Johanna Henderson is BC Healthy Communities’ Communications Manager.
Lin has lived in the village of Wells since she was a child. Now in her 80s, she knows the community inside and out—and has strong opinions on how to make it better for adults who are aging in place, like her.
“For a small community like Wells, keeping [older adults] in the community becomes even more important, because that’s a lot of our community history, it’s volunteerism, traditional knowledge, it’s the life of our local non-profits,” says Wylie Bystedt, Marketing and Community Economic Development Coordinator for Wells.
The community of just over 200 put that knowledge to work in recent years, when it embarked on its Age-Friendly assessment. The Age-Friendly Action Plan that emerged presented the ideas and input of the community back to them in a clear and strategic way, providing a number of pathways towards becoming more age friendly. In 2017, when the opportunity came to apply for Stream 2 Age-Friendly Communities Grant funding that could bring some of those plans to life, Wells picked strategically.
“We looked through that work and picked a couple of things that we knew we could manage, that would make a difference, at a price point we could handle,” says Bystedt.
Wells’ proposed project includes two components to help keep older adults out and about in the community: snow clearing for the winter, and bench installation for the summer. In keeping with the community’s response to input, both have prioritized community input. For example, in late 2018, the community met with pins and markers in hand to sketch their daily walking routes onto large maps of the Wells area, sticking pins at the points on the routes where they felt they might need to take a rest in order to determine where benches would be installed in spring and summer 2019.
Far from being a consultant’s community engagement tactic, Bystedt said the activity simply seemed to be the best way to capture the data in the small community.
“It just seemed logical to me.” laughs Bystedt. “Part of it is that, given the size of the community, we have that opportunity…it makes it easier to make the decision that’s best for us, and it makes it easier to be really specific about the consultation.”
Bystedt says that the success of the snow-clearing project, which wrapped up in early 2018, was also attributable to the strength of networks and relationships within the community. One of the program’s most valuable partners proved to be the community paramedic, who, through the nature of her work, was aware of older adults in need of snow clearing and was able to refer them. Bystedt calls this a “gateway partnership”—one that allowed each party to see the potential of working together, potentially leading to other successful partner projects.
Though the project will continue into next spring and summer with the bench installation component of the project, the impacts have already begun to be felt by both older adults and the community at large. Reflecting on the now-completed snow-clearing component of the project, Bystedt notes that local businesses and service providers have seen an impact.
“What we heard was that [older adults] were taking advantage of the snow clearing—during the winter months, they were, in fact, able to get out and go to the library, go to the seniors meetings, go to the local coffee shop. So what happened is that the businesses and other local groups who provide services didn’t see a diminishing number as winter set in.”
And most importantly, Bystedt says that the project and the process leading up to it made older adults feel listened to, valued and included.
“It made them feel included, that we actually had paid attention to their feedback and had done something with it,” says Bystedt.
Wylie Bystedt’s recommendations for communities looking to take on a similar project:
- Be strategic about your partners. Think about what capacity your partners can bring to the table, as well as what community networks they might open the door to.
- When bringing organizations on as partners, ensure you have one key individual to act as the conduit for communication.
- When doing projects from your Age-Friendly Action Plan, keep the project scope concise and specific so that the community can easily understand what your intent is—this makes it easier to get them on board with the project.