Alongside the 3rd conference of SILVER SMEs, held in Cork in February 2020, project partners had the chance to visit Bandon, a rural town in County Cork. With 6.500 inhabitants, Bandon is facing challenges due to an increasing ageing population, both in town and in the surrounding villages of West Cork. To address these challenges, Bandon decided to become one of Ireland’s first Age-Friendly Towns.
The Age-Friendly initiative
The Age-Friendly movement was launched by the United Nations, as part of its ageing policy. In 2002 already, the UN Madrid declaration on ageing stated that all countries should implement a specific policy to address the issues related to the ageing population. In this framework, Ireland appears as a star pupil, with already 31 Age-Friendly programmes implemented by local authorities.
County Cork’s Age-Friendly policy
Cork County Council adopted an Age Friendly Strategy 2016-2021, which aims at encouraging local businesses to sign the Age Friendly Charter and adapt their services. Within this strategy, 4 pilot towns were selected: Bandon, Cobh, Kinsale and Mitchelstown.
How does it work in practice? A voluntary Age-Friendly Committee was settled, with the objective of raising awareness on the needs of the ageing population and to train local businesses to meet them. A survey was first made in Bandon, to better understand the needs of older adults. Among the answers were for instance highlighted the need for dedicated parking spots, closer to shops, and adapted public spaces such as public benches.
Cork County Council dedicated 1 full time employee to the management of the Age Friendly programme. 5.000 euros were also allocated to each pilot town and the County wishes to expand its programme to other areas.
Transformations of the business sector: from policy to practice
The Age-Friendly committee of Bandon worked on increasing the awareness on the needs of the ageing population and provided “Age-Friendly trainings” to local businesses in Bandon. As a result, many businesses changed their offers or practices to better meet the needs of older adults.
A local grocer for instance is proposing home delivery of foods for older people. He currently delivers to more than 20 persons per week and sometimes up to 10km away from the city centre of Bandon for seniors living in rural areas.
In another business, a family-run pharmacy, owners chose to propose more products dedicated to older persons, such as canes and wheelchairs. Whereas in other countries, such items can be found in most pharmacies, they are usually only proposed in specialised shops in Ireland. Owners also replaced the shop’s stairs by a ramp to make the pharmacy more accessible and put seats with armrests, to enable older persons to sit and stand up easily.
Businesses are not the only actors involved in this transformation process. For instance, thanks to the allocated budget, the town of Bandon was able to invest in new public benches with armrests. By making the city centre more adapted to the needs of the older generations, Bandon is encouraging visits to the city centre and contributes to the quality of life of seniors as well as the preservation of its local shops.