Only the lonely: urban regeneration can leave older people feeling isolated

A study by an academic from the University of Manchester has found that urban regeneration in poor neighbourhoods can actually backfire, and lead to older people feeling isolated.

Social anthropologist Dr Camilla Lewis spent a year living in East Manchester, one of the most deprived areas in the UK, to gain an understanding of how local regeneration is affecting the day-to-day lives of older residents. The study focused on women aged over 50 who had lived in the area for their entire lives.

She interviewed and observed residents in places including a community centre, a market cafe and their homes. She found that despite being close to the city centre and benefiting from millions of pounds of investment in their area, people tended to feel separated from the wealth and new identity of the rest of the city. The demolition and rebuilding of new houses had also resulted in a deep sense of uncertainty and isolation.

“Despite the ambitious plans of local government, the rebuilding of houses actually caused a huge upheaval to social ties, with families and neighbours being rehoused away from one another,” said Lewis.

“Many people felt that compared to the past there was no community, that no one looked out for anyone anymore, or felt pride in their neighbourhood. They lamented the loss of industry in the area – describing, in nostalgic terms, how East Manchester used to support proud communities of workers who had a strong sense of local identity.”

The study showed that in order to make sense of the changes taking place around them, the women took solace in the past and shared their memories of their former ways of life. They relied on strong networks of support and looked out for one another.

Social settings like market cafes were seen as vital to these networks, however it was felt that lots of the settings which were once important places for communities, such as markets, church groups and pubs were fast disappearing, meaning that people no longer had the opportunity to get to know their neighbourhoods.

“My findings show that regeneration processes are only advantageous to certain groups, and for older people are often felt to be unsettling due to disruptions to their former ways of life and local identities,” Lewis added.

As cities regenerate, new homes, residents and facilities are built that can change an area dramatically. A new movement to create ‘age friendly cities’ is aiming to ensure that regeneration happens in a way which allows older people to actively participate in their communities, stay connected to the people that matter most to them, and remain living in their homes for as long as possible – known as ‘ageing in place’.

The research highlights the need to understand the needs and expectations of older people when developing age friendly cities, rather than assuming that one approach will satisfy all.

“It’s important to understand the history and identity of neighbourhoods within cities – which differ hugely, from one community to another – as local identity is so important for older people’s sense of belonging.”

“Ageing in place remains an ideal for many older people, but those living in lower-income areas face huge challenges to stay living in their communities in later life. To ensure that everyone can benefit from age friendly cities, we need to make sure that these needs are adequately met by funding local resources and ensuring adequate forms of social housing are available.”

NH

 

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