GMCVO-led project Ambition for Ageing’s new report Social Infrastructure: How shared spaces make communities work, argues that to reduce social isolation, we need a diversity of social infrastructure to ensure chance social encounters with a diversity of people.
The report considers the importance of the connections made between diverse groups of people (also known as bridging capital). The types of social infrastructure that facilitate this rely on being open to a diversity of people - people who may not have normally have contact with one another. As such, these tend to be places that are open to all and that the majority of the community would have the opportunity to visit, including public libraries, commercial establishments and parks and open public spaces.
John Hannen, programme manager of Ambition for Ageing said, “the spaces we share are an essential building block of our community life - they're where we meet others and build connections. The reduced spending on library services, neglecting upkeep of green spaces and the decline of high streets is increasingly putting older people at risk because of less opportunity for social encounters.”
The report suggests that;
The social infrastructure, or shared spaces, within our neighbourhoods is vital for reducing social isolation for older people and therefore forms an important part of developing age-friendly neighbourhoods.
Different kinds of social infrastructure, such as cafes, parks and libraries, help support different types and levels of social capital (the networks of relationships among people who live in a particular neighbourhood).
Strong social ties and bonding capital are important for reducing social isolation for older people but we need to also recognise the value of weak social ties and the need for these connections to be built across groups of social difference (bridging capital).
Social infrastructure that support intergenerational and intercultural encounter therefore become increasingly important not only for an individual’s level of social connection, but for community cohesion and resilience.
Social infrastructure has an additional important role to play in creating spaces for social change and creating an enabling environment for further social participation.
Despite its often informal and unintended nature social infrastructure is not naturally occurring and therefore requires direct investment and support.
The author of the report, Sophie Yarker is a Research Fellow based in the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing (MICRA) at the University of Manchester.
MICRA is a leading research centre carrying out multidisciplinary research into fundamental questions about ageing and society through collaborative research. MICRA is a partner in the Ambition for Ageing programme.