With Changes Coming, a Call to Make Sure Harold's Cross Is "Age-Friendly"

Take a look at how the hoarding around St Clare’s Convent in Harold’s Cross narrows the footpath by about a third, says Tony McDermott.

“It’s clearly not capable of taking on two-way traffic. What if someone has a walker or is in a wheelchair?” he says, standing near it.

He has concerns too about the jostling at peak-time on footpaths around the planned Educate Together school – if that goes ahead on the old greyhound stadium site.

With all the changes ahead in the neighbourhood, McDermott, who is chair of the Harold’s Cross Community Council, wants to make sure that older people, and those with disabilities too, are able to get about easily.

There are models for how to make that happen, through “age-friendly villages” – neighbourhoods that have identified issues for older people, worked with the local community to solve these, and presented their work to Age Friendly Ireland for official recognition.

But the title hasn’t been awarded to any part of Dublin for several years.

Age-Friendly Dublin

Five years ago, Dublin City Council launched an age-friendly strategy as part of a national project with 31 local authorities, to adopt recommendations by the World Health Organisation on improving quality of life for older people.

A city-wide alliance was formed that year, with representatives of the council, the HSE and academics. Its goal was to set an overall strategy, and then oversee its implementation in each of the city’s five administrative areas.

The strategy has several aims, including: a dedicated Garda in every Dublin station with responsibility for older people, a Garda patrolling neighbourhoods with high densities of older people, and a programme designed to support older people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.

Dublin City Council provides an “age-friendly” coordinator and a senior community officer, and provides funds in each of the five areas to roll out and support the programme, a council spokesperson says.

Every place designated an “age-friendly village” or “age-friendly town” gets an award locally and recognition from the national programme, it says.

Crumlin, East Wall, and Raheny earned age-friendly status in 2014 and 2015 – and still have it, said a council spokesperson. But there haven’t been any new age-friendly villages in Dublin since.

The “light went out” after the initial launch, says independent Councillor Christy Burke, who was on the 2014 city-wide alliance during his time as Dublin City mayor. There needs to be a greater political commitment to seniors, he says.

The page on the council’s website for Dublin Age Friendly City is down, so it doesn’t offer any clues as to the council’s progress on its five-year strategy. A mid-term review of the programme in 2017 said there was no longer a city-wide alliance to oversee it though.

Older people still struggled with a lack of community gardaí, not being able to communicate with public-transport providers when they had issues, and a lack of housing adapted for people with disabilities, the review said.

“The lack of a city-wide alliance is preventing goals being achieved,” the review said. It said a new one should be set up.

A spokesperson for the council listed several actions it has taken in the last few years to make the city more age-friendly.

The council has worked with the Local Enterprise Office to train businesses to make themselves more attractive to the older adult market, they said.

They’ve trained architects and planners on design and good practice, they said. The council has 52 age-friendly homes planned at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, due to be done in 2020 – the aim being a “village” feel, with amenities, services, and communal spaces for older people.

There was also a 12-week exercise programme for 20 older people based out of Mansion House in 2018, the council says.

Area “alliances”, in each of the five administrative areas of the city have run projects, too, they said.

In the south-east, where Harold’s Cross is, that has meant dances and knitting groups, and walkability audits, too.

A Success Story

It was a huge undertaking to win age-friendly status for Raheny, says Barry Murphy, coordinator of the Raheny Business Association.

He and others set up a committee with locals, gardaí, and officials from the HSE and the council.

They worked with folks from the Irish Wheelchair Association and other disability organisations, looking closely at Raheny village.

They spent a day with wheelchair users, people on scooters or walkers, or with visual impairments, auditing the streets. “It highlighted a load of things,” he says.

A wheelchair user showed how the Garda station needed a decent ramp, he says. He demonstrated “that if he used it, he would topple over”.

After the audit, the shopping centre put in a lift and levelled pavements outside shops, so there weren’t steps up into them, he says.

A carpeting shop now provides a basket of different-strength reading glasses in case someone has left theirs at home. Others put in more seats. “Simple things,” Murphy says.

The committee set up a community cafe once a month in Cara Hall too, where older people can meet, socialise, and hear a rota of speakers – from community nurses to undertakers. “There’s nothing you can think of that hasn’t been covered,” Murphy says.

It took a year of work to get the Raheny its age-friendly status, he says.

A New City-wide Alliance

A new Dublin City Age-Friendly Strategy is to be developed for a three- to five-year term which will start in January 2020, a council spokesperson said last week.

This will include the creation of two new regional alliances, one on the north side of the city and one of the south side.

There will also be a new city-wide alliance, the council said, with membership including the deputy chief executive of Dublin City Council, the director and chief officer of the HSE, and representatives from the National Transport Authority, the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, and Dublin Chamber.

McDermott says he hopes Harold’s Cross can follow Raheny. “The template for progress is there and we want to get it rolling,” he says.

Residents are waiting for a commitment from the council before they form a steering group, says Harold’s Cross Robert Carroll, who is working with McDermott to do research on how the area can be improved.

In January, Labour Councillor Mary Freehill put forward a motion at a meeting of the South East-Area Committee, asking the council to establish a “dementia-friendly” and “age-friendly” village in Harold’s Cross.

McDermott says he and other residents have yet to meet with Dublin City Council. But he has a list of concerns already.

He’s worried that elderly people will struggle to compete with students for space on footpaths at peak times, given that it looks as if the planned school will have a car-free campus.

It will have no dedicated staff parking or a student drop-off zone. Instead, people will enter the school via pedestrian and cycle lanes from the Harold’s Cross Road.

But parents may be “parking outside of older people’s homes” too, McDermott says.

At Mount Argus, Marlet Property Group plan to build 179 residential homes. They’ve also got permission for 220 homes at the site of St Clare’s convent.

Local amenities should be built in tandem with the new housing, says McDermott

McDermott says there should be a community room in the school for older people to use after school hours, he says. More benches would help too, he says.

Things “that are facilitating older people also facilitate mothers with prams, people with wheelchairs and people that are less mobile in general”, he says.

Murphy, in Raheny, said he’d consider himself an older person, but the work he did to make Raheny age-friendly was still “eye-opening”.

“You don’t see the challenges because you’re a sighted, able-bodied person,” he says. “It’s only when you’re walking with people with a disability, people with sight problems. It was amazing.”

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Aura McMenamin: Aura McMenamin is a city reporter covering mainly the south-east of the city, and jobs. You can reach her at aura@dublininquirer.com.

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