Taking a whole community approach to community investment

By Andrew van Doorn - on 29/04/2013

On the EU day of Solidarity between Generations, HACT launches its age2age (inter-generational project) evalutation report. Our Deputy Chief Executive Andrew van Doorn discusses how the ever-widening gap between the generations needs to be firstly understood and then challenged to build stronger, supportive communities.

Today (29th April) is important for two reasons. First it is the EU Day of Solidarity between Generations. You’ll probably never have heard of it, but it is a day of awareness raising across the EU to rethink the concept of solidarity between generations to promote active ageing.

It is also the day that HACT launches the final evaluation report of its age2age project. The conclusion of a 5 year programme of work exploring how housing organisations can address the issues of an ageing society through bringing generations together in communities. HACT supported 15 projects in three very different areas of the country – East London, Cumbria and Somerset – to understand how an intergenerational focus can be used to build stronger communities. We invested in community based projects as well as tested how Homeshare, a predominantly urban model, could be developed in rural areas.

The fact that we are living in an ageing society is well known, with figures from the ONS forecasting a 50% rise in the number of over-65s and a doubling in over-85s between 2010 – 2030. The challenges this presents have been well captured in a recent House of Lords Select Committee report – Ready for ageing? – that highlights how woefully underprepared we are for ageing.

At the other end of the age spectrum, with youth unemployment creeping towards 1 million, we talk increasingly of a lost generation of young people. The phenomenon of ‘generation rent’, with young people locked out of home ownership in many parts of the country, is giving rise to a new focus on intergenerational fairness. Organisations like the Intergenerational Foundation express growing anger that the older generations have an unfair advantage, in terms of assets and wealth, at the expense of younger and future generations.

The landscape for growing tension between generations is being set.  Debates are becoming polarised and fear between generations and mutual suspicion is taking hold in our communities. But as we found through age2age, housing providers are taking action to break down barriers, build a common purpose, and draw on the assets of all people in their neighbourhoods.

Age2age established that engaging with different generations across the life span strengthened and enhanced the investment of housing associations in their communities.  Organisations like Polar HARCA, Home Group, Impact Housing, Karin HA, Old Ford HA, Genesis Community and Tower Hamlets Community Housing, who worked with HACT, found that they needed to develop new intergenerational expertise to work successfully across the generations. As one housing manager put it, “age2age was more than community development.” They challenged their own thinking and built in explicit cross-generational approaches. This often started small in one or two projects, but having built confidence, extended across their community investment programmes.

Organisations in East London working within diverse ethnic communities, realised that age was an important factor, not only within specific communities, but also in encouraging cohesion across them. They found that assumptions about meaningful contact within families were often not true and that people welcomed new opportunities to engage with other generations in their own families.

Needing very little resources, but with plenty of imagination and support, a range of activities involving different generations, from arts, sports, community days, jubilee events, resulted in stronger bonds between people. As one person commented: “Everyone is puling together now, we never had this before.” Building new confidence and skills, and improving connections and wellbeing, can contribute to greater resilience and self-reliance within neighbourhoods.

It also lays a foundation for broader activity for housing organisations, in areas such as tenant participation, neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood management.

Age2age is now finished, but in those communities and organisations that took part, a longer-term transformation has taken place. Community Investment takes many forms and targets many different groups of people, but the legacy of age2age is that housing associations have learnt how to draw on the assets of all generations and found that a problem shared is a problem halved. Now that is something worth celebrating – Happy EU Day of Solidarity between the Generations!


Access Age2age: taking a whole community approach to building resilient communities – by Dr Gillian Granville (April 2013).

Find out more about the age2age project.


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