Books, chats and Big Knit hats

Many of us can’t imagine going for weeks without speaking to another person. Unfortunately that’s the reality for thousands of older people across Scotland, who are socially isolated and dealing with the horrendous experience of loneliness. 

For these individuals, services like the Falkirk Community Trust’s Home Library Service can be life-changing. The service delivers books, audio books and large print materials to any person living in Falkirk who is unable, for whatever reason, to go to one of their eight libraries. The service promoted the Big Knit campaign to their users and at the end of last year we had already received nearly 1000 little hats of all shapes and sizes from them – just amazing!

One of these incredible knitters is Marion Deans. Marion’s husband sadly passed away last year and as Naomi Kenny from the Falkirk Community Trust informed us, by being involved with the Big Knit, Marion felt she was able to knit through her grief as well as contributing to meaningful causes. Naomi also told us that Marion is proud of the hats she has knitted and we have to say she definitely should be!

Naomi from the Falkirk Community Trust with Marion who has been taking part in Big Knit

Naomi from the Falkirk Community Trust with Marion who has been taking part in Big Knit

By making sure that people are still connected to their libraries, often hubs of local communities, the home library service arguably is helping to prevent loneliness and isolation. Campaigns like the Big Knit help us at Age Scotland work with similar projects and make sure that those who are unable to, or perhaps less likely to, get out and about don’t feel isolated in their own home. It’s much better to dissect the plot of the latest Scandi-noir book you have read with someone, even if it is lovely Dave who delivers you books, than mull it over on your own.

That’s why, we are asking you or anyone you know who loves to knit to get involved in this year’s Big Knit and help us make sure that wee discussion over book is a possibility for everyone in Scotland.

Find out how you can get involved in the Big Knit here:

Find out more about the Falkirk Community Trust’s Home Library Service.




Consultation – what’s the point?

Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer, Simon Ritchie, spent 2018 consulting older people in Scotland on transport. He reports here on his findings.

“Is this actually going to change anything?”

As I toured Scotland asking older people for their views on transport, this question came up a lot. My task was to work with Transport Scotland, the transport arm of the Scottish Government, to make sure that older peoples’ interests were accounted for in the new National Transport Strategy (NTS).

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Simon Ritchie – Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer

People had taken part in consultations before, they said, and it never seemed to change anything. However, as the consultation process went on, and after some reflection, I know the answer: yes, this will change things for the better. Let me explain.

Scotland’s population is ageing. The number of people aged 75+ is set to double in the next two decades. That’s great news – people are living longer, healthier lives – but as the demographics of our society changes, so too must our infrastructure if it is to remain fit for purpose. If the transport system doesn’t work for older people, it doesn’t work. Full stop.

So what works, and what needs to change?

Through a series of twenty transport workshops in every corner of Scotland, I and the civil servants I brought with me learned a great deal. Some findings were not surprising:

  • 2/3 of older people say they use public buses frequently
  • Reliance on cars is more prevalent in rural areas
  • The top three reasons for travelling are shopping, socialising and attending medical appointments.

Amongst the more striking findings were that

  • 1/3 of older people use public transport to commute to voluntary work – offering their valuable time, skills and experience to society.
  • 1/3 of older people say they’ve experienced difficulty getting to a medical appointment because of transport problems.
  • 1/2 say they’d use public transport more if services ran more frequently, and 1/2 of those living in rural areas say they’d take the bus if services ran later in the evening. Indeed, several older people who cannot drive said they felt under curfew in the evenings due to having no transport.

We now have a much better idea of what older people think about transport, and what they think should change. So how will this information and insight be used?

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Firstly – all our findings have been passed on to Transport Scotland in full. Already, many of the policy proposals we have put forward have been adopted into the draft NTS. From late 2019, the NTS will be the document that all levels of government should refer to whenever they make a transport-related decision. Age Scotland will hold them to it.

Secondly – we are using our findings to shape our position on the Scottish Government’s new Transport Bill, which gives Councils more power to improve local bus services. So there is a broader use for this information.

And finally – consultation matters because older people’s involvement in policy development keeps government on its toes and older people’s interests on the agenda.

A huge ‘thank you’ to all who took part in the 2018 Age Scotland transport workshops around the country. It’s been worthwhile and we know that the Scottish Government is listening and acting. If Age Scotland is a vehicle for change, it’s older people who are in the driving seat.

For more information please visit the Age Scotland website or contact Simon Ritchie – Policy Engagement & Campaigns Officer at Age Scotland – at or on 0131 668 8047

Communities coming together at Christmas

While most of us are looking forward to the festive period, this can be the loneliest time of year for thousands of older people throughout Scotland. Around 80,000 older people say that the TV is their only source of company over Christmas and New Year, with nearly one in five keeping it on all day because “it’s lovely to hear human voices”.

