This Network was established to foster the exchange of experience and mutual learning about ageing between cities and communities worldwide. Cities and communities in the Network are of different sizes and are located in different parts of the world. Their efforts to become more age-friendly take place within very diverse cultural and socio-economic contexts. What all members of the Network do have in common is the desire and commitment to promote healthy and active ageing and a good quality of life for their older residents. Currently, 400 cities and communities of 37 countries are members of the Network, and its population reaches 146 million.
|In 2010, the City of Manchester, UK, joined the Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities (*1), established by the WHO. The city has promoted age-friendly development projects jointly with more than 100 partners, including organizations of transportation and housing, the School of Architecture and the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing at the University of Manchester as well as diverse departments of the City Council. The initiatives are collectively known as Age-friendly Manchester, or AFM. In April 2016, GM Ageing Hub was launched targeting Greater Manchester with a population of 2.75 million to become age-friendly. Culture is one of the important areas for AFM, and Esme Ward is the Strategic Lead of Culture for the GM Ageing Hub and AFM. She is also the Director of Learning and Engagement Department, The Whitworth/Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester. She talks about the background, goals and works of the AFM and the GM Ageing Hub.
Interviewer: Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Director of the Center for Arts and Culture, NLI Research Institute
Special thanks: British Council
First of all, I would like to know about your background. How you got involved in cultural programs for the ageing?
Okay. So currently, I work at the Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery and lead their participatory and public-facing work. And I have worked in museums and galleries for my entire career. Initially, my work started with children and young people. But as I spent my time in this way, I became increasingly interested in broader audiences and was increasingly conscious of how one works with older audiences. And I am very interested in how we reach people who normally don’t engage with culture, people who might be socially isolated or lonely within their communities. That is the social purpose that drove me.
When I was 16 years old, I used to work in a care home. And I used to do it voluntarily every Wednesday, for about 2 years—not in Manchester but in Somerset where I grew up—and I loved it. I think it is a part of the reason that I am currently involved in the work that I am. One of the things I love about my work is the relationship that you can build with your audience, with older people. They have a whole different perspective and you find that things move very quickly to what's really important.
How did you get involved in Age-Friendly City Manchester?
I initially got involved at the Whitworth. We started doing more and more work with older people, and there was a fantastic group of cultural organizations, which came together city-wide, to think about how to develop work with and for older people. It became really clear to me that a strategic priority for our organization should absolutely be on how to work with older people. And I think it has something to do with how you engage with the priorities of your environment; the place you live.
Later, the gallery undertook a really significant development, a capital program. As part of that work, I spent a lot of time really starting to understand the city better, and became very aware of the ambitions of Age-friendly Manchester. But also, the minute I really connected with those individuals in that team, I felt there was something really quite different and potentially very exciting. And I think they really understand and value culture. Starting as a practitioner, to then becoming more strategic, to then starting to understand, I think I, along with the team, have a real opportunity here to reach more elderly people engage with culture, and also for culture to become embedded in a really significant program. So, I think it started being very, very small, and then has just grown and grown, and my role within it has grown as well.
When did you start working at the Whitworth?
I've been at the Whitworth nearly 18 years. I was its first ever education officer. It was just me doing everything, poorly. So we've built up, now, a very large team. At the time I also taught in the university. And then 5 years ago, my role also extended to Manchester Museum, both of which are part of the University of Manchester.
So that means that when the City Council started to think about the Age-Friendly Manchester, you were already conducting some activities for elderly people at the museum.
Yes, absolutely. As far as the City Council, Paul McGarry and team started this work, and Manchester became an Age-Friendly City. It started off originally as something called Valuing Older People and then became Age-Friendly. I think we were always involved a little when it was Valuing Older People, and we did projects and programs. I think when it really became embedded within our work and a key priority—this is what we do—is when it became Age-Friendly Manchester. There was a very clear sense of how we may have quite a significant role around the development and thinking about what Age-Friendly Manchester could be.
You are a member of the so-called Age-Friendly Senior Strategy Group.
