Engaging residents less likely to access formal social opportunities, community activities and support

jo stapleton headshot 112 x 112
Jo Stapleton
Good Practice Mentor, Outreach Specialist (former ABC Outreach Manager), Age UK Camden

Ageing Better in Camden (ABC), based within Age UK Camden, was one of 14 Ageing Better local partnerships across the UK, funded by the Lottery Community Fund to test and learn new approaches to tackling loneliness and isolation amongst Camden residents aged 55+. As part of this work, ABC funded and developed a dedicated Outreach Service, to proactively go out into the community to find, approach and engage the people ‘no-one’ knows. This included older men, BAME communities and individuals less likely to say ‘yes’ to accessing formal services, community activities and support.

The Outreach Service worked in partnership with Camden Housing and Housing Associations to develop a safe and light touch method to meet and engage residents on the doorstep in sheltered housing and on large housing estates. This involved a simple 3 step approach designed to provide a supportive ‘nudge’ towards participation:

  • A letter drop inviting residents to attend an informal pop-up event held in their building, on their estate or local area. 
  • A door knock ‘hello’ conversation to reiterate the invitation, build rapport and provide encouragement to attend (Information about the door knock and opt out instructions provided in the invitation letter).  
  • An informal pop-up event held a few days later, providing a valuable low social risk opportunity to bring residents together with their neighbours as a first step to further engagement and participation.

This approach resulted in 1000s of doorstep conversations and a valuable opportunity to gain first-hand insight from the residents not usually met at formal community activities about barriers to participation. Barriers included:

  • Preconceptions about activities and social opportunities being for people who are older/vulnerable/lonely, ‘It’s not for people like me’.  
  • If attending community groups or organisations in the past is not part of the older persons life experience, they are less likely to self-identify with a formal activity or to attend. As a result, changing the activity on offer alone is unlikely to increase their likelihood of attendance.
  • Social isolation leads to low and self-limiting expectations making it feel more difficult for the older person to take a social risk and participate. Not considering accessing social opportunities, these residents won’t be actively looking for opportunities so are less likely to read noticeboards or to seek out information.
  • Cultures of participation become intrenched within a community - low resident attendance at previous events creates self-fulfilling ‘no-one will come’ expectations for future events.

Whilst doorstep engagement provides a valuable tool to identify and provide targeted support to individual residents – as a time intensive activity not possible for many front-line housing staff, the following practical strategies can also provide an effective response to overcome barriers to resident participation:

  • Keep things simple and informal – provide low social risk, informal drop-in opportunities to bring residents together.
  • Use transactional language to describe social opportunities, for example a coffee morning could become ‘drop-by for a free coffee and meet your neighbours’. This approach is particularly effective with older men.
  • Actively promote a positive participation culture – reassure residents others are attending, everyone is welcome etc
  • Ensure everyone is always invited, including the residents who don’t usually attend – provide an invitation either in person or by letter drop if possible

Jo Stapleton is the Good Practice Mentor, Outreach Specialist (former ABC Outreach Manager), at Age UK Camden. For more information about outreach learning and approach to engaging residents in housing settings including, practitioner guides, toolkits, insight reports and free training, please visit: www.ageingbetterincamden.org.uk/outreach

The Housing LIN has also covered the work of Age UK Camden in our CollaborAGE directory of practice where we collate examples of co-production and community-led approaches to housing and care for older citizens. In particular, we feature Jo’s Outreach Learning report, ‘Enabling resident engagement and community building within sheltered housing communities’.

If you found this blog of interest and would like to share how you engage, involve or co-produce with your residents on how you shape or manage your services, please email us at info@housinglin.org.uk.


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