Why community engagement on ageism matters

Sarah Prescott from the Age Proud Leeds campaign talks about their work on tackling the underlying ageism that hampers so many policies and practices at work and in the community and about the need for a diverse approach to ageism.

 

Leeds has been spearheading a range of community engagement work aimed at overturning ageist attitudes and has been able to keep innovating despite all the obstacles presented by Covid.

Age Proud Leeds is a campaign to tackle ageism through a positive narrative and evolved out of Age Friendly Leeds, which is led by Leeds City Council and is one of a number of age-friendly initiatives around the UK. Many of the other initiatives cover issues such as housing or transport. Through Age Proud Leeds, Leeds has a strong focus on confronting the ageist mindset that underlies many policies relating to older people.

Sarah Prescott is communities officer for Leeds Older People’s Forum and devised the Age Proud Leeds campaign with a former colleague in partnership with the council, the NHS, the Centre for Ageing Better and voluntary sector organisations. It is led by a steering group of older members of the community.

The campaign launched just before the pandemic hit and all its plans for face to face events and engagement had to be moved online.

It has five key messages: fighting ageism, talking about how ageism affects us all, about what it does to us, about diversity among older populations and about positive ageing.

The campaign has inevitably touched on ageism in the workplace. Prescott says ageism in the workplace tends to go “under the radar”, but stories about it are frequent once people start to share their experiences in ageism awareness workshops. Many older people also internalise ageism messages and don’t challenge it, says Prescott.

Podcast

Last year it started work on a Diverse Voices podcast. The idea came out of the move online and the campaign’s aim to capture people’s voices and disseminate a message about being older, different and equal, celebrating the diversity of older people’s lives and experiences. That includes diversity of age since the podcast covers people over 50 to those aged in their 90s or over.

Prescott says: “We wanted to work with marginalised communities. Some people experience ageing and ageism differently to others, for instance, through the discrimination that they may have experienced all their lives. A lot of those voices go unheard and we wanted to amplify them.”

The podcast was launched in two parts, which were recorded towards the end of 2020 and released in early 2021 and consists of older people from diverse backgrounds talking about their experiences. Topics touched upon include the impact of discrimination and hate crime, the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and the need for accessible and welcoming services.

At the moment there are no plans for another, but there are many other activities coming under the Age Proud Leeds umbrella, including Ey up, is this ageist? – a website where people can report ageist things that happen to them and modelled on Ashton Applewhite’s Yo, is this ageist? website. There is also an initiative that aims to turn ageism on its head by asking people to ‘tell us one good thing about ageing’. In addition, a series of short films are being worked on which bring together younger and older people talking about their shared experiences of ageism and there could be some related exhibitions. There will also be an Age Proud Leeds festival in September.

Age Friendly Leeds, which has recruited age friendly ambassadors to spread positive messages, runs until next March and will be evaluated on how it has engaged with local people. Prescott says discussions are ongoing about what comes after that.



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