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The planning to make Melksham one of the first small towns in the world to achieve “age-friendly” status is progressing, and now the people leading the project are asking for your input on what they should prioritise.
Brian Warwick from the Melksham Age-Friendly steering group said, “We know that even small changes in our local built environment, as well as changes in attitude, can make a huge difference to the quality of life for people of all ages, not just seniors.
“Having seats in shops, easier access to toilets, better pavement design, ramps rather than steps in key places… right through to the design of new homes. Given time, we can make a root and branch change to the way we design our environment so that no-one is excluded because they aren’t physically fit, or have problems with their sight or hearing.
“But creating an agefriendly community can take quite a long time frame. It is quite normal for it to take long periods, from five to 10 years to be really successful. The advice of those who’ve been down this road before is to take on a number of small projects that are achievable in a relatively short time periods of say up to 18 months, rather than expecting to achieve complete 100% success overnight.”
Brian and the other people leading the project are keen that local seniors start seeing the benefits of the project as soon as possible – and is asking for local people for their thoughts to guide that process.
“Ideally, we’d like some ‘quick wins’ to show how a modest investment can make an important difference,” he says. “I recently attended a conference in Bristol on the subject where several communities recommended good accessibility projects, age-friendly seating in pleasant environments and particularly in retailing areas. But we need ideas on what would be best for Melksham from the people who know the town best.
“We want the views of Melksham News readers on what small projects they would like to see happen over the coming year. We will then cost the best idea – or possibly more – and present it to our local councils and the area board and ask for their support.
“It may well be that we can actually achieve funding for the idea or even sponsorship from a local company. So please, get your thinking cap on – and send your ideas to email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Melksham Seniors via Melksham TIC, 32 Church Street, Melksham, SN12 6LS. Our deadline is Friday 16th March.
What will an age-friendly Melksham look like?
“So what would an agefriendly Melksham look like? We live in a lovely part of the world, and going into town to do the shopping, go to a pub or restaurant or go to the pictures is something most of us take for granted. But if you have poor eyesight, arthritic fingers or dodgy hips, every trip can be painful, dangerous or even downright impossible.
“Steps into shops to negotiate, crowded pavements, pedestrian crossings that turn red before you can get across the road…
“Added to this, even the prospect of a trip to the shops, let alone a day out, can be daunting for those who require the reassurance of a toilet close by, or need regular sit downs.
“Closer to home, poor housing design can make it impossible or too expensive to adapt one’s home – leading to falls and forcing people into care. Poor town planning and transport links can result in older people not being able to socialise or even shop.
“All too often, the end result is social exclusion and increasing dependence. And, of course, when you start going out or doing less, the harder it becomes to do them again.
“All over the world, research is proving that the best approach is good design and thoughtful planning, summed up in the principles of “age-friendly communities”.
“It leads to fewer falls, greater wellbeing, lower health and care costs and less isolation. Critically, it allows everyone in a community to be a full participant – contributing their skills, energy and wisdom.
“There are some upfront costs involved – but nowhere near as much as the sums saved by public services in the long term. Shops and businesses benefit too; communities become more integrated and harmonious. Moreover, there are various “pots” of money available to drive the agenda forward.
“Another plus point is that it’s not just older people who benefit: mums with young children need seats in shopping centres and decent public toilets too. A teenager in a wheelchair needs easy access onto a bus just as much as a pensioner. That’s why the expression “all-age friendly” is often used to describe what’s going on. Critically, it will need people from all generations working together to make this happen.
“Age should never be a barrier to someone playing a full and fulfilling role in their community. An “all-age friendly” Melksham will achieve that vision for all of its citizens.”