Each year in October, several thousand older people take part in Age-friendly Belfast’s Positive Ageing Month, now in its 5th year. The month-long festival of events and activities celebrates the contribution that older people make to our city and provides opportunities for older people to have some new learning experiences. Some are taster sessions for longer-term learning programmes and we have found that trying an activity or attending an event in Positive Ageing Month can be gateway for people developing new connections, engaging in new learning and takings steps to improve their wellbeing.
Events also encourage wellbeing and reduce social isolation. Highlights have included arts and culture activities hosted by our flagship arts and heritage venues, an increasingly popular ‘Slipped Disco’, cookery demonstrations, shared reading and history talks. There have been talks on a range of health and wellbeing issues including eating well, women’s health screening, energy efficiency and dementia awareness.
Promoting good mental health has also been a focus and the Age-friendly Belfast Convention in 2019 highlighted the Take 5 Steps to Wellbeing, provided taster sessions and provided links to ongoing programmes. When we asked participants what they would do as a result of the event feedback included:
Keep learning, try to be more active and take more notice of things around me
Invite neighbours for tea and a chat
Go to a class to learn to dance
Practice mindfulness and consider yoga
Participation is sought from as wide a range of older people as possible. We work through community contacts, age organisations, nursing homes, charities working with people living with disability, black and minority ethnic groups and people living with dementia. We also advertise our programme through Belfast City Council’s City Matters magazine, radio programmes and social media.
We evaluated a sample of activities and have found that approximately 25% were new attendees, 95% felt more connected and 95% felt more informed. Feedback includes:
I am amazed at the variety of activities available in Belfast
It is lovely to meet so many friends attending these events
Great event in a beautiful building…very informative stands
Covid-19 has been a real motivating factor in getting more older people online. From March 2020 we have been working to promote a range of online support programmes and through the Get IT programme we distributed 33 refurbished tablets to older people. Feedback has included:
- One lady has been using hers to keep in touch with her granddaughter who herself is in hospital recovering from cancer
- People are watching church services online
- People have been availing of support groups run by Chest Heart and Stroke Association, British Heart Foundation and Action Cancer
- Home shopping is featuring heavily
- People have been enjoying Zoom meetings with children and grandchildren
Positive Ageing Month looked very different in 2020 with restrictions on people meeting together. Whilst we can’t replace physical connections, many older people were supported to engage through Zoom and we had an online attendance of over 200 at our launch event on 1 October.