The erosion of social capital, and increasing levels of social isolation are widely recognised phenomena in our society. Older people are particularly likely to admit to feeling lonely, and social isolation is known to have a significant impact on older people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Many older people particularly value local services that provide them with opportunities for regular social contact. However, we are currently witnessing a significant decline in many of these local services such as libraries, post offices and lunch clubs. More than 2,500 post offices have closed and 5,000 small shops have disappeared in the past six years. At the same time, many statutory and third sector services are currently under threat from local authority budgetary cuts.
The private sector could do much to provide non-specialised local settings and opportunities for older people to remain connected with their communities. However, thus far there has been little investigation into how private companies might contribute to social cohesion in this way. This project will identify ways that private companies can make use of their local presence and existing operating models to generate new social opportunities for older people.
This project will focus on three key areas of inquiry:
- Demand: What sorts of community settings would older people like to use to build social networks?
- Supply: Can private companies meet these needs and generate opportunities for older people to build social networks? What models are successful and what are the motivating factors for getting involved?
- Implementation: Can the private sector act as a tool for improved social cohesion and inclusion for older people nationally?
To answer these questions, we have developed a research methodology for the project that will include the following key components:
- Case studies of good practice: Existing examples of how some private sector organisations have successfully generated new social opportunities that are valued by older people. This will include a range of models, including companies that are working directly with older people and those that have developed partnerships with community groups, third sector organisations and other businesses.
- Building the business case: exploring why companies are motivated to provide social opportunities for older people, and what are the barriers/ opportunities for other companies to get involved?
- Interviews with “early adopters”: Some companies already have a specific commitment to providing social opportunities for older people. The next phase of the project will involve interviewing individuals within such organisations to identify how they could get more involved with this agenda.
- An idea-swapping workshop: In the final phase of the project we will bring together a series of stakeholders, including private providers, third sector partners, local authority representatives and representatives of older people’s organisations in a workshop designed to bring the “supply” and “demand” of social hubs face to face. The purpose of the workshop will be to share good practice, generate new ideas and develop recommendations for the project’s final report.
The project will culminate in a final report that will set out the case for locally based, private sector schemes; identify barriers to such schemes being implemented more widely; and present a series of recommendations aimed at the business community, policy-makers and commissioners.
Ageing Sociably is supported generously by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.