Professor Catherine Leyshon from the University of Exeter is overall project lead. She said:
“In Europe, the US and many other countries, populations are ageing, leading to a host of issues ranging from pressure on health services to increased isolation and loneliness.
“This situation is especially acute in rural communities, many of which are at risk of dying out. The challenge for many societies is to manage the needs of the ageing population while encouraging healthy ageing and realising the potential of older people, which has been overlooked.”
The project team will encourage rural and coastal communities to:
- define what support they need
- participate in the co-design and delivery of services
- develop cost effective solutions for themselves to reduce loneliness and improve quality of life, health and wellbeing
Initiatives might include community transport schemes, starting new clubs and societies, and bringing together the younger and older generations.
Volunteers will be trained to identify their underused community assets and networks and conduct guided conversations with about 600 people (aged 60+ and no longer in employment) across the eight communities in the study, finding out how people feel about their lives and the place in which they live.
While contributing to a number of workstreams, the University will lead the development of the toolkit – a set of steps that could be used in similar communities elsewhere to identify innovations that will improve people’s health and wellbeing.
The project is funded by Interreg 2 Seas, which promotes territorial cooperation between the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
HAIRE will build upon Centre of Health Technology projects like eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) to expand the concept of 'social prescribing' using community platforms beyond the South West. Social prescribing involves health professionals enabling patients and the public to improve their mental and physical health through signposting to social activities, such as joining a walking group. HAIRE also builds on previous work done by University colleague Professor Ray Jones as part of the Innovation for Healthy Ageing project.
Dr Chatterjee and the HAIRE team expect that training local volunteers will begin a process in which knowledge about social innovation will spread from the project areas to neighbouring communities. The aim, Dr Chatterjee says, is to “foster a sustainable economy of wellbeing in resource constrained rural and coastal communities.”