How our research on healthy ageing ventures applies to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Simon Barlow

Design and Innovation Lead

3rd September 2020



Between March 2017 and September 2018, UnLtd partnered with Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to create the Solutions for an Ageing Society (SFAS) programme. We worked with five delivery partners - Hammersmith United Charities, The Hyde Group, Leeds Community Foundation, Somerset Community Foundation and Wellbeing Enterprises - to find, fund and support 58 social entrepreneurs in their communities to improve the quality of life for nearly 6,000 people over 50.

The final evaluation report for the programme reflects on the impact our support had on social entrepreneurs, people over 50, wider communities, and delivery partners. It also shares what we have learned about supporting social entrepreneurs, who are specifically working on developing solutions for an ageing society.

The impact of COVID-19 means that the world has changed significantly since we wrapped up this programme, not least for people over 50 and social entrepreneurs.

However, we think some of the learning shows how social entrepreneurs can be a key force in improving the quality of life for people over 50 in this crisis, and longer term.

Here are 3 lessons from the report’s conclusion, which apply to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. It’s clear that tackling loneliness and social isolation is key to improving the lives of people over 50, which have been made even more apparent in the context of shielding and quarantine measures. This programme (and others we have run, like Transform Ageing) have shown that social entrepreneurs are well-placed to tackle these challenges.

    They build social capital through creating, maintaining and strengthening social networks, and act as important bridges and bonds between people, organisations and services. Most social entrepreneurs on this programme highlighted relieving loneliness and/or social isolation as a key outcome of their ventures.
  2. The crisis compounds a long term trend which excludes the voices of people over 50 from public debate. At the same time, volunteering is seen as something done to them rather than by them. Projects like Grey Panthers of Pan (a community steel band for adults in Brent) are not only creating cross-generational volunteering opportunities, but also making sure the voices and needs of people over 50 in their community are heard by community organisations, statutory services or provisions, and delivery partners.

    This programme shows how, with the right support, social entrepreneurs can play an important role in bridging the gap and promoting trusting relationships which ultimately, give people over 50 more of a voice.
  3. As we enter a world of hyper-localised responses to the pandemic and a likely long climb from a deep recession, this programme (and our Resilient Communities work) has shown how a place-based, partnership model targets local entrepreneurs tackling local problems.

    This model means that delivery partners and social entrepreneurs are able to develop deep local connections to develop effective and relevant solutions for people over 50.

    Importantly, delivery partners nurtured social entrepreneurs to create solutions that were community-led and based, which we anticipate being key for the next stages of managing coronavirus and the coming recession.

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing more from our work supporting social entrepreneurs to develop solutions for an ageing society since 2016. As well as the impact that has been made and what we have learnt, we will suggest what needs to happen next and how social entrepreneurs and UnLtd will be at the heart of the solution.

If you have a few minutes to spare the report contains more information on the lessons learned, some recommendations for future action, and case studies of social entrepreneurs and their work. We love to hear what people think. Feel free to email to tell us your thoughts.

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