A positive view on ageing - Older persons as local agents of change

The number of people aged 60+ will increase by about two million each year in the coming decades and the number of very old persons (80+) will also increase. This fact calls for fair and sustainable solutions for all generations. As WHO recommends, we need age-friendly environments: physical and social environments accessible to and inclusive of older persons with varying needs and capacities.

Stronger engagement of older persons will benefit the whole society, as Erik Van Ossenbruggen pointed out, during the online session of the EWRC 2020 “Older persons as local agents of change”, based on the results of the ESPON project ACPA and jointly organized by AFE Activists Eramus+ Project, AGE Platform Europe, ESPON, European Covenant on Demographic Change, T.A.A.F.E Interreg Project. In the same event, Willeke Van Staalduinen shared the experience of the AFE Activists project which has developed training material and notably helped to foster the involvement of local communities of older persons from a migrant background. Luana Rotari explained the development of age-friendly environments in the Alpine space, a model developed by the T.A.A.F.E project. And Paul Mc Garry highlighted the crucial elements to move forward: a vibrant community of activists, a committed administration, strong political leadership and the support of academics.

Bearing in mind how much older persons have been marginalised during the COVID-19 outbreak, the event has been a direct contribution to the call made by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “let’s not treat older people as invisible or powerless. Many older people depend on an income and are fully engaged in work, in family life, in teaching and learning, and in looking after others. Their voices and leadership count.”

Besides, the current political context offers key hooks to continue supporting and developing such initiatives: the WHO Decade of Healthy Ageing, the forthcoming Council Conclusion on Human Rights, Participation and Well-Being of Older Persons in the Era of Digitalisation’ and the future Green Paper on Ageing to be released by the European Commission early 2021.

But, as Piera Petruzzi of ESPON noted, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the way in which ageing is perceived and how older persons are referred to in public debates. Rarely in the pandemic, older people were given the floor to share their own experience.

What can be done next

Speakers made clear that older persons are not only service beneficiaries but also critical agents of change. Cities can use this power of older people, if they are ambitious, and develop a holistic strategy that is taking the urban dimension of ageing into account. If they convey a positive message and reverse negative stereotypes.

And if they use the power of their people. Many of the inspiring examples in the ACPA Handbook have in common that they are reliant on professionals and volunteers who act on the local level, where they know the inhabitants.

And while working on the local level, it is important to share on the European one. Cities already use European platforms as Eurocities, AGE Europe and the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing to exchange experiences and form partnerships to improve the services and opportunities they offer to their (older) citizens.

You can watch the video of the session here: https://euregionsweek2020-video.eu/video/older-persons-as-local-agents-of-change 

Further information