A movement of older people has been taking shape in South Manchester set in motion by local housing association Southway Housing Trust, who in 2012 commissioned the first Age Friendly Neighbourhood Research project. A key aspect of the research was the involvement of older people at its centre. It led to the formation of a group of older people’s champions, linked to Southway, continuing to make a difference to their lives and those of their friends and neighbours.
For example, following their campaign the Council agreed to slow down a pedestrian crossing to give older people more time to cross the busy road. The champions have also been fighting for the retention of the 179 bus which weaves through
The list of ideas and initiatives led by grass roots action by older people is impressive in its depth and diversity. They include: participation in time-banking, health walks, gardening and hanging basket workshops (Old Moat Greenies), a health walk finishing with a tour of the local fire station, reminiscence projects, and a wellbeing in retirement course run by the local Mind group. Silver Savvy digital access training connects people who have difficulty getting out of the house through Skype and social media. There is also talk of setting up a “Sporting Memories” group to engage isolated older men around a common interest.
Some activities are focused on small shopping areas such as on Merseybank where, blighted by empty premises, the housing association has purchased four shops giving space for a community café, a pop- up shop, a community garden and a “Men’s Sheds” project. In other areas, such as Burnage, there are ideas to create older people friendly village centre concept around the local facilities of library, health centre/ GP practicing the services and potentially an extra care housing development for older people.
Having supported and nurtured a wealth of local initiatives Southway is now leading on the delivery a social prescribing service LINKages, which connects people over the age over 50 into non-medical sources of support. Three GPs have signed up already with others in the pipeline. Southway acts as a community connector bridging the gap between GP practice and community, and are involved in signposting patients to the wide range of local social activities, groups and support services that are available. An evaluation of the full range of activities is being commissioned to test the value of Southway’s work to the community and to the health and wellbeing system.
So how has this all come to happen and why is a housing association playing such a pivotal role?
I explored this with Jane Gant, Strategic Director People and Places. Jane explained that the values and ethos of Southway right from its formation in 2007 were to fully engage with its tenants and develop its business plans around their needs and aspirations. As a community based stock transfer landlords it also recognised the importance of the wider community within which their housing was located. Jane explained that as 50% of Southway’s tenants were aged over 50 it was natural to work with older people on their ideas and initiatives. A strong partnership was developed with all Southway tenants and communities initially focussed on the improvement of the housing stock, new landlord services and environmental issues; but seamlessly moved forward to encompass wider community matters. The strong impression is that people feel comfortable speaking to Southway, knowing that they will be listened to, their concerns followed through; and more than often leading to creative actions.
Southway’s default position is therefore to listen and respond. So, for example, when the Council’s Minehead Resource Centre for older people in Old Moat tragically burned down in December 2014 a Southway supported Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) project sprung up in its place to engage with older residents in the area and help them support each other in different ways. A NORC is a community which was not originally built for older people, but that over the years has become primarily populated with older residents.
Southway is also benefitting from being part of the Manchester Ambition for Ageing initiative, part of a five year £10.2m Big Lottery funded programme which aims to reduce social isolation of older people across eight Greater Manchester boroughs.
Southway is a key player in Age Friendly initiatives and its local communities benefit from city wide initiatives; such as a culture champions programme bringing arts to communities.
Southway has in many ways shown what can be done to set the conditions where older people become more activated and connected, loneliness and isolation reduced, and health and wellbeing -improved. It builds on the strengths of its communities where people have well established ties to the place where they live, and their homes within the area.
Housing association like Southway have shown, through their links with local people, their own assets, their people and community focused ethos, their local influence, their creativity, ideas and innovation; that they have a strong part to play in helping people live healthier lives in their own homes and communities.
They have been able to use its own funds to invest in a wide range of initiatives; but the scope to continue this is in future is curtailed by a more restrictive financial regime for housing associations. It is hoped that the health and social care system will, through the public sector’s renewed focus on partnership working; recognise, learn from and fully acknowledge the valuable role that housing organisations such as Southway can play in creating more connected communities and ultimately reduce demand on their services.
Crucially Southway has stimulated the growth of a genuine local movement of older people with power to make changes to people’s lives for the better. Such a force for good should be unstoppable.
Follow this link for further information on Southway’s work with older people
Article by Steve Goslyn