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JRF challenges society to think differently about ageing

Yesterday JRF ipublished a new poem by the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, as it challenges society to think differently about growing old. The poem, inspired by the thoughts, experiences and stories of older people from a range of marginalised groups, some with high support needs, was commissioned by JRF as part of its research programme A Better Life. The programme challenges us all to think very differently about growing old – and to begin by listening to those amongst us who have the experience.

The poem forms the centrepiece of a brand new website commissioned by JRF that offers glimpses into what life is like for older people with high support needs. It features perspectives on growing old by a range of older people and includes the stories and experiences of:

  • Older people with learning disabilities
  • Older lesbians, gay men and bisexuals
  • South Asian Elders
  • People living with dementia
  • Gypsy Elders

The site celebrates old age with stunning photography by award-winning Jo Hanley of those whose stories we hear, as well as portraits of centenarians by leading UK photographer Chris Steele-Perkins.

Speaking about the poem, Sir Andrew commented:

"I created this poem as a collage - it's made of scraps taken from interviews, things I've overheard, things I've invented. The idea was to create a portrait of age which is at once fragmentary (because everyone's experience is unique to themselves) and unified (because ageing involves sharing certain things in common). I hope the result is realistic about the difficulties posed by time and the passing of time, and yet also celebratory of certain experiences that time allows - the richness of memory, the sense of a narrative shape within a life."

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said today:

"We hope our programme of work looking at what makes life better for older, frailer people will inform debate, without stereotypes or prejudice, about how we adapt to our ageing society. Old age is not about 'them', it is about all of us. And the sooner we start listening to those with the experience, the sooner we can all start planning for a better life in old age.

One of our core aims over the coming years is to respond to the opportunities and challenges of an ageing society. We need to adapt to this demographic and social change and to do so we need to listen to older people to understand what they want and value. In this way not only may they achieve a better quality of life for themselves, but we all stand to benefit in the longer term."

JRF's research programme A Better Life is a five-year programme focusing on a significant challenge: how to ensure quality of life for the growing number of older people with high support needs in the UK. JRF is commissioning a range of work to inform and produce clear, costed recommendations for policy and practice that can help older people with high support needs now and in the future, whatever setting they live in.

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Abigail Scott Paul

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