The Positive-ageing Ambassadors project was an instrumental step in Mitchell Shire becoming an age-friendly community in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of age friendly:
‘An age-friendly world enables people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age. It is a place that makes it easy for older people to stay connected to people that are important to them. And it helps people stay healthy and active even at the oldest ages and provides appropriate support to those who can no longer look after themselves.’
To create an age-friendly community, Mitchell Shire needed to understand the challenges faced by a broad range of older residents. The shire consulted with seniors who are both active in the community and those who, due to their life situation, are harder to reach. To overcome these challenges, Mitchell Shire provided participation opportunities for older residents regardless of their life stage.
The Positive-ageing Ambassadors acted as local leaders in their towns to maximize the involvement of older people in generating local projects to reflect local priorities and to develop age-friendly communities.
Mitchell Shire Council selected seven volunteers across the shire to become Positive-ageing Ambassadors.
The ambassadors were professionally trained to talk with their neighbours and the wider community on how best to develop projects or programs that would benefit older people.
The consultations investigated three critical details:
- how older people currently engage with their communities
- the barriers that make it difficult for older people to participate in activities that are meaningful to them
- the projects older people would prioritise to enhance their communities and make them more age-friendly.
The ambassadors created a short survey to capture this information from the community, and received over 500 completed surveys.
Each ambassador was allocated a geographical area to ensure all areas within the municipality were consulted. They used a variety of methods to get the survey out within the community including surveys left at all Customer and Library Service Centres, local doctors, hospitals, post offices and shops/cafes.
The ambassadors attended several meetings, workshops, events and markets to reach community groups and residents. They visited local seniors in retirement villages and aged-care facilities, and participated in group or one-on-one interviews with residents to explain the survey and collect their responses. They also made home visits to elderly people identified as isolated or house bound.
Total project cost $20,000
At a formal debriefing session, the ambassadors identified the following challenges:
- The expanded timeline of project meant that things dragged out
- There was a sense of disconnection and lack of acknowledgement on some projects and outcomes. Staff turnover meant that the deliverable outcomes were split between existing staff members for a period of time. The appointment of a permanent Positive Ageing Officer ensured ambassadors were re-engaged and provided ongoing updates on deliverables. The ambassadors were acknowledged publicly for their work in front of 150 peers during the 2018 Victorian Seniors Festival
- Community expectations of the ambassadors were raised, and there was an expectation they would become community advocates due to their higher profiles. These challenges were overcome with the integration of the ambassadors into an ongoing Social Justice role
- Survey questions could have been tested with a small audience to ensure they were crafted to get better results
- Expected time commitment was to be two to three hours per week, however the reality was two to three hours per day.
A major learning of the project was to ensure estimations of the scope of peer community engagement needs to be better understood for future projects (for example, tested during planning to understand the scope of in-depth peer consultation compared with ordinary Council consultation).
The following projects were delivered as a result of the survey results:
- Pop-up cinema project
- Communications project
- Community transport project
- Outdoor spaces and building project
- Building social connections project.
The projects resulted in the following ongoing outcomes:
- Newsletter publications increased from four times a year to six times a year
- Increased communication to local seniors through newsletter subscriptions increasing more than tenfold
- Increased age-friendly spaces and infrastructure throughout the shire I
- Increased capacity for seniors clubs to self-promote
- Increased capacity for the Men’s Shed to house members
- Increased ability for the community to hold their own age-friendly cinema events
- Increased ability for vulnerable senior community members to make use of the community transport
- Increased understanding for the ambassadors of how to navigate Council process to achieve their needs.
Four of the seven Age-friendly Ambassadors remain actively engaged in their roles as the project continues.
The Age-friendly Ambassadors have been offered the opportunity to continue their role as champions for positive ageing through integration into ongoing projects such as the Social Justice Committee.