Our Christmas campaign “No one should have no one”, aims to highlight the extent of loneliness and isolation in Scotland and encourage people to take action in their communities. We’ve been delighted to hear back from so many amazing people who are doing their part to bring people together over the festive period.

Here are the fantastic Christmas Day and Boxing Day events on offer that we have heard about. You can do your part by helping spread the word about these and any other events in your local community!


Age Scotland Orkney and the Salvation Army are hosting a Christmas Day lunch for anyone who would otherwise be spending Christmas Day alone. Transport can be provided. Event details


A Renfrewshire based project providing Christmas lunch; including transport, 3 course dinner, entertainment and a little gift and for those who are financially struggling a gift card to use in supermarket. Event details


The No.1 Befriending Agency and The Real Junk Food Project Glasgow are offering a three course Christmas lunch on Boxing Day. Event details


Open doors and free Christmas dinner as part of the Edinburgh Cheer campaign. From 11am at Tynecastle stadium in West Edinburgh and from 11:45am at Easter Road Stadium in North Edinburgh > Event details


Lochside Community Centre have offered an open invitation for Christmas dinner and entertainment from 1pm to 6pm on Christmas Day > Event details

“Altogether Christmas” Day Party at Noblehill Community Centre – including cold buffet, festive treats with music and carols > Event details


Head along to the Back to Basics Christmas Day drop in lunch – The Base, Grange Church, Woodstock Street, Kilmarnock 12-2pm on Christmas Day. All welcome – no questions, no charge.


Newbattle Parish Church Ministry Team are offering a 3-course Christmas dinner for people who would otherwise be alone. Transport within 3 miles of Mayfield (EH22 ) can be arranged and venue is wheelchair accessible. Contact Erika Pryde at


Free four course Christmas meal with a gift at St James the Less Church Hall in Penicuik > Event details

If you have an event to add to our list please contact

Have a Merry Christmas!



The best years of our lives?

Next month, Catharine Ward Thompson, Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the OPENspace research centre linked with Heriot-Watt University, is speaking at the British Academy Big Debate on the body, brain and wellbeing. In this blog post, she takes us through some of the issues she will be raising as she asks, “are our communities – as places – ready for the opportunities and challenges posed by an ageing population so that old age might really offer some of ‘the best years of our lives’?”

Catharine Ward

Catharine Ward Thompson at the first Advisory Group meeting of the Mobility, Mood and Place research project in January 2014. Age Scotland is partnering the research and the meeting was attended by Greg McCracken, Policy Officer at Age Scotland.
Image © John McGonagle

In my research, I’m interested in the potential offered by open space, at all scales, to enable people to be more active outdoors and engage positively with the natural environment. From recent research, such as the ten-year project Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I’DGO), I know that this is important across the life course; that getting out and about into oldest age can enhance both physical and mental health and wellbeing and make a real difference to quality of life. I’DGO demonstrated that, if older people live in an environment that makes it easy and enjoyable for them to go outdoors, they are more likely to spend a longer time outdoors, to be more physically active and to feel more satisfied with life. Participants in our study were twice as likely to achieve the recommended levels of healthy walking if they lived in an environment that they felt to be ‘supportive’.

As our understanding of the consequences and implications of a rapidly ageing population has grown, much has been done, through I’DGO and other studies, to identify how to address the physical barriers to getting outdoors that some older people encounter. There is better awareness of the need for good design and, importantly, for higher standards of maintenance. For many reasons, not least financial constraint, our neighbourhoods might not meet these standards, but we have good evidence that they should. We know, through the project Go Far, for example, that better maintained footpaths could make a real difference to the incidence of outdoors falls and to the fear of falling among older people.

In my current research project, Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP), I am working with a team of experts from Edinburgh and other universities to look beyond physical barriers to older people getting outdoors, to find out what other factors help make a neighbourhood environment ‘supportive’. We are building on earlier findings on aspects of the outdoor experience that make a difference to its quality, such as pleasantness, personal safety and stimulation. We are investigating, through working with architects in training, how older people can play a more active role in the design process and, using mobile neural imaging, studying real-time emotional responses to place. Working with data from the Lothian Birth Cohorts of people in their 70s and 90s, we are also considering the influence of local environments in which people have lived from childhood.

If you would like to hear more about my current and recent research and how it feeds into wider debates about our communities and their readiness or suitability for ageing, please join me at the British Academy Big Debate, The Best Years of our Lives?, at the Assembly Hall (The Mound) in Edinburgh on Tuesday 29th April 2014 at 6pm. The event is free but ticketed (register here). The debate will be chaired by actor, Simon Callow. My colleague on Mobility, Mood and Place, Professor Ian Deary of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE), will also be speaking, as will Sir Alan Peacock and BBC Scotland news presenter and journalist, Sally Magnusson.