Making space for conversations with the Listening Project

Posted in: Doing Public Engagement, Engage Grants

Hi, I’m Beth, a PhD student in the Department for Health, and current research assistant for the Healthy Later Living Network (HLL). This network is an interdisciplinary research group of academics and external stakeholders aiming to address the grand challenge of an Ageing Society.

What is the Listening Project? 

My work with the network so far has been with The Listening Project. This project has been designed as ‘listening events,’ in which we have been seeking input from older adults aged 65 and up to understand their needs and priorities. We have been holding informal conversations with older adults across Bath and North East Somerset, discussing how they look after their mental and physical health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our aim with these conversations has been to create an environment that allows everyone’s voice and opinion to be heard whilst also sparking ideas and conversation amongst small groups of people.

Below is a picture from one of our conversations with older adults at the Bath Ethnic Minority Senior Citizen Association (BEMSCA).

Key Take-Home Messages So Far

So far, we have set up conversations with older adults from a variety of different groups to get a range of perspectives. However, there are a few common messages that we have heard from many of the older adults. Each of these ideas could be a blog post all of their own, but I’ve summarised some of the key messages below.

  • Accessibility to services and groups is a key barrier to participation for older adults.
  • The local community has been essential for older adults’ well-being during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
  • Community groups and social clubs are key for maintaining older adults’ well-being. ​
  • Some older adults experience major issues with isolation- in some circumstances this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.  
  • Older adults don’t feel listened to, valued, or included in society enough. ​​
  • Many older adults have issues accessing GPs, which causes a lot of anxiety.
  • The older adults we have spoken to feel left behind by modern technology, and there aren’t enough opportunities to learn or be taught how to use different.


Unexpected Lessons

While my colleague Ellie and I may have anticipated some of these key messages,  we have also taken away some unexpected lessons from the project so far.

In almost all of the conversations that we have had, older adults have seemed very grateful to have these conversations and be asked for their input on these important issues. What has become obvious to us during these conversations, is that older adults haven’t been made to feel as though their opinion is important or is needed very often. A few times I have heard one of them say ‘are you sure this is what you’re looking for, I’m not sure I’m the best person to be asking these questions.’ This has motivated myself and Ellie to continue with this area of research, and make sure older adults feel their voice is valued in society.

In addition to this, the Listening Project has given me the opportunity to address and challenge some stereotypes I didn’t even realise I held regarding older adults. Though again, this could be an entirely separate blog post, one example comes from a chair yoga session (see pics below) I did with one of the groups who agreed to sit down and chat with us. While I was designing this session, I found myself questioning if the exercises I was including would be too difficult or if they would even be interested in what I was getting them to do. However, I found that once I was delivering the session, they were all more than capable of completing the exercises and many of them showed a lot of enthusiasm. One 80+ year old man was even speaking to us afterwards about how often he could do this at home. On reflection, I realised that my initial hesitations were based off of societal ideas of how some people view older adults as frail, and unable to try new things. While I wish it didn’t take me this long to arrive at this conclusion, I am so glad I have had the opportunity to make this reflection.

What’s next?

On the back of these conversations, we have begun work on a research-based real-world applied teaching and learning project for University of Bath students led by a member of academic staff called a Vertically Integrated Project (VIP), looking at intergenerational relations. In the VIP we are using some of the initial findings from The Listening Project to help shape our plans. I’m hoping that through these conversations, we can not only amplify older adults’ voices but encourage others to challenge any stereotypes that may not even realise they have.

As I've mentioned a few times in this post, I think a few of the topics we have uncovered with The Listening Project could be important to write about further. So watch this space, you might hear from us again!

The Healthy Later Living Network's Listening Project was funded by a Public Engagement Unit Engage Grant 2020/2021.

Beth Taylor is a doctoral student in the Department for Health at the University of Bath. 

Posted in: Doing Public Engagement, Engage Grants


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