Promoting independence and social engagement among older people in disadvantaged communities

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Research Institute for Social Sciences


This research project aims to increase our understanding of the social and psychological processes involved in promoting independence and social engagement among older people living in disadvantaged communities.   The participatory action research design will examine the impact on older people of different forms of community initiative in particular inner city neighbourhoods. These initiatives include community arts, community health, community health technology and benefit support.   A range of both

qualitative and quantitative data will be collected from participants throughout the study.  The information collected will be reviewed and fed back to the different project teams on an ongoing basis so as to refine the different initiatives and clarify their particular impacts.

The project will be based in the east end of Manchester, a multiply disadvantaged area which displays the complex problems that are typical of deprived urban communities.  The project was developed in partnership with the city council.  Working with the city council and relevant agencies the research team also aims to develop policy guidelines for the promotion of active ageing among older people.


Description 1. Community connectedness: Older residents of disadvantaged communities identify very closely with those communities. Although they recognise various signs of disadvantage, they stress the positive features of their communities and resent being labelled as deprived. They are aware of limited local social opportunities and anxious about involvement in activities outside their immediate communities.

2. Working with older residents: While many of the older residents are keen to get involved in local activities, they are anxious about taking a leadership role in projects. The central role of a facilitator who can encourage participation and promote engagement was confirmed. Older people also require training in various skills to facilitate sustainability of projects.

3. Working with professionals: Neighbourhoods can have a large number of different groups, activities and stakeholders. It is important to bring together different stakeholders to work towards a shared goal, to assist older people establish groups themselves and to develop the skills and capacities needed to sustain them.

4. Social engagement across the life course: While older residents have lots of experience of engaging in social relationships, they have had limited opportunity in their lives to acquire the skills of organising a committed group. It is important to explore ways of facilitating different local social opportunities for older people and for people at earlier stages of the lifecourse.

5. Extent of social engagement: A survey of project participants found they had either high or medium levels of access to social support resources but many thought they were unable to participate in social activities as much as they would like and reported moderate or severe feelings of loneliness. This would confirm the extent of social isolation experienced by the older participants although other residents may be more or less socially integrated.

6. Role of community workers: Working in disadvantaged communities requires commitment, perseverance and support. In some cases, community workers have not been formally trained and have experienced varying levels of support from their employers. This has occasionally led to conflict with local residents and junior staff ill-equipped to deal with this. There is a need for ongoing training and support.

7. Policy implications: A range of policy implications were identified including resource allocation, training of professionals and others, targeted interventions, opportunities of connections, conflicting agendas. Opportunities to connect with these issues are located within the broader political and financial domain.

8. Nature of participatory research: The ideal of participatory research is to actively involve people in the conduct of the project. However, in practice this raises a number of logistical and ethical issues.

9. Type of social activity: Gardening, arts and physical exercise were all found to be particularly attractive forms of social activity for older people. Each activity has particular features that may make them more attractive to different individuals.

10. Sustainability: While the core participants in the projects indicated their preparedness to continue with them after the researchers left it was apparent that various resources, supports and training need to put in place to ensure that these local projects continue.
Exploitation Route Local authorities can play a leading role in devloping local opportunities for older people in thei immediate neighbourhoods. This will require providing training opportunities for staff on how to work in a collaboartive manner with older people and how they can access resources from a range of sources. Local organisations can work with older residents of disadvantged neighbourhoods to maximise their involvement in social activities. This will require allocation of additional resources to communities and the training of staff to work in a collaborative manner with older people. Community workers with particular expertise in arts, gardening and related activities have a very important role to play in engaging older residents.
Sectors Education,Healthcare