Yes, that's right. We have it in both Manchester, and now in the Greater Manchester area as well. I am a strategic lead for culture, so I am there with the culture hat on, and to my right, you will have someone who is leading for housing; and then someone else for transport; someone else for social care; someone else for clinical commissioning and health… We are all there essentially to do the same thing, which is to work collaboratively from our own perspective, thinking about how to make Manchester and Greater Manchester the greatest place to grow older in the UK. In the GM Ageing Hub, there are around 12 people, all from different backgrounds.
One of the members is from a think tank called New Economy. They recently drafted the strategic plan of GM Ageing Hub. The report looks at what the opportunities, challenges, and potential is around ageing across Greater Manchester, and helps shape the priorities of the Ageing Hub. And that's been done not by a group of professionals sitting around a table, but through conversations with older people in communities, partner organizations, etc. For me, that's what I think is so important about this work—this ambition to no longer just do things to people or even for them, but to genuinely start to think about how one should work with them. It takes a long time to do that, but I actually think we are starting to see that really happen now across Greater Manchester. So there is a host of older people who feed in to the process.
And in Manchester, there is also an interesting group of people who are age-friendly ambassadors that are there to promote the aims of age-friendly Manchester. Those ambassadors—I am an ambassador as well—many of us in our 40s, and we are thinking about the city that they might want to grow older in. We also have a group called Culture Champions. They are all older people who participate in culture and advocate for it. Ambassadors actually, they are all a group of professionals, but they are from really diverse professions, so they include architects, media, industry, design, and housing, and all of them are engaged with Age-Friendly Manchester.
Raising the profile of our work is important to us, because I think lots of people still in Manchester don't realize that there is a huge commitment to being this great place to grow older. And when one talks to people and the public widely, they are fascinated, they are really supportive. But I think we've got quite a lot of work to do around how we engage above and beyond ageing organizations and charities, to include supermarkets and banks, all sorts of designers, and other professionals. This is what the Ambassadors program sets out to do.
Yesterday, I met the Age-Friendly Manchester team, and I was surprised there were only four people involved in it from the City Council. I imagined them as having a huge group. I am very curious about the organizational structure of Age-Friendly Manchester.
Yeah, I think it's a brilliant organizational structure because what it does is it empowers partnerships and partners. So you are right, it's a really small core team, but its reach is extraordinary. It has to do with the level of collaboration and autonomy that you have as a partner. Paul McGarry is the fantastic leader of the program, and he focuses on people understanding the ethos and values of the program, and then, encourages people to think about it and develop work that embodies those values.
So what we have is a whole range of different groupings of people who are all aware of what Age-Friendly Manchester is, ambassadors and Champions who seek to develop work that contributes to it in their context. And that's where the coordination of it is incredibly light-touch, and it just feeds in through strategic leads like me for culture. I chair a group, the Culture Working Group, where 34 cultural organizations come together, and Claire helps coordinate that. But again, I can't give you loads of detail about the work happening at the Royal Exchange, for example. But actually they own that work, and it's part of a collective, does that make sense? So I actually think one of Age-Friendly Greater Manchester's greatest strengths is that it's a dispersed model. It's only just gone off to the GM Ageing Hub. So I have been seconded two days a week since September last year to look at how culture might develop, support the ambition of GM Ageing Hub and really help it to grow within Greater Manchester in relation to ageing.
Do you have regular meetings?
Yes, the Ageing Hub Strategy Group meet every 3 months, and there is a partnership meeting, and we meet every couple of months as well. The Manchester group similarly meets every couple of months. The Age-Friendly Culture Working Group also meets every couple of months. There are a lot of meetings actually. And I think in a way part of me always thinks oh, too many meetings, but actually, they are probably the most useful meetings I attend. I think it's because they are not overly formal. There are genuinely points for discussion and some of them probably feel more like workshops.
So in that sense, may I understand that the role of the City Council for the Age-Friendly Manchester is as a kind of coordinator or a facilitator?
Yes, I think it's useful to think of them as being in a really strong, convening role. So their power is to convene people, to bring people together, but also for us in arts organizations to have them as a partner is really significant. A good example is the cultural coordinator Claire. About 60% of her funding comes from the City Council as part of a broader public health budget. The other 40% comes from a mixture of the Whitworth's funding and Arts Council funding because our gallery really believes in having someone like Claire based at the Whitworth, but also at Age-Friendly Manchester. So you see they don't have one line manager. It is collaborative. And although she is funded by the Whitworth, she only spends a day a week at the gallery, and it's part of the gallery's commitment to the social purpose of culture that she develops work within communities. It doesn't always have to be within the Whitworth's walls, at all.
