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27 September 2017

The role of local authorities and creative ageing

David Cutler
David Cutler introduces a new report on the contribution local authorities can make to ensuring that older people can age as creatively as they deserve.

‘It is the profound impact of the arts on the quality of older people’s lives, the meaning that it gives to their lives, that is perhaps of greatest relevance to local authorities. After all, isn’t improving the quality of life (and the quality of life chances) of its residents, the ultimate raison d’être of a local authority, and isn’t art in all its wondrous forms, together with a sense of purpose, ultimately what we stay alive for?’ That statement was written not by an artist or an Arts Officer in a local authority but by a doctor who is Public Health Director of London Borough.

Dr Danny Ruta’s powerful rallying cry comes at the start of our updated publication on local authorities, arts and older people. He has put money behind his sentiments as Lewisham Council has been funding a pioneering approach to the provision of day care activities for older people since 2013. Meet Me at the Albany is run by two arts organisations where 100 residents meet weekly to undertake creative activities led by artists and trained volunteers.

It is also highly significant that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has lent its authoritative weight to this approach by stating in its guidance published in December 2015 that there is good evidence for the effectiveness of the arts in promoting the independence and well-being of older people.

Our report argues that local authorities are ideally placed to lead on arts and older people activity due to their unique combination of roles and responsibilities regarding: health and well-being; the arts and culture; older people’s services; social inclusion and community leadership.

Local authority structures, funding and responsibilities are increasingly different across the four nations but the report includes inspiring case studies from across the UK. For instance:

  • Belfast. The city sees culture as integral to is ambition of becoming an Age-Friendly City where older people live life to the full. A Charter has been produced and annual creative festivals have been taking place for the last three years.
  • Denbighshire. For the last five years the Lost in Art (Ymoglli mewn Celf) project has deployed artists who are Dementia Friends to use the visual arts with people living with dementia. Each edition of the project includes primary school children.
  • Oldham. The Council runs Gallery Oldham which has been a hub for a series of creative ageing projects including a Pop Up Museum based on a partnership with SMAAK, an arts organisation in the Netherlands and a monthly Rag-a-Muffin group led by the famous poet Ian McMillan.
  • West Lothian. The Council has worked within the Luminate Scotland-wide annual creative ageing festival. Projects include Well Verse where participants produced film/poems and Day of Dance where 150 older people come together to celebrate their love of dance.

We are not oblivious to the immense financial pressures that Councils face which drive many to an increasingly narrow conception of core statutory duties. But the report demonstrates that quite small investments, often externally funded, but with the support of local authorities can have profound effects.