We decided to create an Age-friendly Neighbourhoods Toolkit after learning that small changes make a huge difference to quality of life for older people. Whilst creating the toolkit we interviewed a variety of older people from communities across Bristol about their experiences of developing their neighbourhoods. You can read about Saada's experience below.
"I came to Bristol 14 years ago, having arrived in the UK from Somalia as a young mother. I was lucky to find the Barton Hill Settlement right away, where I started an English course. I was then able to complete an NVQ in childcare and get a job in a family centre, which I loved. A couple of years later, I volunteered to start an all-ages women’s lunch club at the settlement, which gave women from the Somali community the chance to socialise in a relaxed setting while learning cookery skills. When the group became wellestablished, we named it Midnimo, which translates most closely as ‘unity’. There’s a wonderful sense of heritage in seeing older women pass their cookery skills on to other generations, and it’s also exciting to learn about different cuisines. We now also run a monthly lunch club just for older women, where they enjoy choosing nutritious meals to cook together.
Having a strong connection to a community resource such as the settlement can open up so many opportunities, particularly for older people. We have run monthly awareness sessions, where we have talks on topics such as community safety from the police, or volunteering from local charities. This sense of connectedness starts local, but opens people up to the wider community – isolation comes when people only feel safe and secure within a very small neighbourhood ‘island’, and so I’m passionate about helping people to explore different parts of the city and have organised day trips outside of the city too.
To me, being an active citizen and looking out for the wellbeing of your neighbours is fundamental. I strongly believe that we are shaped by our interactions with others – community cohesion is such a vital part of people reaching their potential, and those that are able should use their privilege to ensure others feel a part of the whole. It can be as simple as going out of your way to introduce newcomers and saying, ‘Welcome! This is a great place to live. I’m at number 7, feel free to pop round if you need anything.’ I was very warmly welcomed to this community when I arrived, and I want to pay that forward. Somali culture is very verbal, and people don’t often rely on noticeboards or letters to know what’s going on – members of the community are the local information point, and I’m unofficially known as the local ‘housing champion’. Often people need other people to recognise their gifts and give them encouragement to use them – when I first started attending the settlement to learn English, staff member Sarah said to me, ‘you have just the kind of energy we need’. I’ve achieved so much alongside Sarah since then, and I hope to keep inspiring other people to use their energy to make this neighbourhood even better."