Do you have any idea how many organizations are involved in Age-Friendly Manchester, more than a hundred?
Yes, definitely more than 100. I wouldn’t even try and guess, because they have Neighborhood Locality Officers as well. Even if you just look at culture, the Age-Friendly Culture Working Group is now 34 cultural organizations. Yes, hundreds I would say, hundreds.
So can I say it is the initiative of all the organizations across the city that have an interest in the ageing society?
Yes, absolutely. And I've been finding it quite useful to think of it as a movement. Because I think that's a very useful way to think about the manner in which these organizations are coming together. It catalyzes activity. Some of the organizations that are partners in the program share the same model. MICRA, which is the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research into Ageing, you know they are an institute within the university, but their reach is extraordinary because they have many researchers, ranging from older people who are co-researchers through to academics currently doing research around all aspects of ageing. It reminds me of an ecosystem. So I've just completed an application in partnership with MICRA to look at how to bring in a researcher to do some postgraduate research into the impact of culture on older people across the city.
Actually, one of our ambitions and something Paul and I have talked a lot about moving forwards is that we—over the next 3 years—set up a Center for Excellence in Arts and Ageing, which would be supported by MICRA but would be a center that brings together the very best practice around arts and ageing, internationally. That would be fantastic. I mean when I was in Japan, I saw some brilliant, brilliant examples. And actually, I've been travelling quite a lot, looking at these examples, and as yet, there is no center that really brings them together. I think we have a real opportunity to bring that work together. So that's something looking forwards that I think -- I know the GM Ageing Hub and the Age-Friendly team are really interested in how they might support that.
I have been talking with the director of MICRA, and we are going to explore what it might look like to do that within the university or maybe even shared across universities, because we have some brilliant work going on at MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University) around design and age-friendliness, and some great work at the University of Manchester, around the medical and clinical sides of ageing. I think for me, this center would really have to be thinking about arts and culture in the broadest form. So organizations, museums, galleries, theater is wonderful, but there are actually some extraordinary artists doing work in communities. There is some brilliant community-led work, festivals, and heritage. I think I am really interested in what happens if we bring all of that together.
What are the major programs for aged people? I mean the Whitworth and Manchester Museums.
Okay, before I talk about any of the big programs, there is a one really significant program, sort of the flagship program across all of Manchester without which any of these activities couldn't happen as effectively. This is the Culture Champions. And in my opinion this is really, really significant I think. We currently have around 150 Culture Champions who are living all over the city, who participate in culture. They shout about it in their communities, whether to hairdressers or sheltered accommodation or friends and family.
And one of the things I am really excited by is how that develops as we move forward. Because it's great that they advocate for the value of culture, and it's great that they come in and help us shape culture, but there's also real opportunity for them to transform cultural activity. A good example of a program that I think is starting to do that, that we've also been very involved with, is a program called Vintage FM. So it's a radio station. So in partnership with a community radio station called All FM. The Whitworth, the Royal Exchange, Manchester Art Gallery, and the Culture Champions came together, and we've worked with All FM to train up a group of older people as broadcasters.
So what they do is they travel, they go to cultural organizations. They might go behind the scenes, they might just stuff out in the galleries, they might talk with artists who are exhibiting, and they broadcast. They run the broadcasts themselves. And for me, it’s some of the best cultural broadcasting that I have heard. But what it's doing is really giving an insight on one hand, and on the other, of course it's promoting. It was supported by The Baring Foundation
to begin with. I will be honest, it emerged out of a slight frustration, which we had in thinking about who we were reaching because we'd started to think about how one reaches people in the home, how do you reach people who maybe can't come out, who maybe are quite isolated, and we started to think about the power of radio to reach people in their homes, and particularly community radio.
So by working with a community radio partner like ALL FM, they have a strand of their programming which is specifically for older people. And so we said, can we work with you and help you develop content for that work? So I can send you lots and lots of examples. So they did a popup broadcast, a live broadcast from the Whitworth as part of International Older People's Day, which people loved. And I think we are going to look moving forwards at how cultural organizations really support that. Because what that does for us is of course it promotes our work, but it also means that our work is going to be really there and accessible for people who maybe can't coming through the doors.
