Mobilising older people to help older people

The proportion of older people in the European population continues to increase and the O4O project has been examining ways of helping communities provide the required services by mobilising older people to help other elderly people.

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While the longevity of the general population is increasing, the percentage of older people (defined in the project as over 55 years) in Europe’s northern periphery is higher compared to central and urban regions. Providing services for the elderly in rural areas is more challenging and a lack of healthcare and social support can lead to exclusion and hardship.

Alternative support for older citizens

In the O4O project, (Older people for Older people), which concluded in 2010, staff from partner regions across the Northern Periphery – Finland, Greenland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Sweden – have worked closely with rural communities to research and develop alternative ways of providing support and services for their older citizens. In particular, they have sought to fill the gaps in service provision that would help statutory providers to keep older people living in their homes and communities with the many benefits it offers.

A major challenge of rural service provision is the high cost of travel in remote areas and finding and keeping the skilled staff required such as nurses and social carers. O4O has been a response to the emerging policy idea that people in communities should become increasingly involved in providing their own basic services, which could supplement or replace the services that statutory providers do not or cannot provide to improve quality of life for older people.

Creating sustainable services

Working with groups of older people in rural communities, O4O has employed their skills, experience and knowledge to identify priorities for support services and activities. O4O set out to involve older people as they better know their own needs and are a huge source of energy, skills and knowledge.

Over the three years of the project, the potential benefits of involving older people in setting up and running an O4O initiative have been demonstrated. Measures have included a community transport scheme, community-managed centres for older people, help and friendship schemes, a luncheon club for older people using local produce from older people’s gardens, volunteering to support older people, and history and culture projects.

O4O has worked to ensure the sustainability of the services created to give them every chance of continuing. Handbooks and guidance documents have been produced, and capacity built to support repeat services in the future and to enable other communities to undertake similar services. The knowledge gained has been used to produce a toolkit to help other communities develop O4O initiatives.

A series of policy briefings have been produced as part of the O4O project. These cover the practicalities of social enterprise creation within communities; the influence of culture and policy context on social enterprise creation; the future for older people’s service delivery; and specific policy objectives for each of the O4O partner countries’ national and regional governments. These policy briefings are available on the O4O website (

Total and EU funding

The project “O4O - Older People for Older People” has a total eligible budget of EUR 2 125 530 with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 1 183 997 for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.

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