Yesterday I was invited to take part in SEEFA’s Symposium which was held at the House of Lords at the invitation of Lord Firkin. SEEFA has provided judges for Designing for the Future for the past two years.
SEEFA aims to bring people together to influence later life strategies, policies and services to make life better for older people. It is currently on a mission to build a new narrative which challenges perceptions that ageing is nothing more than a socio-economic problem, which celebrates the contribution made by older people, confronts negative stereotyping and contributes to a better understanding of the real implications of an ageing population to a changing society.
With a focus on “Our Ageing Society Challenges or Opportunities for Business” it was an opportunity to take stock of the progress of this sector. We have been talking about the impact of the demographic time bomb for years, is anyone taking any notice?
Ably led by Guardian journalist David Brindle, we had an interesting mixture of speakers and panel members including :
- Jo Causon, Institute of Customer Service, emphasised the importance of customer service to older people
- Mark Beasley, Mature Marketing Association, made some interesting suggestions as to what is needed to encourage businesses to focus on older people including marketing getting a seat at the board table
- David Sinclair, International Longevity Centre, encouraged us to celebrate the progress that has been made
- Charlie Blagborough, Building Societies Association, talked about how building societies had responded with relaxing age restrictions on mortgages
- Bernie Bradley, Monaghan Council Ireland, gave an interesting case study on how without many additional resources a council had encouraged local businesses to focus on the older consumer
- Sally Benton, Design Council (we should look to influence Government policy and in particular the current industrial strategy and Housing White Paper); Katie Ellis, The Able Label; Jonathan Collie, The Age of No Retirement; Dr Eddy Elton, University of Brighton; Lynne Corner, Newcastle University; Leela Damodaran Loughborough University; Jason Dormieux, MEC UK.
My takeaways from yesterday were :
- There are many passionate and expert people focused on this area. The challenge is how to channel that passion and expertise towards change.
- There are many good things happening. The Age of No Retirement for example is now working with Barclays to re-imagine how banking careers could extend into their sixth or seven decades. Building Societies are releasing more age friendly products.
- Design has a critical part to play not only in better more inclusive products but also in marketing communications that reach all sectors of the population and the sort of creative thinking around problems at which designers excel. How do we excite the next generation of creatives to focus on this market? This is one of the challenges for Designing for the Future.
- Whilst we obviously need the big corporates to take this market seriously, much innovation is being led by SMEs and start ups? How do we encourage this and support these small businesses?
- Funding is not always the answer. The Monaghan case study shows that with initiative and good communication, existing resources can be harnessed to both improve older people’s lives and the bottom line for business.
At the end of the session EngAgeNet was launched. This is a new organisation which aims to enable the direct voices of older people across England to be heard by those who create the policies, strategies and services that affect their lives. Based on the long established regional forums, EngAgeNet’s ambition is to expand to include other groups, forums and individuals to provide a unique resource for the public, private, third and academic sectors. This a really interesting proposition and I look forward to seeing how it develops.