“What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow.”
- Benjamin Disraeli, 1844
In Manchester we believe an age-friendly city needs to have social inclusion at its heart and that older people, rather than being marginalized, should be valued, involved, and comfortable in all aspects of their lives.
Manchester is a city that confidently supports older people, making sure we consider older residents’ well-being and help improve their quality of life wherever we can.
That’s why Manchester City Council joined the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in 2010. We were part of the first wave of a dozen cities to pledge “continual improvement” in support of the WHO’s eight age-friendly domains of city life.
If making this public gesture of ambition and aspiration was an important milestone for Manchester, the origins of our distinctive approach to urban aging can be found almost a decade earlier.
In the early 1990s, I started working with the council’s former Deputy Leader, Councillor Val Stevens. We realized that local authorities and cities needed to change to improve the lives of older people. For too long, we had only thought about older people as recipients of services, primarily care services. From this perspective older people were an ever-increasing burden, a view that was clearly misinformed.
In forming our strategy, we decided that this work should be led by a senior politician (Val Stevens fit the bill) and should take an equalities approach rather than a services approach. We also knew that the most effective impact that the city could have on its older residents, including those who had challenging lives, was for all the city’s organizations to collaborate on a single plan.
We espoused a new language of rights and equality, and the new program was led in turn by the council’s libraries and housing departments. By the late 1990s, the UK’s central government was catching up, and we were pleased to play a leading part in a number of national work programs, which we continue to do today.
In 2003, we launched a new program, Valuing Older People (VOP), which later evolved into the Age-Friendly Manchester program.
Before taking on my role as Lord Mayor of Manchester, I had the privilege of serving as the Council’s lead politician for older people. So when it came time to choose a theme for my term as mayor, Age-Friendly Manchester was the natural choice, and it was a perfect opportunity to promote the cause.
With a population of just over half a million people, the city is the heart of the Greater Manchester “city-region,” which boasts around 2.5 million residents.
Manchester is a city of firsts: we were the world’s first modern industrial city, and we’re proud to have been the birthplace of the computer, to have been home to Europe’s first public lending library, to have been instrumental in fostering women’s suffrage and the trade unions, to have seen the atom first split, and to have built the world’s first railway station.
Manchester continues to be a national driver of knowledge, culture, and sporting excellence, and the city remains the third-most visited in the UK (after London and Edinburgh) by foreign visitors.
Manchester is an unusual city—age-wise it is a young city, benefiting from large student and migrant populations. And unlike nearly all British cities, our older population has not grown significantly during the last decade. In addition, the city has an older population with a higher than national average level of poor health and social exclusion, with many older residents living in neighborhoods that experience significant population “churn.” That said, the city has a vibrant nonprofit and community sector, reflected in the wide range of small organizations that support older people, which includes many black and minority and lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities.
“Manchester is the place where people do things...‘Don't talk about what you are going to do, do it. That is the Manchester habit.” - Judge Edward Abbott Parry, 1912
Looking back over the last decade, a number of things stand out as representing the best of our “get things done” approach.
In 2004, the establishment of an Older People’s Board, which meets every 6 weeks and provides Age-Friendly Manchester with the leadership of older people and the ability to focus on issues affecting them, was a real milestone. Since then, all the main program decisions have been made in partnership with this group. Kate Torkington, a long-serving member of the board, puts it this way: “I know no other local authority that has a team, however small, devoted totally to the concerns of older people, and one which is backed and guided by a Board consisting totally of older people.”
For a number of years we ran a Positive Images campaign, taking over city center advertising sites and producing award-winning exhibitions and calendars that challenge ageist stereotypes.
The city’s long-standing Cultural Offer for Older People now features 20 city arts and heritage agencies working together to extend older people’s involvement in cultural production and planning, targeting the most vulnerable and excluded groups. At the time of this writing, we have 150 culture champions who link communities to the arts—a real flagship for Manchester.
Our age-friendly locality program involves taking our work into the heart of neighborhoods, setting up networks of groups, providing small grants, and giving older people a voice in local decision-making. As Bren Fawcett, a member of the Age-Friendly Manchester’s Older People’s Board, says, “The local focus to any work really makes the difference in older people’s lives. I like the way Age-Friendly Manchester works in neighborhoods and connects things together at different levels.”
Working with world-class researchers has become a real strength of our work. The Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research in Aging (MICRA) brings together some of the leaders in health care, social research, design, and biomedical research, who work closely with policymakers and practitioners across Greater Manchester.
“This is Manchester. We do things differently here.” - Anthony Wilson, record label owner, nightclub manager, impresario, and journalist
Like many UK cities, Manchester is facing significant funding cuts from central government to its public services, but we continue to have ambitious goals for our aging program. In December 2014, we launched a new program promoting new initiatives or giving new energy to existing ones. Here is a small selection:
Our aging and economy work is designed for the city to take advantage of emerging age-related markets for goods, services, and knowledge. The program also addresses the challenge of people working later in life.
We are promoting the city as a center for innovation in aging research, policy, and practice with our partners at two Manchester universities.
Our Housing Strategy for Age-Friendly Manchester sets out a range of new options for people as they age.
Lastly, inspired by the Age-Friendly Old Moat project, we are making new investments in a range of age-friendly neighborhood demonstrator sites, which are neighborhood-scale projects. •
Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Aging: www.micra.manchester.ac.uk/
Age-Friendly Manchester: www.manchester.gov.uk/info/200091/older_people/3428/age-friendly_manchester
about the author
Councillor Cooley was first elected to Manchester City Council in 1996, representing the Brooklands ward. She has served as executive member for social care, chair of the Health and Well-being Overview and Scrutiny Committee, deputy chair of the Social Services Committee, and on the Manchester Adoption Panel. She has served as a governor at three schools.
Since 2002, Councillor Cooley has been closely involved with Manchester’s Valuing Older People initiative and strategy for older residents based on equality and inclusion.
She was also a founder member of the North West Older People’s Champion Network and chaired their first meetings. Under Councillor Cooley’s watch, Manchester became the first U.K. city to be part of the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities. Her contribution was recognized in 2013, when she received the Age UK Councillor of the Year Award.