Report finds listening to your elders can create a town centre fit for all

Date 3.02.2020

The views of older people can save money during urban regeneration schemes, boost trade in towns and lead to spaces that are fit for all, according to a University-led report.

‘A place for me? Older people and the future of Northampton town centre’ is a collaboration between the University and Age UK Northamptonshire.

A group of people over 65 who live in Northampton were invited to walk around the town centre for a ‘snap and chat’, in which photos were taken at points where an issue was seen and the group discussed how this affected their use of the town centre*.

They gave possible solutions that indicate financial savings for regeneration teams and benefits to old and young alike:

  • A lost sense of belonging – many older people have more disposable income and are willing to spend it, but shops and services in Northampton are geared toward younger people
  • The town is not easy to get around – pathways and pedestrian environments should be more age friendly with places to rest, encouraging visitors to stay and possibly spend more
  • The town does not feel safe – uneven ground surfaces can lead to falls and areas of the town centre has too much, disorienting foliage. More signage should be introduced
  • A difficult town to feel proud of – the cleanliness and tidiness of the town should be maintained to make it a place you actively want to visit time and again
  • The bus station – the design and function of the current station should be reviewed, with specific consideration placed on accessibility, safety and welfare.

The report has been presented to the Northampton Forward team, who are tasked with developing plans for a proposed £25m regeneration of the town centre.

Dr Kim Woodbridge-Dodd, researcher at the University of Northampton, was the lead author of the report. She said: “Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who took part in our report. This was very much a participatory project and our respondents threw themselves in to it with gusto.

“This energy was not surprising. Our report was quite unique because the older person’s voice about town centre regeneration is usually left out or relegated as being ‘less important.’

“This is a shame because their link to that centre’s past and how it worked or didn’t, how they use the centre of the present and keep an eye on cost-saving improvement ideas should be gold dust to urban planners.

“Their comments and opinions in our report have shone a light on how their needs can be best served, whilst at the same time regenerating our town centre according in ways that can benefit younger people, often with minimal fuss or cost. It’s win, win.

“With plans for Northampton Forward gathering momentum, the time has come to listen to what our elders have to say, seize the moment and really help ‘N Town’ stand proud for years to come.”

Laura Graham, Business Relationship Manager for Age UK Northamptonshire added: “I’m delighted that our clients had the opportunity to have their thoughts captured and that this report produced such rich and valuable data.

“When looking at the regeneration of the built environment, the temptation can be to focus solely on the financial return on investment and assume that meeting the needs of older people hinders that return. This research proves what we at Age UK Northamptonshire already knew, that older people are integral to the economic success of the regeneration of Northampton.

“The clients who took part have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon and their time and efforts are appreciated by all. We look forward to working with the University of Northampton on future projects that will enable our client’s voices to be heard and their needs met in later life.”

Read ‘A place for me? Older people and the future of Northampton town centre’ online.

*Respondents also had the chance to attend a focus group or have an individual face to face interviews.