We are all ageing
As Chair of the Board of Trustees for Quiet Down There (QDT), I am lucky to work with a fantastic group of experts and creative thinkers to support QDT’s development. I am often inspired by the incredible projects QDT delivers with and for communities and artists, and am lucky to be able to take learning from my role as Chair back to my everyday job, as Impact Manager for Design Age Institute at the Royal College of Art (RCA), where I lead public engagement, outreach and dissemination.
In 2020, Design Age Institute was established by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the RCA, with funding from Research England, to demonstrate and expand the transformative potential of design to support all of us to age with agency and joy.
Most people are aware that in the UK and globally we have a rapidly ageing population, but many of us forget that we ourselves are part of that population or soon will be, if we are lucky – after all, we are all ageing, even you!
This Age Thing
As longevity increases, the traditional life stages of education, employment and retirement are being transformed and more and more people are challenging the perception that our later lives cannot be fulfilling, adventurous and joyful. Unfortunately, across news cycles, articles, books, movies and television screens, the myth persists that “the elderly”, “pensioners” and “seniors” are either burdened with physical ailments, dismissed as out of touch, or condemned as a source for society’s woes, from the climate catastrophe to economic inequality.
Design Age Institute launched This Age Thing in 2020, to challenge these negative and ageist myths, celebrate diverse stories of ageing well, and connect real people with the designers, innovators and researchers to help reimagine the products, services and environments of the future.
The Future of Ageing
A big part of my role has involved working closely with the Design Museum to curate two free public exhibitions, at the Museum and on tout to the V&A in Dundee, which saw over 200,000 visitors explore research, trends and innovations shaping the future of ageing, and potentially their own future selves.
Visitors of all ages explored ageing though six-teen innovative design projects alongside inspiring stories of healthy ageing, and interactive experiences that asked participants to reflect on their own needs, aspirations, hopes and even worries about
Another significant project with the Design Museum has been the Growing Together Intergenerational Garden project, which kicked off in Summer 2021. The project has aimed to transform an underused outdoor space on the Design Museum’s site in Kensington, into an active space for growing, learning about design, and building connections across generations.
The project launched with a consultation with groups of older adults, who helped shape a design brief that was taken on by a design team from Public Works. The design team worked with a core group of older volunteers to co-create and design new garden infrastructure which was installed in Spring 2023.