Age friendly culture in Greater Manchester
A commitment to older adults
Image: Dieter K - Unsplash
In this article we would like to share with you how age-friendly culture has developed in Greater Manchester. The work that we do is born out of partnership between both Manchester Museum and local government, in the form of Greater Manchester’s Combined Authority (GMCA), supported by a unique role, which spans both organisations. Underpinning this work from both Manchester Museum and GMCA is a commitment to putting older adults at the heart of what we do. At every major step of our decision-making we involve older adults, whether it be through co-production of cultural activities via the Greater Manchester Culture Champion programme or through interview panels and funding bids for new age-friendly jobs and projects, to ensure the voices and opinions of older adults are represented.
This relationship between the cultural sector and local government has contributed to Manchester becoming the first UK city to join the World Health Organisations (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. This was followed, in 2017, by Greater Manchester being recognised as an age friendly city-region. By having this status Greater Manchester can confidently say it’s part of a global network that shares a common desire for and commitment to the promotion of healthy and active ageing and a good quality of life for older residents.
The focus of our work recently has been to develop the Greater Manchester Culture Champions programme, which is a large-scale cultural activism and leadership scheme for people aged 50 and over. The Culture Champions participate in, advocate for, and shape cultural activity – in organisations and their communities – from volunteering programmes and workshops to festivals and radio shows.
The values of Manchester Museum make it a natural fit as the home of the Greater Manchester Culture Champion programme; the Museum is dedicated to the idea of cultural institutions being a force for promoting social change. By overseeing the Culture Champion projects across Greater Manchester, we have been able to support new age-friendly cultural programmes that reflect the unique localities in which they are based; creating a sense of local identity and developing civic spaces within the community.
“It’s a new way of working and at times it can be challenging – three different teams wanting you in different places at the same time but overall it’s a beneficial way of working… it’s helped with combined funding bids and also I’ve three different teams to turn for advise and expertise. This partnership work has enabled Age Friendly work to be really embedded across Greater Manchester and great example of that is the Culture Champions… a powerful resource for mobilising older people, co-production across the cultural sector and democratising arts and cultural activity with and for older people” (Emma Horridge – Age-Friendly Culture Champions Manager -Greater Manchester)
Quote from a report by Entelechy Arts on the ‘Ageing Well: Creative Ageing and the City’ symposium. See Emma’s blog Championing Age-Friendly Culture for more on this event.
A key element of the projects is co-production with older adults, meaning that the age-friendly culture that is generated through the Culture Champion programmes is driven by the ideas of older adults themselves. We believe by involving older adults through both co-production and commissioning, we will ensure that the work delivered reflects what older adults really want and therefore will be beneficial to more people.
An example of co-production is the ‘Community Soup’ event that delivered by the Manchester City group. The event asked older adults to pitch ideas for age friendly cultural and creative activities. Each submission was reviewed, voted on by other older adults in the group to decide which ones they wanted to develop. The most popular ideas received a small grant and help from the Culture Champion coordinator to turn them into activities.
The Culture Champions scheme has an emphasis on reaching older people at risk of social isolation and uses culture as a vehicle to encourage active citizenship. We do this by working with a wide range of partners; from housing providers and voluntary and community organisations to the numerous cultural organisations across Greater Manchester. This in itself enables culture to be owned by a broader demographic, and the Culture Champion Manager sits within Manchester Museum to help shape and direct these programmes. Essentially, the purpose of the role is to ensure that age friendly work is specific to the cultural landscape of the participant’s locality.
This work has become all the more urgent during this extended period of lockdown due to the global pandemic. The Culture Champions have been involved in “a unique new initiative” that has seen the creation of Creative Care Kits – packed full of simple ideas and activities to help keep people, who are in isolation or shielding, moving, thinking and doing during lockdown. A call went out to all cultural venues, arts organisations, museum and galleries across Manchester to contribute activities and the response was fantastic with all the resources forming one creative kit. The care packs, along with resources for the activities have been distributed to 16,000 older adults across Greater Manchester and an online version is available for downloading.
The next steps for the Culture Champions is to work with them, as we emerge from lockdown and develop programmes that respond to their experience and possible anxieties of lockdown and help to build confidence to re-engage with culture for those who have isolated. This work in the locality will be all the more important to support participants who might have anxiety around mixing with people, travelling into the city, or moving too far from home.
[Source: Emma Horridge (former Age Friendly Culture Champion Manager & Andrea Winn, Curator of Community Exhibition, Manchester Museum temporary lead for Culture Champions, Andrea.Winn@manchester.ac.uk ]