit. Here’s part one, starting in Rye, East Sussex. More posts to follow!

I arrive at Rye station in afternoon spring sunshine opposite Jempsons, which looks to be a well-stocked grocery store/deli with attractive displays. It’s a short walk to the Ship Inn through the historic redbrick town centre. It’s rush-hour in Rye, with children eagerly getting on the train home from school. The offices of the Bluebird care agency remind me that Rye has an aging population, many of whom suffer from isolation and loneliness. This is why Rye is part of HAIRE, along with the nearby town of Robertsbridge, both in the county of East Sussex.

I turn off the delightfully named Wish Street onto Wish Ward in the direction of a disused factory, a piece of industrial heritage referencing the area’s past. A former bakery, it now houses a pottery. I walk past picturesque redbrick and half shingle houses. The pretty townhouse along a cobbled street with a new Jaguar parked outside tells a story that I’m only too familiar with from Cornwall where the picturesque rural setting can hide great disparities in wealth. Mermaid Street, with its ancient, rounded cobbles, opens up to my left. The Ship Inn – my destination after 7 hours traveling from Cornwall, sits in an attractive riverside location. After dumping my bags, I go for a run along a levee between the river and a nature reserve. It’s a lovely part of the world – startlingly flat compared to Cornwall.

The next day, I meet four volunteers from HAIRE and the team from East Sussex County Council, Rother Voluntary Action, and Lorna Ford, the new Deptuty CEO from Rother District Council. We all feel thrilled to be able to meet up after two years on Teams. In that time, 16 volunteers have been recruited and trained, 76 Guided Conversations have been held and more than 200 hours of information about health and wellbeing have been used in the research analysis. Key themes prioritised through the innovation process are loneliness, accessing information, life transitions, and staying active.

We have a great meeting, discussing the volunteer experience of using the HAIRE toolkit – especially the Guided Conversation – and the legacy of HAIRE which will be felt through the pilot projects in Age Friendly Rother, now officially a part of the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Community programme.

The eight domains of Age Friendly Communities are illustrated. They are: Communication and Information, Community and Healthcare, Transportation, Housing, Civic Participation and Employment, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, and Respect and Social Inclusion. 

Above: the eight domains are Communication and Information, Community and Healthcare, Transportation, Housing, Civic Participation and Employment, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, and Respect and Social Inclusion. 

 

 

A systematic review on the impact of social networks on loneliness among older people in rural areas

As part of the HAIRE project, the University of Plymouth is undertaking a systematic review on the impact of social networks on loneliness among older people living in rural areas. In this month’s blog, Basharat Hussain and Mahrukh Mirza, from the University of Plymouth, explain the process and findings to date.

Healthcare related decisions are critical and therefore need to be based on high quality scientific evidence. The scientific evidence on a topic is generated through individual studies. However, evidence from a single study may not offer confidence to policy makers and practitioners to change an existing practice or adopt a new intervention. This requires an acceptable method to pool all the relevant evidence on a topic and to make the information accessible to busy policy makers and practitioners.

Systematic review is a well-recognised method of identifying, evaluating and summarising evidence from all relevant individual studies, thereby making the available evidence readily accessible to decisionmakers. In a systematic review, all studies published on a topic (in our case, healthy ageing) are searched through online bibliographic databases (e.g., MEDLINE). The online searching of databases is undertaken using a comprehensive, reproducible, and predefined search strategy. This search can result in few hundreds to thousands of studies published on the topic globally or a geographical region of interest (e.g., Europe). The searched studies are screened using strict and narrow inclusion and exclusion criteria. These criteria can consist of research participants (e.g., age over 60 years), setting (e.g., rural areas) and phenomenon of interest (e.g., impact of social network on loneliness). All studies meeting the inclusion criteria are thoroughly read, quality assessed, and their findings synthesised. The final product is a summary of findings on a topic of interest and identification of any gaps for further research in that area.

