The Transform Ageing programme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, is a pioneering community and design-led programme delivered through a partnership led by the Design Council that aims to improve people’s experience of ageing. It brings together people in later life, social entrepreneurs and health and social care leaders to define, develop and deliver new solutions to the wants and needs of older people.

Elder.org talked to Charlotte Burrows, Design Council Social Innovation Programme Manager about how this innovative approach could help create a more positive culture and perception of later life.

Who is involved in the Transform Ageing Programme?

Transform Ageing is a Big Lottery funded programme focused in the south-west of England. It is led by the Design Council working in partnership with UnLtd, the South West Academic Health Science Network and the Centre for Ageing Better.

Transform Ageing is championing a design-led approach to enhancing people’s experience of ageing and combines social entrepreneurship and community action with world-class design practice to drive positive change. We are starting in the south west, partly because of the partners that are involved, all of whom have a lot of information and intelligence around the area. We’re also being supported on the ground by local organisations, which are fundamental to the programme being embedded and sustained, including Volunteer Cornwall, Devon Communities Together, Torbay Community Development Trust and the Community Council for Somerset.

Why was the programme conceived and what are its aims?

The aim of the Transform Ageing programme is to encourage innovation and enhance the lives of people in later life – and the language is important. We talk of people in later life rather than ‘old people’ or ‘ageing people’ to see if even just using the facility of language we can change people’s attitudes to and stereotypes around ageing.

The programme aims to connect people in later life, social entrepreneurs and social care leaders, including local authorities and the NHS, in new ways of working - and we have started by bringing them all together in design workshops to learn skills and look at the challenges faced by people in later life in local communities.

We also asked them to go out and undertake research in their communities - taking photos, asking questions and living “a day in the life”. In Somerset, one “day in the life” experience, for example, was an abled-bodied lady who spent the day in a wheelchair and said at the end that she had no idea how difficult mobility and transport were.

They affected things she would never have expected – such as catching the last bus back from her local town with another lady who used a wheelchair. The bus didn’t have two disabled places on it. She noted, “if I had actually been in a wheelchair only one of us would have been able to go home!” We’ve begun by using those kinds of techniques to understand where people are coming from.

"There is too much homogenisation of older people. Later life is a spectrum of different experiences and recognising and responding to that diversity is part of the challenge."

Regarding the challenges of ageing in society, do you think it takes multiple viewpoints and areas of knowledge to find real solutions?

Definitely. The combination of viewpoints we are bringing together in Transform Ageing is what makes it innovative. What we’re trying to achieve is a different kind of collaborative environment where you have people in later life working with social entrepreneurs and commissioners to really understand the needs and wants and issues for people in later life and gain a deep understanding.

This can be a richer and more insightful way to design services than more traditional consultation methods that can be seen more often in the public sector. It’s a very different way of working.

In this programme, we’re saying these are some of the challenges we think people are facing, but you tell us – you go out and do the research and let us know if these are the real challenges, and whether we need to reframe them? And then we’ll look at how social entrepreneurs can come up with solutions.

"Can we shape the market differently and create new opportunities for social entrepreneurs to respond directly to people in later life?"

What other benefits are there to putting people in later life at the heart of the design process, as you are here?

Ultimately, we hope that it will mean we’ll design, deliver and have better services for people in later life that meet their needs and allow them to feel empowered. From the ‘social entrepreneur perspective’, we hope to create an environment where there are more opportunities for their services to flourish.

We know that social enterprise and social entrepreneurs struggle to compete in current public sector markets for a number of reasons, but we’re asking, “can we shape the market differently, so we’re creating new opportunities for them to respond directly to people in later life?”

This could be through a consumer market or a commissioned market where products and services are commissioned in a different way. We want to influence both those spheres – ultimately driving a more positive offer to people.

Who is involved in the Transform Ageing Programme?

Transform Ageing is a Big Lottery funded programme focused in the south-west of England. It is led by the Design Council working in partnership with UnLtd, the South West Academic Health Science Network and the Centre for Ageing Better.

Transform Ageing is championing a design-led approach to enhancing people’s experience of ageing and combines social entrepreneurship and community action with world-class design practice to drive positive change. We are starting in the south west, partly because of the partners that are involved, all of whom have a lot of information and intelligence around the area. We’re also being supported on the ground by local organisations, which are fundamental to the programme being embedded and sustained, including Volunteer Cornwall, Devon Communities Together, Torbay Community Development Trust and the Community Council for Somerset.

What other benefits are there to putting people in later life at the heart of the design process, as you are here?

Ultimately, we hope that it will mean we’ll design, deliver and have better services for people in later life that meet their needs and allow them to feel empowered. From the ‘social entrepreneur perspective’, we hope to create an environment where there are more opportunities for their services to flourish.

We know that social enterprise and social entrepreneurs struggle to compete in current public sector markets for a number of reasons, but we’re asking, “can we shape the market differently, so we’re creating new opportunities for them to respond directly to people in later life?”

This could be through a consumer market or a commissioned market where products and services are commissioned in a different way. We want to influence both those spheres – ultimately driving a more positive offer to people.

Would a more positive consumer culture have a knock-on effect in creating more positive perceptions of ageing?

I hope so. One of the interesting things that have come out of Transform Ageing already are the comments we’ve heard around the stereotypes and negativity of ageing from people, sometimes even reinforced by people in later life themselves.

Transform Ageing is focused on people who are over 50, but we recognise that is a huge spectrum of life experiences, and ‘later life’ is so eclectic in itself.

You can be 50 and have physical impairments that mean that you face challenges and you can be 80 years old and be as fit as fiddle and vice versa.

What has come up a lot so far from people is that there is too much homogenisation of older people. Later life is a real spectrum of different experiences and activities and recognising and responding to that diversity is part of the challenge.

By disrupting conventional ideas of ageing, can you create more opportunity for services that take this diversity into account?

Social entrepreneurs working with people in later life and developing services around them can help to do this. They develop services because they see and understand needs and gaps in what is provided.

They listen and meet the needs and wishes of people who want to purchase their service, whether that is through direct purchase, benefits or indirect commissioning.

I think there is a gap because current services aren’t sufficiently able to respond to the differing needs of individuals. Unfortunately, a lot of services for those in later life are commissioned and structured in a way that makes them very fixed, uniform, so what’s on offer is what’s on offer. And if it fits you, great – but it doesn’t meet the diversity of individual need.

How will the Transform Ageing programme take its research forward in its next phase?

We are really still quite early on in the programme. However, the outcome of the workshops will lead to the production of innovation briefs for social entrepreneurs to respond to.

In October, entrepreneurs will be invited to apply, and we will award the first briefs in January and start to see the services from these early next year.

We are also currently developing a national knowledge and learning network and trying to plant the seeds early regarding interest in the programme and making connections to extend it to other areas too. If people from other parts of the UK are interested in this approach, we’d be really interested in having discussions now, because we’re already learned so much through the programme…

This article was first published on Elder.org

Elder.org was set up last year by two young entrepreneurs to help families find carers for older loved-ones quickly using similar technology to online dating and consumer review websites.

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