Older people shaping rural communities – reflections on what we’re learning

During 2016 the Rural Wisdom project had a development grant from the Big Lottery Fund.  This let us talk to people in a few areas in Scotland and Wales to find out more about what the issues are for older people living in rural areas and to look at how we can link with people in other places who are interested in similar issues.

These are the main things we have learned:

1. How older people live in rural communities is an issue for today and for the future.

  • Older people need practical solutions to barriers that are limiting what they do and reducing their quality of life today.
  • They want to find – and be a leading part of – solutions that will work for them now and will lead into arrangements that in time will benefit their friends and relatives and the people coming after them.

2. People want to stay part of their community as they get older.

  • This means being active participants, even as they get less able or need help themselves.
  • Older people want to be part of supporting and encouraging people of all ages and circumstances.
  • They want community supports and services that help them continue in, or become more involved in, these roles.

3. People of all ages want to part of looking at how communities include and work for older people.

  • They respect and want to support older people having the lead role in shaping how communities work for older people, both because they care about their relatives and friends who are older and as part of their principles and values.
  • They are also looking ahead to how the community will work for them and the people they know and care about as they get older.
  • This is part of making the community strong, sustainable and resilient – a good place to live.

4. The gaps and difficulties that limit what older people can do are – for most people – more about ordinary services and opportunities that affect everyone than about services that are designed for older people.

  • Examples include: the viability of local shops; how banks deliver services to people in rural areas; and access to reliable and effective broadband.
  • The solutions to these problems will help everyone, including those older people who have less access to alternatives.
    Again, they are about keeping rural communities sustainable.

5. The solutions that older people and their friends come up with are a combination of ordinary resources and developing different relationships between people in communities and public services.

  • Many solutions will happen through people living in the area doing a bit more of the things they already do as neighbours, people working in local shops and businesses, churches and their congregations, etc.
  • Some involve new enterprises that will bring benefits to other people living in the community, for example by increasing local jobs.
  • They are also about public, voluntary and commercial care services being more flexible and working in partnership with local people.
  • Older people want to have a central part in saying what is working well for both new solutions and the current services.
  • People want to do more to develop and then implement solutions themselves. Most people will be looking for some help to get them started: they want a low level of community development support that is easy for them to access, understands their situation and is able to respond when they need it.

6. Physical aspects of living in rural areas have an impact on the lives of older people in the same way as the physical side of living in urban areas.

  • It is easier for people to go on being as independent as they can and having a good quality of life when there are seats beside bus stops and shops, public access to toilets, and when shops and other building are easy to use.
  • The layout of streets and position of people’s homes have an impact on how far older people are part of the community.

7. Transport is a big barrier to people making a contribution and to staying independent.

  • It is all aspects of transport: where you can park, access to community transport, how businesses and public sector bodies use the vehicles they own, as well as access to public transport.
  • The solutions that people are identifying start with making better use of the vehicles and people that are already in a community.

8. When people do need health and social care services, they want the services to be organised in ways that let older people stay within the community they know.

  • The changes that people want to see are as much about housing as about care services – more houses that are smaller and easier to look after, and spread throughout rural areas rather than clustered in small towns.
  • People want support that is local and flexible. Similar ideas around services provided by small teams and/or micro enterprises are described by older people and by people who care about them in many places.
  • People want services to work better together and to be sensible. Examples are: staff linking up with each other to make better use of their time; and not giving someone a 9 am appointment when they have 2 hours travel time to get there.

9. Older people want to be listened to and be part of planning for the future.

  • People want to take part in the formal opportunities for older people to participate and engage with people making decisions that affect them and their communities.
  • This includes people who need higher levels of support. They want to have practical support that helps them be involved, including people who want to hear their ideas coming out to them.
  • The structures that bring together the voices of older people need to work well for all older people, including those who live in rural areas.

10. People want to find out more about what is happening in other places.

  • The challenges that face older people living in rural areas occur in many areas with lower populations and bigger distances to travel. The solutions people in one place develop will probably be a good starting point for people in other areas.
  • Older people and their relatives and friends, people who are part of community groups, care providers and staff in public bodies all want to share ideas and encouragement with people in other rural areas.
  • People also want more opportunities to explain how things work in rural areas, and for the strengths and challenges of rural areas to be an integral and essential part of plans and strategies at national levels.

Get in touch

If you’re interested in the work that we are doing or if it links in with anything that you are doing, we would love to hear from you.

The image is from Aberfeldy, one of the areas that we’re working with in Scotland

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