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

A tale of ‘The Sweater Curse’ and social knitworking

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is over for the year but Texan, Elaine Liner takes a look back at her Edinburgh experiences and shares some of her marketing secrets.

Elaine Liner in Sweater Curse A Yarn About Love

Elaine Liner in Sweater Curse A Yarn About Love.

When I finally started telling my friends back home in Dallas, Texas, that I had written a play I’d be performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer, they all asked: “What’s it about?”

I usually said, “It’s about knitting.” And then they’d change the subject. Pretty sure most of them thought I was delusional. Who’d want to see a play about knitting performed by a 59-year-old Texan making her acting debut in a 30-seat theatre at the biggest arts festival on the planet?

Well, it turns out lots of people did. As I head home after 32 days in Edinburgh and 25 performances of Sweater Curse: A Yarn about Love, I’m still amazed and happy that, given more than 2000 choices of shows at this year’s Fringe, so many theatergoers took a chance on mine. I had five-star reviews and full houses, including the final Sunday.

When the lights would come up at a performance and I’d see patrons knitting and crocheting in their seats, I couldn’t help but smile. That’s what I’d envisioned as I spent a year rehearsing and polishing the play.

For months before I got to Scotland, I emailed knitting clubs in and around Edinburgh, inviting them to see my play at the Fringe and reminding them to bring their knitting. I Tweeted and Facebooked, too, making contact with yarn stores, pub and cafe knitting groups, and individual crafters, especially seniors. This, more than the usual “flyering” on the Royal Mile, brought me an audience I knew would understand my show.

Elaine Liner at the Big Knit

Through her contacts Elaine found out about and joined us for a fun Big Knit event

Because Sweater Curse isn’t really a play about knitting. If you saw it — and thank you to everyone who did — you know that my message is more than just a lesson in the history of putting stitches on needles.

What I want to share with this piece is a little journey through the knotty problems of finding love. And to let people of every age know that sometimes you have to “tink back” a few times in life to learn the tough lessons. Also, that age is no barrier to living your dreams, whatever they may be.

A big reason I came to Edinburgh with this show is that I will turn 60 this November. I’ve never had a “bucket list,” but this year I did develop a “Why not?” philosophy. Write a play based on my obsessions with knitting and my history of lousy boyfriends? Why not? Take it to the Fringe as a total unknown? Why not? Raise the thousands of dollars it takes to do that? Sure, why not?

And it happened. Best of all, my tribe of women and men who love making things, who love theatre … who love — they found me. And for 60 minutes in a tiny spot above Grassmarket, our lives were knitted together.

Now the question I keep hearing is: “Will you be back at the Fringe next year?”

At this moment, I can’t think of a single reason why not.

Follow Elaine Liner on Twitter @TheSweaterPlay or on Tumblr at You can email her at

Elaine also features in our Age Scotland video from the Big Knit event.

A ferry to the isles – why wait for summer?

We’ve recently updated the Travel and Lifestyle section of Age Scotland’s website, including a feature on visiting Scotland’s islands.  Waiting for milder weather before making the trip might seem like a good idea, however for guest blogger Pat Craig winter has proven the ideal time to take the ferry.

A ferry

It’s not often that the Captain of a ferry comes down from the Bridge for a chat. Mind you it’s rare to be the only passenger on a ship which in summer is full to the gunnels.

In early January I decided, on impulse, to do the ‘West Highland Line’ – rated as the second most beautiful rail journey in the world. Headed for Mallaig for no other reason than that it was the end of the line, I’d forgotten that it’s also the starting point for the car ferry to Skye and the Small Isles. My B&B host hadn’t.

Meeting me at the station he offered to deliver me to and pick me up from a local hostelry where I could have an evening meal. But I’ve travelled before in winter, so had come prepared with a tuna snack meal and fruit. I’d also brought extra socks just in case it was cold but I didn’t need to worry. My accommodation was warm and cosy. The welcome, too, was warm and thoughtful.

As we discussed what you could do in Mallaig on a Sunday, mine host shyly told me that he’d taken the liberty of checking what boats were sailing in the morning and had decided that a trip to Canna, the furthest away of the Small Isles would be best. There would be no need to get off onto the island which, managed by the National Trust, now has a population of 8! It would just be a mini cruise.

Dead on 9am walking up the gangway of a Calmac ferry ready for the six and a half hour round trip I remembered the joy of many previous ferry trips. There is something magical about being afloat, no matter the weather.

I had to pinch myself when I remembered that we were only a few hours from Glasgow. Initially a little rough the sea was calm as a millpond at Canna and the temperature, warmed by the gulfstream, several degrees higher than the mainland.

Spoiled for choice I explored the boat and took in the views from different vantage points wondering what it would be like in high summer when 195 passengers could be on-board.
On the return journey I had lunch with two fellow passengers, workmen who’d been doing a job on Canna and were now on their way home.

Late afternoon we tied up at Mallaig. Mine host was waiting for me on the car deck. He’d watched the boat pass his kitchen window, realised it was torrential rain and, not wanting me to get wet, had driven to the ferry terminal to pick me up.  Would he have done that in the summer? I don’t think so, if only because he’d have a houseful of guests.

Winter travelling brings the best out in people, and you get a better idea of what life is really like in small remote communities.  I can’t wait to do it again.