Rachel Goldie: Town centres could help older people get up to speed with the digital age together

Rachel Goldie, a designer working as part of the Kinworks team on the Tomorrow’s Older People project, says that town centres could become centers of digital learning while tackling loneliness and isolation, especially among older people

TOMORROW’S Older People is a community funded programme led by Kinworks. We aim to involve local people and organisations in proactively designing the services and support that will affect their quality of life in older age. We’re working across two areas in Scotland; the town of Ayr and the local authority area of East Renfrewshire.

Internet shopping as a contributing factor to the decline of the town centre has particular significance in Ayr. The town has the fifth highest percentage of empty shops in the UK and computer literacy is an issue for many local people. Lack of access to the internet and digital skills can lead to people become isolated and lonely.

There should be provisions for people who are not computer literate, whether that is by encouraging shops and businesses back to the high street or by ensuring there are opportunities for people to learn new digital skills. It is important that vulnerable people are not left behind as our towns change shape.

One of our findings from our research within the local community in Ayr is that there is a lack of opportunity to socialise or participate in recreational activities after work hours. Pubs are often the only option available to people in small towns and communities. For many people this isn’t what they are looking for.

READ MORE: Older people and mental health: Is 'tackling loneliness' enough?

There is a real potential for disused spaces to be repurposed for and by the community. Venues which ordinarily only open during the day could extend their hours. These ideas could bring some much-needed life into town centres past 5pm, but regardless of what form change takes, it will be crucial to engage with all members of a community to find out what they need and want.

Connected communities can better look after local people by making sure that no-one falls through the gaps. An important part of our work so far has been about bringing together an exciting, diverse group from education, law, community banks, social work, health care and transport, all of whom want to help connect people to their communities. We can encourage people to think about what they want and need from their towns, while making sure local assets are inclusive to all members of the community.

READ MORE: Craig Dalzell: What could a common weal town look like?

There is great energy amongst the people living and working in Ayr, and a willingness to share, learn and do things differently. We are coming up to the half way point of our programme. We have gathered lots of valuable insights about the experience of local people in Ayr and are looking forward to our next phase of action. We are always looking to connect with people who are interested in working together to reduce loneliness and isolation by making happy connections locally.

Picture courtesy of Daniel

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