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I recently participated in an event organised by the Green Light Festival on sustainable ageing communities at De Montfort University in Leicester. http://greenlightfestival.org/fringe-events/

The event organiser, Phil Wilson, was keen to challenge the perspective often seen in the media that older people are an economic burden or that there is an ageing ‘time bomb’. Interestingly, he wanted to link the concept of sustainability, usually thought of in terms of energy or material resources, to communities.  As such, he envisioned that the role of older people can be recast as important contributors to local communities.

The speakers at the event had different perspectives on the topic. I spoke about older people as important providers of care and support, as well as linking to examples of community organisations run by older people identified in my current research project (see article in Generations Review, April 2013).  Prof Mike Hardy, from Coventry University, drew on social capital to highlight how building intergenerational relations could improve the lives of younger people. Councillor Rita Patel discussed the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population for Leicester City Council.

These ideas are not new to Gerontologists, but what was new to me was the concept of sustainability.  We can counter the arguments about economic burden with a new construction of communities as sustainable, self-supporting, and crucially providing help across the generations.

The very fact that this event was held is encouraging and shows that perhaps the prevailing concepts of the ageing population as a burden are changing.

Author: Dr Rosalind Willis, Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton