Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Consulting older people On the question of consultation with older people, to paraphrase Gandhi, I think it would be a good idea. I've just found out about some interesting work that Urban Buzz funded in the London Borough of Lewisham as part of the Thames gateway development, which resulted in the publication of a toolkit and guidelines for consultation with older people, prepared by The Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths. It's a thorough and welcome document and appears to try and cover everything about the process they went through, which included field trips and mental maps of the neighbourhoods. It's important because the sense that many older people remain inexcusably excluded from consultative processes is widespread. But some of the tone leaves me a wee bit bothered. Like this: 'It is important that you present your project in a way that makes it relevant to them.' Radical stuff eh? There's more. 'Incorporate older people’s knowledge in the planning process, by consulting them if an area is going to be changed. Make use of their old photos, listen to them talk about the history about the spaces.' 'Free lunches and refreshments should be provided to offer something for their time and effort.' So long as the points get made, what am I bothered about? Well, I'm uncomfortable thinking that I live in a society where it's really necessary to make such points. It implies that there are people charged with 'consultation' for whom such things are not fundamentally obvious. But maybe the authors are right, maybe it does have to be pointed out. Many people are emerging from an embedded non-consultative authoritative culture and this is strange stuff for them. <Shudder> If I were being picky, and it's not unheard-of, I'd have added a section suggesting that people doing consultation didn't feel the need constantly to refer to one another as Dr, Professor, 'professional' or 'expert.' The entire document is suffused with a sense of the implied superior status of such people, and of councillors, over older residents. It reinforces my desire to keep pushing for a neighbourhood-mapping process designed by older people themselves.

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