By the T.E.D. AGEING BETTER team, East Lindsey (talk, eat, drink).
Dr Hayden Bird
TED in East Lindsey and Ageing Better
How can communities develop so people can ‘age better’? ‘What works, for who and when? These questions resonate internationally, as well as nationally and ‘locally’. They also have implications for both policy and practice. Or, at the very least, should do, particularly when we think of AWOC.
March 2022 saw the end of the seven-year Ageing Better programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. The £87 million investment across England created opportunities to acknowledge, understand and address loneliness and social isolation in people who are ‘ageing’. In this context ageing or ‘older’ referred to those aged 50 plus.
Ageing Better sought to challenge and change the language and perceptions about ageing, from what we might think of as a ‘deficits’ perspective held by those Dr Anna Dixon refers to as the ‘doom-mongers’. Here ‘getting old’ invokes imagery of a homogenous group of people becoming less independent, less healthy and a burden on key services and resources for ‘mainstream’ society. Picture, for instance, the ‘othering’ reinforced by stereotypes of ‘elderly’ ‘bed blocking’ patients in hospitals, queuing for care home places. Yet, somewhat ironically, we know that this very ‘othering’ is taking place within our increasingly ageing society, one where AWOC will feature as part of greater diversity (for a number of reasons including declining fertility levels as well as people making an active choice to not have children).
The Ageing Better response locally was the TED (Talk, Eat, Drink) in East Lindsey programme. TED was one of fourteen ‘local’ partnerships across England. In the East Lindsey district, the programme represented a coming together of local vision, political leadership and multiple stakeholder ‘buy-in’. Made up of sparsely populated areas which include coastal and inland rural communities, East Lindsey is not an especially diverse district when thinking of different ethnicities. Although the county of Lincolnshire has a greater proportion of people aged 50 and over compared to the national average, for the district this is even larger.
Our (the TED team in YMCA Lincolnshire) experiences of Ageing Without Children (AWOC)
This is the T.E.D. team of Grace T, Lisa C, Jane B, Jane A, Hayden. At the T.ED.'end of an era' party Skegness
TED was driven by an original ethos of people ‘getting out and getting together’. Those involved in managing and delivering the programme had some familiarity with AWOC, yet this was mainly reflected in our personal experiences. For instance, some of the TED team employed by YMCA Lincolnshire had ageing relatives and knew friends that were ageing or had aged without children. Our own experiences of ‘family life’ varied too and this included differences in our ‘future planning’.
In short, on reflection we had a lot to learn about peoples’ different experiences of ageing in our communities, and especially about those AWOC in rural/coastal communities. This was despite best intentions of the programme in its early days to learn how we could age better. The silence about ageing diversities in the form of AWOC and specifically those AWOC in rural and coastal communities was mirrored in policy, practice and research.
When COVID-19 happened our original aims (and those of the programme across England) remained relevant (perhaps more relevant) during government measures and we had to focus more on how we could connect with people at distance. Services would adapt and shift and this included our delivery partner-ran projects which specialised in fitness and wellbeing, citizens’ advice, befriending, digital skills and engaging with male carers. Friendship groups, led by key local volunteers, initiated contact with people who would have ordinarily attended their groups. Socially distanced, virtual and phone contact was drawn on heavily. ConnecTED was established at the start of the pandemic as our telephone befriending service for people aged 50 and over. Collectively we started engaging with those ‘hidden from sight and sound’ in our original offers.
Trish contacted us in 2020 against the melee of pandemic measures and press attention about families being able to get together during Christmas. Although there was a concerted uptake of volunteering during the pandemic, it is the case that the role of nuclear and extended families has been overwhelmingly dominant. Family was responsible for supporting ageing relatives, as well as controlling infection. This was exemplified when (the then) Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced “don’t kill granny with coronavirus”. More weight on family and childbirth (pronatalism) continued to push emphasis on to people AWOC for their social exclusion – Why didn’t you have children? Didn’t you want children? Will you ever have children?
Evidencing the ‘unseen’? A research partnership looking at Rural and Coastal Experiences
Trish triggered awareness in the TED team, leading efforts to establish the virtual AWOC support group. There was strong appetite amongst various stakeholders in the area (including ongoing commitment from the local authority) to know more about what AWOC in the district meant, as well as reflect on complexities within our communities. Last summer the TED team contacted Prof Mo Ray at the Healthy Ageing Research Group (HARG) at the University of Lincoln, marking the start of a research partnership. Issues raised in this research are familiar to those who age with children in rural and coastal areas, but they also reinforce that if you are AWOC there is a potentially greater propensity to be socially excluded in distinct ways. Examples range from difficulties in accessing key services, who to consult when making key decisions in life and establishing power of attorney, to a lack of acknowledgement of differing ageing trajectories in the diversity policies of local authorities and wider organisations. Here AWOC would be given parity of esteem with other ‘protected characteristics’, such as ethnicity, gender and religion/faith.
The research so far features in a briefing paper that is available on the TED in East Lindsey website (awoc-briefing-report-final.pdf (tedineastlindsey.co.uk). We share with Trish the insight that there are many different pathways to AWOC and the legacy of the work we have done with Trish and Mo is hopefully one where ageing, in its various embodiments, is valued and at the heart of communities. East Lindsey’s cultural vibrancy and economic wellbeing need ageing populations and it is likely that AWOC will be more prevalent locally and nationally as time passes and trends mentioned earlier continue. People sometimes think about the legacies they want to leave for future generations, but ageing well without children should (and could) be attainable here and now. A shift from the ‘deficit’s’ perspective appears to be gaining steady momentum with a number of local authorities and organisations increasingly buying in to ‘age-friendly approaches’, including AWOC in diversity policies. So, scope is there for valuing ‘difference’ and realising too opportunities associated with ageing.
In the beginning - Heather, Cllr William Gray portfolio holder for Ageing Better, Lincs, Jane Berni, Me and Her
Thank you from:
The TED in East Lindsey Team.
A final word from me and her -
I feel rather honoured to be publishing this very important piece of authorship, primarily from the TED team, Ageing Better, East Lindsey, Lincolnshire. Very much driven by the wonderful and marvellous Hayden Bird. And I don't care if I'm not supposed to use such effusive language about an academic and a scholar. Hayden has steered this powerful piece to fruition and landed it on my little old blog. He's steered it with the wonderful help of the Ab Fabs team, (especially you, Jane Adams et al) at TED Ageing Better, East Lindsey.
And I, for one, must make big mention of a Ms Jane Berni, (at the time of AWOC eastlindsey), Principal Officer, of T.E.D Ageing Better. I tell you this - you got a project you want help with? You want this lady on board.
This is a combined effort of the above, esteemed people, but I originally approached Dr Hayden and asked him for a contribution to the blog. He would see what he could do, he said…
So he did.
Thank you Hayden, the Janes, T.E.D team, Cllr William, (dare I say Prof Mo Ray and Research Team, Lincoln Uni?).
This piece deserves everyone's full attention.
The Healthy Ageing Research logo, Lincoln University.
thank you to them, also