Image Source: https://libguides.library.curtin.edu.au/systematic-reviews

The review started in January 2022 and will be completed by April 2022. A comprehensive search strategy has been developed to search five main healthcare related databases on the topic. The search has identified over 38,000 published studies on the topic globally, starting from 1954 to January 2022. Screening of the published studies is underway. An interesting finding struck during the screening process is an acute lack of research on social networks and loneliness among older people in rural areas of Europe.

The findings from this review will be helpful not only for the HAIRE project, but also for policy makers, practitioners and researchers who have an interest in the topic. If you are interested in knowing more about this systematic review or would like to have copy once the findings are published, please get in touch with Dr Basharat Hussain, Research Fellow in Health Innovation, University of Plymouth (Basharat.hussain@plymouth.ac.uk), OR Dr Mahrukh Mirza, Lecturer in Clinical Education, University of Plymouth (Mahrukh.mirza@plymouth.ac.uk).

The Latest News from Poperinge

The following article, translated from the Dutch, appeared in the local publication, Stadskrant (“the City Newspaper”), in Poperinge, Belgium in February, 2022, informing local citizens of the work undertaken so far by Poperinge’s HAIRE team.

Poperinge is a partner in the HAIRE project, which stands for Healthy Ageing through Innovation in Rural Europe. The project aims to improve the wellbeing of seniors in Poperinge and its sub-municipalities, and to break through isolation and loneliness in the countryside. Numerous volunteers and professionals in healthcare have been involved in the project.

75 people over sixty were interviewed in Poperinge and smaller surrounding areas. The interviews mapped out the wellbeing of each participant, and allowed the drawing up of an individual action plan. The interviews are also part of a developing ‘community report’, with suggestions for all kinds of areas for improvement for the neighbourhood. Wellbeing is a word that is important in everyone’s life and at every age; meaningful and fun activities for the elderly help create a positive community atmosphere.

Four volunteers from Nestor services, the Local Service Center De Bres, WZC Huize Proventier and the Social Service went out with an extensive questionnaire asking about general well-being, what seniors think of their neighbourhood, what activities can be organized to help them age better and how everyone can benefit from this. A number of questions about the individual’s social network were also discussed.

The interviews lasted one and a half to two hours. The interviewee could choose from telephone or face to face sessions in person to complete the survey. Of course, all safety measures regarding coronavirus were observed during personal visits. Participation was entirely without obligation and participants were able to choose between a thank you gift voucher of 20 euros or two free meals delivered to the home by WZC Huize Proventier.

“Although I was armed with a mouth mask, safety screen and hand sanitiser, I was warmly welcomed everywhere by the fifteen interviewees despite Covid,” says Luc, who is 68 years old and volunteers at Local Services Center De Bres and WZC Huize Proventier. “Many older people found it a pity that services such as banks, post offices and shops are disappearing from their local areas. It’s vital for them that the city invests in basic services like neighbourhood salons or shops, which then become the beating heart of the village.”

MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES

The person-centred topics in the survey addressed the emotional well-being of the seniors. It emerged that they need a listening ear for emotional problems and for things that are not going well in the specific care of older people. An effort is needed to enable more people to grow old with good mental health and well-being. Luc clarifies: “Participation in meaningful activities such as volunteering, culture promotion, computer education and in some cases staying longer at work are here clearly reflected in the answers.” Concerns about caring for later, dementia and early care planning were also discussed. Many seniors want to age actively. “Local cooperation is of great importance. It is important to gain insight into loneliness in all its aspects. Everything starts with making contacts. As a result, all of a senior citizens’ associations, including community workers, the police and the postman, are of great importance,” said Luc.

TO STAY INFORMED

Regular contacts with neighbours, friends, family and caregivers are crucial. Luc concludes: “On average, we noticed an increase in the number of relatives in the social network of seniors, but at the same time a decrease in the number of non-relatives. As you get older, your world becomes smaller. People around you die or become less mobile, so that they disappear from your social network. It is important that the seniors are provided with resources so they can stay informed and be involved in the world around them.”

You can read the article in its original language below:

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.”