When and who started the Culture Champion?
The Culture Champion started funded by the Baring Foundation. The Baring Foundation are an extraordinary funder who has devoted much of their funding to arts and older people for the last decade. Most of the significant work around arts and older people has at some stage been supported by The Baring Foundation. So back in 2009, a group got together, and I was only on the periphery then, a group got together and applied to The Baring Foundation for actually what now is Claire's role. They said, we need a coordinator who can help us bring together all of this cultural work, and who also can look at how we work with older people. So a woman was appointed named Sherry de Wynter, who is now moved on, a brilliant woman, and she developed these Champions as part of the work. So it has just been growing and growing, year by year.
I very much hope that the Champions will now grow and develop even more. They become broadcasters, editors, programmers, and artists, but we need to look at how we diversify their role—how we reach specific BME communities who currently aren't participating. Actually we have very good representation across the city. But now we might want to extend to parts of Greater Manchester as well. So I think over the next couple of years, we are going to really see the program grow and grow, because if you meet any of them, they are such an articulate, powerful voice for the difference culture makes.
They are our greatest advocates, but also our greatest critics, which is brilliant. They feed back to cultural organizations what we do well, but also what we are really not doing well enough. There was one of them, called Ray, who really changed how I thought about the Champions for me two or three years ago. We'd been having a meeting as a group of cultural organizations looking at some Arts Council funding, and we had also brought in some partners, some Champions. And Ray had been sitting very patiently through lots of presentations about all the wonderful work that arts organizations do, and he was getting sick of this, really. So he sat there, and very impatiently said you know what, I've sat here for hours it feels like, listening to what Manchester's cultural organizations can do for me. I am just wondering when you are going to ask what I can do?
It was a brilliant challenge, brilliant and completely the right question and it changed how we worked. So we stopped as a group of cultural organizations, at that stage, we had been talking about the “cultural offer”, and we still do a bit, and I get really annoyed when we use that phrase. I don't want to do a cultural offer. I am not interested in a cultural offer. I am not a shopping center. The cultural offer actually assumes, “I am going to give you something that's going to benefit you.” I don't want that kind of relationship with the people across the city we want to work with. So for me, that really marked a shift in how we think about culture. It was a brilliant, brilliant question, and it's why the Champions have become the heart of the work around culture—they remind us that we mustn't get used to our sense of, “we have this wonderful culture that you may participate in.” No, that's not how it works. We want to work with you. Help us shape the culture in the city.
Are you basically saying we should think not about what we can do for older people, but about what they can do for themselves?
Absolutely yes. And I think it's quite easy to say, we work with, rather than working to, but it's actually really hard to do. And it doesn't mean that we don't have brilliant shows and exhibitions that people come and see. Of course we do. We offer all of those but actually those Culture Champions are full of so much energy and expertise and creativity and a different perspective, enough to really shape what culture in the city might look like. When you start to broaden your sense in regards to who those Champions might be, you bring in the older artists that you are working with, the older writers who are in that show that's on Royal Exchange. You start to think about commissioning new work with older artists just as a core part of what you do. So it's starting to really move away from the sense of those who just participate in what you have to offer to really thinking about them as just those you work with, and I think that becomes really, really interesting.
Can you tell me about the “Culture Shot”?
I am biased, but I do think Culture Shots is brilliant. For the last eight years, we have focused on how we work in partnership with the health sector. What we realized quite early on is that culture actually had a really important role to play for health professionals, and what we came up with was an idea that actually what the NHS and its health professionals really needed is an injection with a shot of culture for their own well-being! So every year we essentially inject a shot of culture into the NHS. And led by the Whitworth and Manchester Museums, we bring together what's particularly successful with museums and galleries, and also some cultural organizations in the city, and we take over the hospitals in the city.
