A PROJECT that will ask local people to help make improvements to the homes of elderly people in the county – a variation of the Niall Mellon Township Challenge in which volunteers built houses for people in South Africa – is one of the many projects on the cards to make Kilkenny an “age-friendly county.”
The project, which is due to be introduced in the next year, was outlined by Age-Friendly County regional programme manager Debra O’Neill on Friday as the programme launched its annual report and a study that sought the opinions and wishes of older people.
Work is also being done to make Kilkenny a “dementia-friendly county,” Ms O’Neill explained in an overview of the projects undertaken as part of the Age-Friendly initiative in the past 18 months.
Throughout the process, she said, “what has been critical is the continuing involvement of older adults.”
One of those who has contributed to the project is Nora Webster, chairwoman of the Older People’s Forum, who told the gathering that the experience had also had a positive effect on her own life.
“I had no idea of the changes it would make to my life on a personal basis,” she said. “I have been supported, befriended challenged and engaged.”
“I am proud of Kilkenny’s Age Friendless, its inclusivity and the cooperation show by all the stakeholders, who have entered into the true spirit of the programme, finding solutions and ways to cooperate, which has made the programme an exemplary example of how things can work,” Ms Webster said.
As the Government reviews the proposed National Strategy for Older People, which is due for publication this year, she urged those involved to look to the work done in Kilkenny as a model of how things can be achieved.
“As our strategy says, this is a programme with older people not for older people,” she said.
The aims of the programme, Kilkenny Age-Friendly County Alliance chairman Nickey Brennan pointed out, are “that Kilkenny will be a great place in which to grow old; enjoyed and appreciated by everyone; and that Kilkenny will be a county that enables its people to age with security, dignity and the capacity to participate as citizens to their fullest potential.”
He thanked all of those who have worked on the initiative, including volunteers, and highlighted several achievements so far.
Among them are the opening of a Kilkenny Age-Friendly office at Parliament Street, Kilkenny has given our programme a visible presence in Kilkenny city.
The day also saw the launch of a study study undertaken “to provide a detailed view of life from people over 50 years of age in Kilkenny City and County.”
“Community is important to every citizen and especially to the older cohort of people living in County Kilkenny,” Mr Brennan pointed out from the results of the study.
“A sense of place and a sense of ‘neighbourhood’ are vital to all of us. Social connectedness is now more important that even with families more dispersed and local touch points like pubs and post offices closed. To remain part of a ‘social convey’ was seen as hugely important to those who participated in the study as they travel through their life cycle and particularly in their retirement.”
Performing the official launch on the day was Kathleen Lynch, minister of state with responsibility for disability, older people, equality and mental health.
“What used to be considered retirement is now really a new beginning and a different stage in our lives,” she said – a stage of life when people have “different ambitions, different hopes and different achievements.”
In recent years in Ireland as people became busier and busier, “older people became invisible,” she said, “and what needs to happen and what is happening is that older people are beginning to step into that space that they have always occupied” and make their voices heard again.”
And that’s what the Kilkenny Age-Friendly County initiative is all about.