Leeds Older People’s Forum can do so much with Tackling Loneliness with Transport fund - David Smith and Linda Glew

Transport is key to how we each live our lives. It’s what allows us to go to work each day, nip to the shops and get to health appointments. It’s also vital in helping us make and sustain connections with others.

Imagine your 80-year-old mum can’t drive anymore due to her failing sight and she isn’t as mobile as she was, so the local bus service isn’t an option either. Being able to meet up with friends for a walk and a coffee is important to her emotional wellbeing and physical health. Maintaining her independence is important too, giving her that sense of purpose and a feeling of being an individual.

Travel Connections, the new programme of activity about to launch at Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF), is funded by the Tackling Loneliness with Transport fund from the Department for Transport (DfT) and works with third sector organisations across Leeds to help people just like your mum.

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Travel is vital for everyone’s wellbeing, but older and disabled people can face major barriers.

David Smith.

Those who can’t access regular transport services are in danger of social isolation and loneliness, with all the adverse consequences for both physical and mental health. The urgency for solutions has been exacerbated by the pandemic – as we emerge from it, it’s time for some fresh thinking.

LOPF is a registered charity that promotes the wellbeing of older people in Leeds.

Along with third sector organisations across the city we work to ensure older people have the opportunities, freedom and support to live the life they want. Together, we’ve been working with and for older people since 1994 to make Leeds the best city to grow old in.

We know that Leeds has its transport infrastructure and yet older people still cite transport as a significant barrier to participation.

Linda Glew.

Travel Connections focuses on how transport can support older people to make connections with others to reduce loneliness and social isolation.

LOPF applied to the DfT fund to develop Travel Connections. We were one of just 12 organisations in England to be successful. It’s a research project that aims to help develop an evidence base for how transport can alleviate loneliness.

We will work with six local third sector partners, and deliver Travel Connections projects, including:

- Grand Days Out: Ten group outings on public transport, focusing on group members socialising and assessing whether the journey and venue are accessible and age friendly.

- Uber Health: Creating the opportunity for older members to book UberAssist and UberAccess taxis via their Neighbourhood Network charity, instead of using an Uber app.

- Taxi App: Three local Neighbourhood Network Schemes will work with lonely older people and support them to use and benefit from taxi apps to book journeys for social and other activities.

- Age and Dementia Friendly Taxis: LOPF works closely with around 40 memory groups and will work with taxi companies to use drivers who become known to passengers and offer them assistance.

- The Great Outdoors: Social walks based out of seven different sites across Leeds, all accessible by local bus services.

- Neighbourhood Car: Bramley Elderly Action plans to purchase an accessible vehicle to use as a daytime car for older members, with an aim for the project to become sustainable.

- Carers Connecting: Shared outings by minibus and train so carers can connect and relax.

All of our delivery partners have the knowledge, experience and creativity to work with their communities and learn from them.

Some projects will be delivered by the LOPF team who are experienced in tackling issues including health, loneliness, social care, housing, transport, diversity, social isolation and leisure.

Thanks to our connections to the wider health and social care network in Leeds, we’re in a position to promote the wellbeing of older people in a way that’s shaped directly by their voices.

The whole Travel Connections programme will be delivered on a ‘test and learn’ basis, allowing us to try out innovative ideas and see if they are successful – or not – so that we can learn by adapting.

It also allows us to better understand the experiences and challenges faced by older people as we work creatively with them. It will provide robust evidence for commissioning organisations in support of future funding requests.

When the Travel Connections programme ends (in May 2023), we will be ready to share the learning from all of the projects. We hope this will all act as a stepping stone to real change.

- David Smith is an older person and Trustee of Leeds Older People’s Forum and Linda Glew is Programme Manager, Leeds Older People’s Forum