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UNIHealth: A Personal Perspective - Barbara Douglas

Barbara Douglas of Elders Council of Newcastle participated in two visits to the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid as part of the UNI Health project. This first edition of the project focused on age-friendly cities. Below Barbara reflects on her experiences and looks ahead to the Newcastle programme.

As someone who has been working in the voluntary sector on ageing issues for some years, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to participate in the UNI Health programme with colleagues from Newcastle University and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

Working in the field of ageing is complex – there are multiple issues to consider and many different perspectives to take into account – and that’s before you start engaging older people in the process with our many and varied experiences of life!

So, it was pleasing to see the richness of the programme which our colleagues in Madrid put on. Our colleagues from Madrid made all the materials from the course easily accessible, so I dipped into the recordings of the presentations which were made available to us and was impressed with the wide range of speakers. This helped to refresh my own thinking on the range of issues to consider when examining the determinants of health and what it means to design a city which promotes our health and wellbeing.

It was a privilege to be invited to Madrid to hear the student presentations in April 2019. I was very impressed with the quality of the presentations and the range and depth of data they presented. My own work has focused mainly on the engagement of older people in decision-making, so I was delighted at the strong presence of older people in the programme and their very active involvement in the discussions. Although the student presentations came from different perspectives, common themes were emerging which offered potential opportunities for the student groups to collaborate as they moved towards suggested projects/solutions.  A walk around the district of Usera (the district on which the project is focused) brought the presentations to life, making very real the scale of some of the challenges in creating an age-friendly neighbourhood.

It is no surprise that for the older people the issue of transport and access to community facilities came out very strongly, especially given the hilly topography of Usera.  We have similar conversations in Newcastle when we discuss the accessibility of the Newcastle Helix site!  However, given our current concerns with air pollution it also makes me wonder whether we are being sufficiently imaginative about our solutions? Rather than access for a bus or a car, what about more pleasant walking routes and walking programmes to help us to maintain our health? What about tricycles/rickshaws to ferry us around the city centre from key bus stops?  I am sure that within the Uni-Health programme, we have the skills and imagination to come up with different solutions.

I am really looking forward to the Newcastle programme at the beginning of October; to hearing from a wide range of experts and to visiting projects in the area which are new to me and having the opportunity to exchange ideas with our colleagues from Madrid.  It is also excellent news that two of the students from Madrid will be spending time in Newcastle to further their research studies.

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