If you see our hospitals here, they have these beautiful atrium spaces. And once a year, in July, we take over all of those spaces. And when I say take over, I literally mean we go in. Manchester Museum has an incredible inflatable museum, huge thing. We run small workshops. We have artists going in. We do performances. One of my favorite moments is seeing a nurse walking through the eye hospital atrium sort of looking over, walking on and then doing a double take, coming over and saying is that a mammoth's tusk. And saying, what's a mammoth's tusk doing in the middle of the hospital, and it was part of the museum's collections. And our curator, talking to them about where this tusk would come from and telling the story, and her turning around and saying, wow, I feel I've just escaped my every day. That was great. It's given me a bit of energy. I've kind of unconnected with the past. Don’t you think it gives perspective? So it's a really interesting way. So we are not being anything other than who we are. We are still being museums, galleries, but we are just giving that opportunity for patients, and more so for staff, to get them thinking about what culture might bring to their daily lives.
And it's within the context of a really quite wide-ranging program with health partners that's much more intensive. So ward-based residency programs, training programs. We run a big training program for doctors called Art Med where we use our art collections to think about the humanizing role of culture, move away from seeing the illness to seeing the person. We run all of those programs in wards where we look at art as a recovery tool. But actually, there is something quite special about culture shots where just in a lunch break, you can engage with someone from the People's History Museum who is a performer, who talks to you about what was happening in that part of Manchester 200 years ago. And I think it's a really interesting model for how culture can bring something different to another sector.
May I ask you why and how arts and culture matter to the ageing society?
Well, it's very interesting, and I have been thinking about this a lot. I am talking to all sorts of people from all different sectors. I'll pass on what they value, what they have told me because I think that's the language we need to use. So what they have told us they really value about arts and culture is that culture is a valuable place for participation of older people.
There is something really significant around the role of arts and culture and the value of social connectedness. So what the research is showing us—still unpublished, only a couple of weeks old—that social connectedness has more impact on how you age well than any medication. If you feel socially connected to your community, to others around you, that will help you age well better than any clinical intervention might manage. And what we're hearing is that cultural activities, cultural spaces that are really strong social spaces, they help you feel connected, so you are connected not just to other older people but to other ages, to big ideas, to the things that matter in society. And I think that's really interesting, that value of social connectedness.
Then the next area is that actually the arts they confer an agency an autonomy that you don't often get as you age. So they give a voice to older people. So one of the things Culture Champions often tell us is we're invisible. As you age, you no longer necessarily—you know if you've retired, you don't have your professional life. You become invisible to all sorts of people, and the arts is so interesting because there is a level of agency and autonomy. You can express yourself. You are visible within quite public spaces. You have the opportunity to perform, to create new work. That is hugely valuable to older people who are feeling increasingly marginalized. And I think that's really, really interesting.
And then the final area I think is not one that I thought of at all until I started talking to people in the ageing hub. And I think it's a big challenge actually for us in Manchester is how do we tell a different story about ageing. In Greater Manchester and Manchester, we are not interested in a deficit model. Very often in the media, I hate the media conversations about bed blocking or all the images of ageing. Actually there was a different story to tell about active positive ageing, and I think what increasingly people are seeing is that culture helps us tell that story. Because actually what we do is we show the story through performance, through visual work, through music, through activity.
One of the things we are going to be exploring, over the next year in particular, is how we tell a different story about ageing. My sense is culture and arts is going to be right at the heart of it. There are some extraordinary writers out there who might want to work with us, and think about how they share a newer story of what ageing actually feels like. Let's work with older writers to do that. Let's work with older artists. We need to understand how we can tell a different story about ageing that engages the wider public.
Could you tell me about the Age-Friendly Museum Network?
This Network is a great thing. Again, Baring Foundation funded it, but originally it was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation who are also brilliant funders supporting work around ageing. This Network actually emerged. I have been involved from the outset alongside the British Museum, Glasgow Museums and Northern Ireland Museum. So the ambition of the Age-Friendly Museum network is how the museums work with and for older people. And what the network looks like is that there is training, there are network meetings and there is peer support that really brings together any museum nationally who might want to develop work. What started interesting me in this was that I get to work for incredibly well-resourced museums, and I have amazing networks I can draw on, researchers and health professionals.
And I did some work for the Arts Council in the East Midlands area, and it was a collaboration to support very small, brilliant museums. Some museums are only run by volunteers, or maybe only have one person who is doing everything. But they were really interested in developing this work and we started to think well how can we support them, where do they need to be supported, what information do they need. And they actually just needed someone who has already done it. They need someone who's behind them saying this is great, do it. And you're mentoring. So that's what the Age-Friendly Museum Network does.
