By Sarah Rochira, Older People's Commissioner for Wales.
In 2013, I was proud to see Wales awarded the highest 3-Star Reference Site status by the European Commission in recognition of our innovative achievements in advancing the rights of older people, such as the ground-breaking Strategy for Older People (SfOP), the establishment of the world's first Older People's Commissioner and the publication of a Declaration of the Rights of Older People. These innovations have been supported by a National Partnership Forum of Older People and, at a local level, by SfOP coordinators, Older People's Champions and 50+ Forums.
Another key step forward has been the development of the Ageing Well in Wales Programme, part of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP-AHA), which I am proud to Chair as Older People's Commissioner for Wales.
The Programme, the first of its kind in the UK, was formally launched on 22 October by the Welsh Government's Minister for Health and Social Services, Prof. Mark Drakeford AM. I am delighted that a number of our European partners and senior officials from the European Commission, including Maria Iglesia Gomez, the Commission's Head of Unit Innovation for Health and Consumers, attended and participated in the launch.
The launch event included a ceremonial signing of the Dublin Declaration by local government representative Cllr Ellen ap Gwynn. This demonstrates a commitment by all 22 Local Authorities in Wales to establish age-friendly communities and is an essential part of our work to ensure that Wales is an age-friendly nation.
The Programme itself consists of five strands, which are outlined in the five-year delivery plan that will be published to coincide with the launch event. Each of the five strands Age-Friendly Communities, Falls Prevention, Dementia Supportive Communities, Opportunities for Learning and Employment, and Loneliness and Isolation will contribute towards achieving the Programme's overall aim of ensuring that there is an improvement in the wellbeing of people aged 50 and over in Wales.
Delivering this aim is essential as there are over 800,000 people in Wales over the age of 50, a figure set to rise to over 1,000,000 within the next twenty years. Despite the fact that older people make a significant contribution to Wales, as volunteers, carers and taxpayers, a contribution estimated to be worth over £1bn a year, they are often undervalued, their needs often ignored. Ageing Well in Wales will work to further unlock the wealth of knowledge and potential of this valuable group of people, challenging falsely held assumptions and negative stereotypes in the process.
The Programme will also support people to continue to be economically and socially active by focusing on preventative actions and interventions. Preventing frailty and preparing older people to sustain their independence will, in turn, also support them to take ownership of their health and wellbeing.
The structure of the Programme has been designed to ensure that there is a consistent, pan-Wales approach to the aims and outcomes identified, and an appropriate balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches. The Strategic Action Group (SAG), Chaired by myself and comprised of a broad range of national bodies, provides high-level strategic direction to the Programme. The five Expert Advisory Groups (EAGs), one for each theme, led by Chairs who have a broad range of experience and knowledge in their specific fields, advise SAG members on good practice for adoption throughout the networks to support them in increasing impact.
At a local level, and crucial to the success of the Programme, are Thematic Networks. These networks will raise awareness of the activities of the Programme at a local level across the public and private sectors, harnessing and supporting action within villages, towns, cities and communities across Wales. These networks will use local experience, knowledge and impact to drive the development of better and more impactful national programmes.
Running through the Programme is a strong focus on research, innovation and creativity. This will ensure that evidence based approaches and good practice from across Wales and beyond are captured and shared to support impactful and empowering change at a local level. The Older People and Ageing Research and Development Network (OPAN Cymru) will lead on the development of the first integrated research strategy for the Programme, which will underpin the five themes of the Programme. OPAN researchers will use our links with the EIP-AHA to facilitate sharing and learning with colleagues who are undertaking research on active and healthy ageing across Europe.
Ageing Well in Wales became a partner of the EIP-AHA in 2012, and two of our themes align directly with Action Areas A2 (Personalised health management, starting with a Falls Prevention Initiative) and D4 (Age-Friendly Cities, Buildings and Environments).
Receiving reference site status and recognition by the European Commission means that we are now working closely with other partners across Europe, through the EIP-AHA and also the Reference Sites Collaborative Network, a network led by our colleagues in Northern Ireland, to further collaborate and exchange best practice examples and innovation in the field of active and healthy ageing. Through our continued engagement with the EIP-AHA, Ageing Well in Wales will work on exchanging knowledge and innovative ideas with European partners and encourage collaboration to attract EU funding for partnership projects.
As the Programme continues to develop over the coming weeks, months and years we are keen to work closely with our European partners and collaboration through the EIP-AHA will continue to be a priority. As we work to ensure that Wales is a good place to grow older for everyone, we extend a warm welcome to our European colleagues to visit us and learn from our approach and good practice. Croeso!