From 2001-2011, the greater Clearwater area experienced a 53 per cent increase in the population 65 years and older.
That statistic, plus a desire to retain and attract seniors as a way to make Clearwater into an age-friendly community, has led District of Clearwater to undertake a study into mobility issues for seniors.
“What does it mean to be an age-friendly community?” asked Marleen Morris at a meeting held Tuesday, March 19, with members of the Wells Gray Seniors Society.
Morris is associate director with the Community Development Institute (CDI) at University of Northern British Columbia. The CDI is working with the District in partnership to conduct a three-year study into seniors’ mobility issues. The study is being called “From Front Door to Grocery Store”. Funding is coming from the Vancouver Foundation. Morris and her research associate, Jessica Blewett, were in the community to start the process and meet with some of the stakeholders involved.
CDI recently completed a community economic development plan for Clearwater, Morris pointed out. One of the 11 areas of focus in the plan included Clearwater becoming an age-friendly community.
A seniors needs study found there is a question of mobility within the community. Services are located in several different places and there is a lack of things like sidewalks and streetlights.
“Clearwater is unique, but a lot of its challenges are typical,” Morris said. Solutions found here could be useful across Canada, she felt.
Similar mobility studies have been done elsewhere, she said, but most have been in urban areas. Clearwater’s will be one of the first in a rural community.
“The work we do in Clearwater will provide a model for other communities to explore mobility issues and assist with planning services and programs,” said Morris. “This will enable communities to support seniors to age-in-place, so that they can continue to enjoy the quality of life and strong networks that are common in rural areas,”
It appears that researcher Jessica Blewett will be doing most of the heavy lifting in the project.
She expects to visit Clearwater about once a month for the next three years, she said.
Blewett was looking for 16 volunteers willing and able to participate through the whole process.
She would like to get typical folk with a broad range of mobility issues and across the income spectrum.
She intended to work with seniors and others in the community to identify shopping and other service areas, community facilities, walking routes and transportation to determine what is working and what could be improved. Research methods would include interviews and tours, in both summer and winter.
“CDI and UNBC like to work with us because Clearwater actually does something with their reports. They don’t just sit on the shelf,” said Leslie Groulx, District of Clearwater’s chief administrative officer.
“We know that improving mobility in the community will assist seniors to remain physically healthy and socially engaged, which will contribute to their well-being,” said Groulx. “We want to ensure that our seniors can move easily around our community – to shop, attend programs, get together with friends and family, or visit the doctor and other health care professionals.”
“If you do something about mobility, it isn’t just for seniors. It’s for everybody.”
The Clearwater Age-Friendly Committee and its member organizations: District of Clearwater, Evergreen Acres, Wells Gray Seniors Society, Friendly Club, Wells Gray Country Services, Yellowhead Community Services, Chamber of Commerce, and Interior Health Authority, will help guide and implement the research project.