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Penny Morriss explains how simple improvements and better maintenance of streets can make all the difference to people

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10th September 2019 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Living Streets Scotland’s Walking Connects project works in partnership with older people to increase wellbeing through walking.

Much of our work so far has been on working together for better quality streets and spaces which make walking in later life more accessible and enjoyable. We know from conversations with our partners and project participants that too often our streets don’t meet the needs of many older residents, which can reduce opportunities to be active, and contribute to social isolation, as well as cutting people off from their communities and preventing them from playing an active role in local decision making.

Every day trips to the shops, for coffee, to catch a bus, or to catch up with friends can be made more difficult as a result of poor quality or badly considered pavements, crossings and public space – and often, simple improvements and better maintenance can make all the difference.

Early in our project, older participants told us that they can feel that their needs are not considered important when it comes to the planning, management, and maintenance of streets and public places. Many participants felt they were less of a priority in decision making about their environment than other residents, and this can translate into a lack of confidence that they will be listened to if they raise an issue or report a fault.

For some, there is a belief that the reason they are less able to walk is due to their age or health condition, rather than as a result of a poor-quality environment. When participants did try to raise and issue or report a fault, they could often find online reporting processes and call-handling systems challenging to use; in addition, many just didn’t know where to start or who to speak to about street issues.

Penny Morriss

Penny Morriss

Drawing on our experiences, we’ve worked with project participants to co-produce our Guide to Getting Better Streets, which we hope will inspire more older people and their supporters to take action locally for necessary and often small-scale street improvements that can make walking easier. Both the case studies and guide are now available from Living Streets website, and we’re very keen to see as many people using the resource to raise issues affecting themselves or their service users ability to walk locally.  Just a few extra steps in the fresh air can achieve huge benefits for people, helping re-connect people to their friends and communities, and encouraging people to stay active.

We’ve also just launched our Walking Connects Case Studies, documenting the successes and challenges encountered by our project participants taking action for age-inclusive streets and spaces. The case studies highlight a continuing need to work to improve understanding of the impact of poor quality streets and public spaces on older people’s ability to stay active and connected through walking, as well as recognising that some people can often feel their needs are less important and so can be hesitant to ask for improvements that can make all the difference, even when a simple change like a well located bench or fixes to pavement potholes can mean someone being able to confidently get out and about.

Our project participants lead on changes that made walking easier not just for themselves, but for other local residents, and are a great example of how to go about getting better local streets for walking. The case studies also highlight the value to local decision makers of working with people who are older and who may have a different perspective on streets and spaces, and who can provide answers with a real impact for residents of all ages, making spaces better for us all to walk in.

Facilitating walking in later life can be as simple as providing a bench in the right place, or fixing an uneven surface, but yet it can be a challenge to achieve even the simplest improvement without the right support. We’re keen to work with partners across the country to highlight the impact of poor quality walking environments on people in later life, and the benefits for local authorities and health partners in prioritising the needs of older residents in decision making about streets and public spaces. We’re also keen to identify some new partners who would like to help us test the guide, and so if you or contacts would like some support to raise an issue or street fault that is acting as a barrier to walking, or if you’ve a story about how your streets and spaces either help or hinder you getting out and walking, we’d be really keen to hear from you.

Penny Morriss is communities manager for Living Streets Scotland