In Saanich, as in all municipalities, demographics are changing. In 2011 the census showed that 25 per cent of the population in Saanich was over the age of 60. This demographic is on track to keep increasing for many years to come.
Early last year Saanich Parks and Recreation recognized the necessity for a new strategy to meet the needs of this age group. Questions arose as to how would Saanich Parks and Recreation effectively program and serve an aging demographic. What activities are older adults looking for? What amenities are important? Where do older adults look for information and how do they stay connected? In February 2016 Saanich embarked on creating a new Parks and Recreation Older Adult Strategy (OAS) that will prepare the municipality’s Parks and Recreation department to successfully serve this growing older adult population into the future. Along with a strategy consultant, Saanich Parks and Recreation staff, a research team and project team have all been working together to help find answers to these questions and plan for the future.
From May to November 2016 the Saanich OAS team held over 60 public engagements, attended community events and co-ordinated both online and paper surveys. An internal staff think tank took place in October followed by a community forum in November. In total, the Saanich OAS team heard from over 2,400 older adults about what is working in Saanich, what services are missing and ideas for the future. Interested members of the public are able to view the results of the public engagements, community forum and regular updates at www.olderadultstrategy.weebly.com.
What has the Saanich OAS team learned over the past seven months?
Analysis of surveys, sounding board notes and discussions with older adults made it clear that people participate to stay socially connected. Although the benefits of exercise are important, seeing friends and getting out in the community is the driving force behind participation. Research shows that social isolation can be a major source of deteriorating health, so in order for Saanich to support healthy lifestyles within the older adult population, social connection becomes the overarching priority of the strategy.
The perception that recreation centres are only for the young, a place for sport and exercise and not a place for older adults to stay and socialize has been an eye-opening revelation too. Many healthy, active older adults take good advantage of the services and connect with likeminded adults. However, many older adults who do not participate regularly in sports or fitness do not look at recreation centres or parks as a place to meet friends or socialize.
Although many older adults want to participate and stay connected, there are many barriers that arise as they age – changes in health, decreased mobility, finances, transportation and cultural barriers are some of the barriers mentioned in surveys and public engagements. As the OAS evolves, Saanich will discuss, in depth, ways to address these barriers to participation.
Many older adults are unaware of the array of opportunities available through Saanich Parks and Recreation. The digital world for some adults is a comfortable environment, so they look for information online. Many other older adults still prefer newsprint, magazines and posters to find information. Saanich will not only have to find a successful way to get the information out to the public, but will also need to find a balance between the digital online world and print media.
In the end Saanich will not be able to do it all alone. Collaboration is emerging as another key priority in the strategy. Currently, Saanich is fortunate to have many strong partnerships with various senior-serving agencies and will continue to strengthen those relationships while also looking for and building new partnerships.
There is a wealth of information to decipher over the next few months. The Parks and Recreation Older Adult staff team are confident that this new strategy will put the municipality in a strong position to meet the needs of not just today’s older adults, but those aging into this area over the next five to 10 years.
The first draft of the Saanich Parks and Recreation Older Adults Strategy will be available for input and feedback from the public by March 17. Copies will be available at all recreation centres, online at www.olderadultstrategy.weebly.com or by phone at 250-475-5408. The completion of the project is slated for June 2017.
Julie Wallace is a recreation programmer with Saanich Parks and Recreation.