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Sustainable Living and the Older Community

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Who: Dr Yamuna Kaluarachchi (School of Surveying & Planning, Kingston University London); Professor Keith Jones (School of Architecture & Construction, Greenwich University); Dr Katherine Eames (School of Surveying and Planning, Kingston University London). Project Partners: AgeConcern (now AgeUK), The Energy Saving Trust Ltd, Friends of the Elderly.

What: A campaign to engage the older (65+) UK community in public debate on sustainable living and what it means to them.

Why: To stimulate discussion, interest and action in climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions amongst the older community of the UK.

Where: In Age Concern (Age UK) and Friends of the Elderly care homes and meeting venues in London.

When: The main activities fell between Jan 2009 - Jan 2010, the booklet distribution and website are ongoing. 

Project description

The project consisted of a series of public talks, discussions, seminars, one to one information sessions useful for this audience as well as articles in newsletters, publications, an information booklet and a project website for dissemination. The feedback process provided information about behaviour changes since attending the engagement event. 

In collaboration with trusted partners Age Concern (Age UK), Friends of the Elderly and the Energy Saving Trust, the project team developed and delivered a range of public talk/discussion activities. The team used these events to gather feedback from participants on practical ways for the elderly to live sustainably. Preliminary focus groups were held over three months for formative evaluation as to what the audience wanted to know and how they would like the project to be delivered. 

Focus group, Sustainable Living and the Older Community

These audience requirements informed the consolidation of existing information into further talks, a booklet and a website.  In order to evaluate the impact of these activities, the team set out to measure the resulting change in awareness of and interest in the sustainability debate as well as related behaviour change of those involved through simple questionnaires and discussions face to face as well as over the phone over a length of time.  The captured and analysed feedback is also being reported widely amongst those working with the target audience and the academic community.

“Research was being brought to them so they had the opportunity to tap into that if they wanted to - there was this huge amount of information and themes that just hadn’t been filtered down properly like funding options and everyday choices.”


To gauge and deliver the information needs of the specific audience group and disseminate practical methods of adaptation for climate change mitigation.  Creating accessibility to sustainable living methods and research that hasn’t previously been communicated or offered specifically to this audience.

“The change required is social, economic and environmental!”

Results and outcomes

What worked well

  • Having a dedicated public engagement specialist (project mentor Laura Grant, Laura Grant Associates) on board provided essential help in informing both the formative evaluation during the preliminary focus groups and also throughout and following up the engagement process. 
  • Having the necessary trusted, experienced and qualified partners to enable work with the elderly as well as organising both the venues and captive audiences.   Access to their networks and mailing lists was a valuable contribution.
  • Taking the engagement activity to venues such as care homes where the partner’s care staff were on hand to support and ‘supervise’, meant the team could remain ‘visitors’ and avoid unnecessary ethical bureaucracy that comes with access to vulnerable communities.
  • The project was a constant balance between conflicts such as needing reputable names but wanting local supplier involvement, avoiding “big corporations talking at the elderly” which could have been quite intimidating.

“This project is different to the other commercial projects I have done that have just fizzled out and then had no other real impact than the academic output.”

“All the members of the U3A who attended have told me how very much they appreciated your talk. It was lively, informative and enjoyable. We also appreciated the illustrations.  It was a pleasure to have a speaker who treated us like intelligent people. Many of our speakers recognise that we are mostly elderly and immediately talk down to us in a patronising manner. I knew they had all found the topic interesting by the numbers who put their hands up to ask questions.  I feel sure, if the room had been booked for a longer period, they would have continued the discussion all day.”

“Some of the elderly participants were happy to receive information on how they could save on their energy costs and have approached providers to get their lofts insulated and energy saving light bulbs.”

What didn't work well

  • As a researcher and academic, you can assume what delivery method and content would be appropriate:  Yamuna found that what she had intended to do before the preliminary focus groups were held turned out to be slightly different to what the audience required.  (Luckily, this is what formative evaluation is for!)
  • The requirements of the elderly were slightly different to the ones the research team envisaged.  In the delivery of information, the initial idea of producing information CD/DVDs was perceived as not so useful. Leaflets and booklets were popular formats.  Also, group seminars and discussions were more popular than one-to-one drop in sessions and the engagement programme was adjusted to incorporate these changes.

Resources required

  • Access to the elderly community through trusted partners such as Age Concern (Age UK) and Friends of the Elderly.
  • A dedicated Research Assistant to do the majority of the “operations” side of managing the project
  • Time and expertise to undertake preliminary (formative) evaluation and effective evaluation throughout the project.  Laura Grant (Laura Grant Associates) was a project mentor to help and advise in this respect.

Top tips

The organisers offer the following tips for anyone contemplating putting on or becoming involved with similar activity

  1. Focus on the stakeholder group you want to engage with as their requirements could vary immensely.
  2. Get a trusted body or a charitable agency that works with this stake holder group behind you for credibility and access to established networks.
  3. Allow time for preliminary investigation and evaluation prior to the engagement proper to establish requirements.
  4. Start feed-back and review from the beginning of the engagement to fine-tune the proces.
  5. Modify the engagement programme as you go along with the review and feedback information you gather.
  6. Always gather contact information from attendees to the events (adhering to expected protocols) to carry on the feed-back process.


Name: Dr Yamuna Kaluarachchi

Name of organisation: School of Surveying & Planning, Kingston University London


Telephone: 0208 417 7190