Isolation has been a challenge for the elderly generations in the last decades, but it has been more than ever relevant as the covid pandemic puts them in quarantine from their families for the sake of their health. Initiatives fighting the isolation and promoting healthy ageing are a priority in reforming our social services, to which a possible answer is the involvement of people power and peer support: we are going to investigate this approach and see proposed solutions from the Q-Ageing project.

Societies in Europe have been undergoing rapid and unexpected transformations in the last decades, resulting in a growing need for social services. Unemployment, migration, isolation and ageing – the complex challenges presented are aggravated by the constantly tightening budgets from governments’ sides. The ideal public service provision should be more personal and local with less funding available, and this requires delivery models which engage citizens more actively. Engaging citizens in public services means learning how to unlock and embed their knowledge, skills and personal experience, and how to create bridges among these by activating their social networks. This is called ‘people-powered public services’, mobilising people to help each other in or alongside public services should be the core organising principle in order to be able to “do more for less” in the future.

The above described principle was the base methodology of the Q-Ageing Interreg Central project, running in the beginning of 2010s’, that set out to investigate how active ageing could be supported at the local level. The project concentrated on four key domains of healthy ageing: social security for the elderly and avoiding isolation; improvement of elderly-friendly public spaces; promotion of age-management and life-long learning and voluntarism. You might ask: why dusting off this old record? Because the underlying principle and the basic results are still valid, and thisever green topic is accentuated by the current covid crisis.

There is often a gap between what really matters to older people’s health and wellbeing and the priorities of existing services – in order to erase this gap, ethnographic research is needed, meaning that instead of top-down solutions from external professionals, the target group itself should be interrogated about their needs, with peer support. In response, the Neighborhood Volunteers programme was launched in the frames of the Q-Ageing project in Újbuda Municipality, Hungary, and has been running ever since – these volunteers are elderly citizens whose mission is to involve their peers from Újbuda district in local programmes. In the frame of the project, members participating in this programme received training to be able to start community development with their peers. As a result, programmes such as media workshops, a local favour bank and Senior Art Camps have been organised; and the offer is always tailor-made for current demands.

The key to wellbeing for seniors lies on human relations: having meaningful connections with others and having a sense of purpose. Empowering the elderly by giving them the tools to pass on their knowledge to the community, this was at the heart of the programme carried out by Treviso Province: the Province provided training courses on the methods of knowledge transmission and they also created a “Bank of Competences”, a network of senior volunteers willing to share their knowledge. The database was shared with local associations, giving them a starting point when looking for potential volunteers for their activities.

If you are interested to learn about more tools tested in the Q-Ageing project, check out the Toolbox of tested solutions promoting active ageing at local level’ published on ISSUU.

This article was prepared in cooperation with Ferenc Szigeti, social innovation expert of BURSTGroup.