Harnessing the social capital of ageing populations in rural communities to foster innovation – University of Plymouth

With a wealth of life and professional experience, older people
could hold the key to revitalising rural communities, researchers say.

An international research project is to use an innovative structured
technique known as ‘guided conversations’ as part of a toolkit designed to find
out what older people in rural communities want and need. Researchers will then
help communities design and set up solutions to their problems using the voluntary,
public and private sectors.

The project, titled Healthy Ageing through Innovation in
Rural Europe (HAIRE)
, has won a grant of 5.3 million euros (£4.5m) from the EU
to work in eight rural communities – two each in Belgium, France, the
Netherlands and the UK (Feock in Cornwall and Rother in East Sussex).

HAIRE is a collaboration involving 15 partners across the four
countries. It will make use of the University’s knowledge and experience in health
innovation projects across rural communities in the South West of England,
improving health and care quality, and helping create an economy of wellbeing.

Associate Professor of Digital Health and Education, Dr
Arunangsu Chatterjee
is the University’s lead for HAIRE. He said:

Professor Catherine Leyshon from the University of Exeter is
overall project lead. She said:

The project team will encourage rural and coastal
communities to:

Initiatives might include community transport schemes, starting
new clubs and societies, and bringing together the younger and older

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.”