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Bringing Culture to Older Adults (and Vice Versa)

A city taps its vibrant arts and cultural heritage to fight loneliness and social isolation

Age-Friendly Manchester Cultural Offer Program Manchester, England, United Kingdom

Seniors keep fit, Manchester, England, AARP Livable Communities, Age Friendly

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Senior citizens take part in a dance keep fit session in Manchester, United Kingdom, March 19, 2010. The Age-Friendly Manchester Cultural Offer Program was created to extend the reach of Manchester’s world-class arts and culture scene to the city's older residents.

Established in 2007, the Age-Friendly Manchester Cultural Offer Program was created to extend the reach of Manchester’s world-class arts and culture scene to the city's older residents.

An impetus for the program was to reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation that older people often experience due to participating in fewer cultural and social activities. (Studies show that the problem can be especially acute for those living on low incomes or with long-term, limiting health conditions.)

The Cultural Offer Program promotes "a pos­itive story of aging," says Paul McGarry, strategic lead, Age-Friendly Manchester. "The program is saying to a city, 'We have these resources. How can older adults use them?'"

The Details

Program in collaboration with nearly two dozen local partners, including the Bridgewater Hall, the Hallé Orchestra, the People's History Museum, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Whitworth Art Gallery.

In addition, more than 130 volunteer "Culture Champions" work within their networks and com­munities to promote Age-Friendly Manchester's cultural activities and events, such as concerts, tours, an older people’s choir (pictured), creative writing classes, play readings and an array of intergenerational projects. A few highlights:

  • The Whitworth Art Gallery offers workshops where people can socialize and learn about craft­ing techniques such as woodblock carving, sculp­ture, printing and watercolor painting.

  • On Thursdays the Manchester Art Gallery lets a group of older residents take over the space to host an evening of art, storytelling, music and more.

  • The Library Theatre's Storybox Project helps peo­ple with dementia and their caregivers through storytelling and role-play workshops that aid with concentration and short-term memory.

  • The Manchester Museum’s "Museum Comes to You" service brings interesting artifacts out into the community to stimulate interest in its collections.

  • There’s also My Generation, a nightclub for people age 50-plus (though under 50s are welcome, too). The idea is to draw older people into Manchester’s famous night life by providing a place for them to socialize and enjoy live music.

The Costs

Age-Friendly Manchester covers the Cultural Offer Program's basic costs. Grant funding comes from a variety of nonprofits including The Baring Foundation.

The Results

The organizations that partner with the Cultural Offer Program have been meeting the challenge in other ways, such as by offering special dis­counts for older people. In addition, the program works closely with various specialists, including researchers.

Among the recent research efforts: A handbook about cultural engagement activities and older men. And a study showing that, on average, each Manchester-based Culture Champion engages more than 20 other older residents, helping them stay connected and involved in the community.

"The need for cities to constantly reinvent themselves has never been more important,"The Guardian, the Manchester-based British newspaper, put it in a 2015 editorial. "Ensuring a city has a 'cultural offer' that makes it a place where people and businesses want to live, work and invest is not just desirable — we believe it is essential."

Related Resources

Published August 2015

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