Abigail Fortune, director of Parks and Recreation for the District of Ucluelet, recalled a funny learning moment during the community engagement process for the District’s Age-Friendly assessment. “I got in big trouble for hosting an evening meeting,” Fortune said. “I had never considered that for many of the elderly, it was quite late. I was told never do that again!”
Fortune has lived in the scenic town for many years, and has seen the community change, how it has aged. In the past, long-time residents would move when they retired, and the District didn’t have a reputation as a retirement community. The census bears this out: in 2001, Ucluelet’s median age was 36.4, rising to 38.9 by 2016, so while the community is still young (the average age of the province is 42.3), it is rising.
Now, those who spent their lives working in the community often decide to age in place. And attracted by the natural beauty, retirees from across the country have begun to make Ucluelet their home.
“I’ve been in the parks and rec department for 25 years,” said Fortune, “and a big change was that we had to start programming for 55-plus community members.”
To prepare for the changing demographic, Ucluelet did an age-friendly assessment, with a grant in 2015 from the BC Seniors’ Housing and Support Initiative (now called Age-friendly Communities Grants). The District hired consultants, and the work proceeded with three primary phases.
1) Context Research – Consultants used the World Health Organization eight age-friendly pillars as a framework to analyse the local policy context: Official Community Plan, Transportation Plan, Parks and Recreation Plan and other documents.
2) Public Engagement
a) Public survey (83 respondents) – Used to identify issues; developed collaboratively with stakeholders and with input from seniors at Ukee Days, an annual community festival.
b) Two stakeholder workshops – Residents, service providers and district staff attended. Workshops were structured using the World Café format where rounds of dialogue addressed key themes to generate relevant, actionable next steps.
3) Plan Development – Iterative process with consultants and district staff to create a series of objectives and recommended strategies, later prioritized in an action planning workshop.
Since publishing the report, the District received a grant from the New Horizons For Seniors Program to work on the top two action items—a community resource hub and improving information communication.
“The purpose of the hub,” said Fortune, “is to not only gather all of the great programs that exist and make them accessible, but also to continue to engage with seniors and gather new information.” With a completion date of Spring 2018, the District would like to have local seniors take over the hub’s management and has established a volunteer network to achieve this goal.
Fortune cautions that the needs of a 55+ resident can be quite different than an 80+ resident, and so ongoing engagement is key as situations can change. Laughing, Fortune says, “if you don’t keep listening, you could end up hosting another evening meeting.”