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Building age-positive community (online)!

Posted February 9th 2021 by Leon Hamilton

Building age-positive online community. There's an illustration of people connecting with smart phones.

Building age-friendly online communities

Online community connections in Covid-19

In the past year online spaces have become the heart of many local communities like never before.

One of the few glittering gems of hope in Covid-19 is that we’re finally addressing digital inclusion as vital for social equality. But there’s still lots of room for growth – in widening access to the internet, and making it support communities better.

For every person who gains access to the internet (and the skills and support they might need to get going) a whole world of possibilities for community participation open up. Older people taking part in our Digital Buddies project have felt empowered attending Community Council meetings again and meeting policy-makers to discuss digital barriers.

But of course, a key way we use the internet today is for social media. As we all know, this can be a blessing and a curse!

Social Media as a community-building space

We think about our values a lot when posting on social media. As a charity, we need to tell people what we’re doing and why. We’re also finding social media is a great tool for sharing ideas and supporting communities. But there are some things we don’t enjoy about social media – as is our right! Disempowering language and unhelpful information spread more quickly, and this can affect how inclusive and equal communities are.

Local village and area Facebook groups are an interesting example. People of all ages take part in community Facebook groups, and that’s brilliant. They can be spaces where food, ideas, positive resources and support are shared – great for everyone’s wellbeing. Communities we work with through Rural Wisdom have also been using social media to share learning about making local places work better. Our Community Connections practical tips guide shares lots of ideas for using the internet for newsletters, language exchange and improving access to information.

But we’ve also noticed some online ageism getting in the way of multi-generational inclusion. For someone joining a community group for the first time, what could be more discouraging than seeing disrespecting messages? For example, posts giving young people a hard time for silly minor things – forgetting that they might also be struggling in the pandemic. The Centre for Ageing Better’s report on ageist language on social media – we can all agree older people deserve better!

Community Connections resource illustration, showing 5 bubbles with people connected between with bubbles with social media and the internet.

The value of older and younger generations

Children, young people and older people are valuable members of our communities. Everyone needs to be involved in shaping community spaces – not just the middle generations – otherwise we all lose out on precious skills, experiences and ideas. The Age-Friendly Living Environment project takes this approach, showing how different our society would be if designed for and by everyone. We went to one of their co-production events last year – read our blog about the Age-Friendly Living Ecosystem project.

In Covid-19, we’ve seen older people framed as ‘vulnerable’ – and while this may be true in a very particular medical sense, it shouldn’t lead us to see older age as lacking agency and potential. Whether or not someone is labelled ‘vulnerable’, everyone can be an important part of their community and both give and receive care, inspiration and support.

What society thinks it means to be older is an open, ever-changing field of possibilities – we can shape our culture and the stories we tell. People and organisations are doing amazing work shaping the conversation and sharing alternative ways to understand age. Luminate is one leader around arts, creativity and ageing in Scotland, and the Centre for Ageing Better share resources on positive representations of ageing.

So where will the conversation go in 2021?

We’re not sure yet. But we’re hopeful!

There’s a lot of inclusive community-building going on across Scotland. And people are having more conversations about how age relates to human rights. There are several upcoming gatherings everyone is welcome to join to connect with people and learn about age-positive community building. And

Here’s our age-positive action calendar for the next month or so:

Intergenerational National Network Meet-up. Glasgow Science Centre is hosting the next meeting of the Intergenerational National Network. The focus will be on climate change in the context of COP26 coming to Glasgow. For more information or to book a place, please contact Pat Scrutton at patscrutton247@gmail.com. 22nd February 10.30am-12 noon.

What else is going on? Email us at admin@otbds.org or get in touch on social media to let us know about other events and resources on multigenerational community-building.

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