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Is Sidmouth an ‘age friendly’ community?

  • by JW

Should Sidmouth subscribe to the UK Network of Age Friendly Communities”

“… opportunities to widen participation across generations in addressing issues associated with an ageing community…” [Philip Long]


A new page has just been put up on the VGS site, focussing on Health and Wellbeing – with links to earlier posts on the wide range of issues covered by the topic. And that includes the reality that Sidmouth is singled out as one of the towns facing the biggest increase in the elderly – and yet this also promises opportunities for the future direction of the town.

The VGS coordination team [its steering group] has recently been expanded to include new members, including Dr Philip Long. Philip and his wife moved from Sheffield to live closer to his granddaughter and her parents in Newton Poppleford in 2022. He is a (mostly) retired academic whose interests focus on the critical study of tourism and culture.

Taking another of his interests, Philip has been asked to put together an article for the VGS news pages – and we are very grateful for him creating the guest piece below:

What’s in a label? Should Sidmouth subscribe to the UK Network of Age Friendly Communities?

Dr. Philip Long


There is a wealth of volunteering opportunities that exist in ‘our’ communities in the Sid Vale. The extent to which people in ‘later life’ participate in these is impressive. 

For example, interests and opportunities to volunteer in heritage, tourism, arts and culture are accommodated well in Sidmouth through for example the Sid Vale Association, Sidmouth University of the Third Age (u3a) and the Jazz and Folk festivals. I am also aware of excellent voluntary organisations focused on the environment, food poverty and homelessness and with end-of-life care and bereavement support.

These observations have led me to reflect on whether there would be interest in subscribing to the UK Network of Age Friendly Communities from Sidmouth Town and/or East Devon District Councils in partnership with other relevant stakeholders. This national Network offers opportunities to share approaches, strategies and challenges with communities elsewhere in the UK and internationally through United Nations recognition. Creating age-friendly cities and communities

My awareness of the Age Friendly Communities Network derived from participation on behalf of Sheffield u3a with a ‘social prescription’ programme managed by Age UK in that city. Age UK Sheffield PKW

In addition, Sheffield u3a partnered with the University Healthy Lifespan Institute (HELSI) in supporting research on active, healthy ageing. Importantly, HELSI’s work emphasises the importance of intergenerational dialogue on matters concerning ageing. Healthy Lifespan Institute | Healthy Lifespan Institute | The University of Sheffield

These activities drew attention to the useful resources available at the Centre for Ageing Better and specifically their coordination of the UK Network of Age Friendly Communities. Further details can be found at: UK Network of Age-friendly Communities | Centre for Ageing Better

Age Friendly Devon

Geographically, the closest member of the UK Network to Sidmouth is Torbay. John Arcus. Operations Manager at Torbay Community has indicated that he would be pleased to share his experience with representatives from Sidmouth. My vision for an age-friendly city: John, Torbay | Centre for Ageing Better

I have been aware through professional connections of research interest in ‘age friendly tourism’ and ‘dementia friendly’ tourism destinations at the University of Exeter (notwithstanding sensitivity on this topic expressed previously in a VGS blog piece). 

There is also a recently launched Centre for Coastal Communities at Plymouth University whose work is led by researchers on the ‘visitor economy’ (tourism) and Public Health. The Co-Director of the Centre, Professor Sheela Agarwal has indicated that she and/or colleagues would be pleased to visit Sidmouth to discuss how stakeholders in the town may participate in their research programme. Centre for Coastal Communities – University of Plymouth

Is Sidmouth an ‘age friendly’ community?

It may be argued that Sidmouth is already relatively ‘age friendly’ and that a meaningless label is not required. There is no accreditation process for the designation nor is the programme monitored by an external agency, so what’s the value? Which organisation or agency locally has the capacity and interest in taking this forward?

However, it may be that communities in Sidmouth may benefit from ‘age friendly’ recognition in ways claimed by the Centre for Ageing Better which include: opportunities to widen participation across generations in addressing issues associated with an ageing community; providing a strategic framework for reviewing key domains of outdoor spaces, transport, housing, social and civic participation, communication, community health and well-being.

The Age Friendly Network claims to be a growing movement offering peer to peer and professional advice, events and training. The Centre for Ageing Better would provide further details on this offer.

It may be argued that all ‘communities’, whether defined politically, geographically, demographically etc. are more or less insular and self contained and more or less open to sharing ideas, experiences, practices and challenges with communities elsewhere. Where is Sidmouth on this spectrum?