Empowering people in later life to contribute to their community
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, filled with pockets of different ages, cultures and backgrounds living together. We are globally renowned and regarded for the way that we understand, appreciate and celebrate each other’s differences.
There are many ways to foster this kind of social integration, and research shows that volunteering and community activity can be a powerful vehicle.
Our Social Integration Strategy, launched recently, highlights the importance of volunteering and giving back as a way of bringing communities together.
And while public and political discourse across our capital often focuses on young people, it is important that programmes to support communities involve and target people of all ages. After all, even though London has a comparatively young population, more than a quarter of our citizens are aged 50+.
Older people, like others, have much to gain from volunteering in terms of social connections, a sense of purpose, and personal wellbeing. In turn, they have lots to offer including time, skills and experience accrued over many years. But we know that some older people are less likely to be involved, often because of financial, health, cultural or language barriers. That’s why we’ve committed to doing more to include older people as part of our Social Integration Strategy.
Earlier in the year, I hosted a discussion on behalf of the Centre for Ageing Better and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about how to tackle this issue.
We focused particularly on increasing participation amongst people from BAME backgrounds – a quarter of London’s over-50s – as well as people on low incomes, and those with long-term health conditions. These groups are all currently underrepresented in formal volunteering programmes.
As well as identifying new and promising initiatives, I was keen to hear evidence of ongoing projects and take stock of what works – so that we can replicate good practice. There are already a huge number of projects taking place around London, some well-known, others which often go under the radar.
Many of the best examples are led by grassroots groups. Just look at London’s response to the 2011 riots, an inspiring example of communities coming together to support each other after a sudden crisis. Charities also create fantastic opportunities for people to get involved in their communities, such as through peer support groups like those run Opening Doors London.
These kinds of project are fantastic and we need to support them both in City Hall and at borough level.
We also need to get other sectors such as business, health and charities on board in finding ways to support people of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances to be active and engaged in their communities. That’s why I’m pleased to support the Centre for Ageing Better as they work on practical recommendations to improve volunteering for over 50s.
Encouraging and supporting people to volunteer and take part in community activity is not the only way to ensure that our capital’s communities continue to thrive. But it can certainly help.
Matthew Ryder, Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement