All in it together – widening the choices for our old age

16th Jan 2013

Four new publications from JRF's A Better Life programme explore different approaches to issues of ageing.

It is not being older that is a problem, but being older in our current society; and we can work together now collectively to start to change this. So says Vic Forrest, author of a new report published by JRF.

It's part of a series of four new publications from our programme A Better Life, all taking different perspectives to explore the need to widen and promote options, examining less common/mainstream approaches as well as specialist options.

Ageing is something we are reluctant to discuss together, but when we do, it can unleash imaginative solutions. Brixton Housing Co-op members have found that simple social, fundraising and 'green' events can deepen communication and friendship – the foundations for any kind of mutually-supportive community. Cohousing groups like OWCH (Older Women's Cohousing) and Vivarium have shown how working together on issues builds a group's resilience to overcome future obstacles. We need to build networks and opportunities for people to get to know each other early so that trust and common ground is established well before individuals need much support from each other.

Living more co-operatively and collaboratively could enable us to support each other into old age - and generate new resources. Some lesbian, gay and bisexual people and housing co-op members are already exploring how collective living can help them to maintain independence, identity and community in older age. In some parts of the world, such as Sanctuary Cove, Florida, this has led to building specific 'intentional communities'. Similar examples in the UK remain sparse, but these initiatives may offer learning for older people and their supporters in the community or in more traditional care settings.

Most older people (like the rest of us) want privacy and independence, and an active and mutually-supportive community. Support needs are not a solely individual characteristic – they depend on, and are greatly affected by, the community. This challenges the current focus of policy and service provision on the individual - should our statutory agencies be playing a greater role in supporting groups and networks (not just individuals) to achieve their aspirations, and in providing a proactive, supportive infrastructure, as they do in the Netherlands? If so, staff will need skills in - and a remit for - community development, not just individual care management. Planning, contracting and procurement rules will also need to be revised to stimulate the development of different models and ensure that smaller-scale, relationship-based services and arrangements are not damaged by trying to 'scale up' rather than 'scale out'.