Leeds is on a mission to be one of the best cities in the world for older people to live in. Laura Bowyer reports on how the city is trying to achieve this ambitious plan.
Somewhere in north Leeds a woman, aged 62, has just retired from her job.
This quiet, unassuming woman, who is just going about her daily routine, could even be your next door neighbour.
But this is no ordinary woman.
As she prepares to enjoy her retirement, perhaps even looking after her grandchildren, she could be facing an entire lifetime ahead of her.
Experts say this lady could be in line to become the city’s first 120-year-old.
And as council officials cope with the city’s growing ageing population they have signed up to a dynamic vision to make Leeds one of the best places in the entire world for older people to live and visit.
The city has officially been included in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, taking its place alongside 33 cities in 22 countries across the globe.
And today a rallying cry is being issued to local businesses, groups and individuals, challenging them do their bit to make sure Leeds is a place where older residents can play an active role in their community both now and in the future.
Cities signing up to be part of the WHO’s network are given a checklist of essential features which they can use to chart their progress towards becoming age-friendly.
Key criteria on the list include accessible public transport, opportunities to socialise and a good range of health and community support services.
Other important elements are high quality parks and green spaces, affordable housing and making sure older people have access to advice and information.
Mick Ward, Leeds City Council’s head of commissioning for adult social care, believes it’s only a matter of time before Leeds has its first 120-year-old living in the city.
“It seems a long way off but that person will be a woman who lives in north Leeds,” he says.
“She’s 62 and just retired from her job and will be pottering around. But she will have an entire lifetime to live again.
“There will be more people living to be a phenomenal age,
“We will have this big swathe of people in their 60s and 70s living well and wanting to be active. We need to ensure they are supported.
“We will all grow older but we need to think about what sort of city do we want to be able to do this.”
Leeds City Council, along with Leeds Older People’s Forum, is currently waiting to hear if a bid for £6m of Big Lottery funding to tackle social isolation over the next six years has been successful.
Work is also ongoing to develop dementia-friendly communities across the city in Rothwell, Otley, Middleton, Chapel Allerton, Beeston and Holbeck.
Leeds’s 37 council-funded neighbourhood networks, which support more than 21,900 older people, recently won national praise and were highlighted as example of good practice which should be replicated nationally.
Figures show 30,855 people in Leeds aged over 65 are expected to be living alone by 2020 and the demand for support will increase.
“These projects and others like them are already having a profound impact on improving and enriching the lives of thousands of older people in Leeds,” says Mr Ward.
“But with an estimated 30,855 people in Leeds aged over 65 expected to be living alone by 2020, the demand for support is only going to increase, which will make the work they do more important than ever.
“If Leeds is truly to be an age-friendly city, it will take a co-ordinated effort involving the public, private and voluntary sectors to make it happen.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that Leeds is recognised around the world as a place that older people can enjoy both now and in the future, and it is one we should all work together to make the most of.”
Councillor Adam Ogilvie, executive member for adult social care, says older people have an important role to play.
“They have a lifetime of knowledge and experience to contribute to our city and thanks to the work of our Neighbourhood Networks and other voluntary and community projects, thousands of them are already proving they can play an active role in their local communities.
“This puts us in a strong position- but becoming the country’s most age-friendly city isn’t something we as a council can accomplish alone.
“We need everyone to play their part by helping us to break down the barriers that older people face and making sure they don’t have to sit on the sidelines.
“If we all work together to open up more opportunities to our older residents, not only can we prevent them becoming isolated, we can proudly say that we are a global standard-bearer for bridging the generation gap.”
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