And it's really increasingly targeting not just museums in Manchester, but museums across the UK who really want to do this work, but maybe don't quite know how or aren't sure how to develop it. It shouldn't be. I often get emails from people saying I wish I lived in Manchester because of all the activities and work that happens around ageing populations. It should be the same whether you are in Cambridge, or Cornwell, or you know the Outer Hebrides or wherever it may be. So the Age Friendly Museum Network is a start to thinking about how to do that.
You made A Handbook for Cultural Engagement with Older Men.
One of my colleagues Ed Watts had worked with me on the whole program at the Whitworth around how to engage older men. We had got funding for Ed, who travelled all over the UK looking at examples of activities where they brilliantly work with older men, and he went to Men's Shed in Wales, a printmaking cooperative in Glasgow. Then he produced the wonderful handbook which distilled all of this learning.
Older men are a really good example of a group that is very hard to engage in culture. Manchester has the second lowest male life expectancy in the UK. Really, really challenging, and social isolation among older men is a huge issue for the city. So two years ago, we developed a whole body of work around how to engage older men. Ed went around the UK. We commissioned a poet to sit in a pub, just down the road from the gallery because that's where older men meet, and this poet worked with this group of older men over four months to understand their motivations around visiting.
We worked with Age UK and held a big conference about social isolation in older men and what the role of culture may be. We now have a handmade program and lots of it focuses on reaching older men. But actually, that learning shouldn't just stay in Manchester. It has to be disseminated So, Ed ran a training program for the Age-Friendly Museum Network where he basically shared all his learning.
May I ask you about current challenges and any future directionality? Is there a specific project you want to launch?
I think the challenges are many and few, all at the same time. The challenges are in having a dispersed model. The dispersed model is brilliant, bringing with it its own momentum. The challenge is how to really make the most of that opportunity. So our biggest challenge moving forward is around really making sure that the resource matches the ambition. Securing funding for a role like Claire's, which is a core role, but actually, on the face of it, it begs the question, what does Claire do? She supports people, she talks to them. She doesn’t necessarily deliver activity, and actually the greatest asset is that she is there supporting the entirety of it. It's a deeply unsexy post, just to search for funding. It doesn't have an amazing sparkly name. You know it isn't a flagship program, but it is really important, and challenging. That's definitely a challenge, but we will find the money, so that's one.
I think the second one is to really ensure that the ambition for culture across the region, moving forwards, engages fully with the potential around ageing. And I don't think that's a challenge just for the arts sector. I think it's a challenge for all sectors that we continue to tell the story about collaborating with the ageing community. And I think our challenge is to tell that story more powerfully so that we are able to influence policymakers.
And I think we just have to be really careful that we hold on to our voice. So when I had to do a report for the Ageing Hub, my report looks really different from every other report, because it's got loads of images, and it's clearly written very differently. It doesn't look like someone from the Council has written it, and nor should it. I think one of the things I am really interested in is how we don't try and change our language, but instead hold on to our voice. We are a cultural organization. Culture does things differently, and we should be proud of that. The challenge is for us to hold our present course, and not try and look like policymakers. I think we need to keep who we are, be proud of who we are, and that in my opinion has its own cultural influence.
If I had to choose one thing moving forward, I would really like to see Culture Champions all over Greater Manchester developing extraordinary work, because you know, they are the future of the program. They are it, and that's where the energy lies. They have the answer.
Finally, I would like to have your message to people in Japan who are interested in becoming involved in Age-Friendly culture programs.
I was so impressed during my time in Japan actually. It seemed to me that there were all these ingredients there ready for the most extraordinary meal to be created. My message—and it’s not just for Japan, it's anybody developing work in this area—it's 'involve older people in the process.' That's it. And partnerships with older people are really messy, but there is so much potential impact that you can have, so much influence, if you bring in the housing associations, the health partners, the transport bodies. It's difficult but if you bring them all in, you really make the biggest difference. So invite them to be part of it, and it will grow. Compared to that, embedding arts and culture within everything is a very small challenge.