O4O projectlogo

Older People for Older People (O40)

Older People for Older People (O40) was a research and development project working with older people in remote, rural and peripheral communities to explore how communities could support older individuals to maintain independent living.

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What were the aims and objectives?

O4O set out to test the extent to which it was possible and beneficial for communities to set up and provide services to maintain independent living. It worked with communities to develop potentially sustainable social enterprises and volunteering.

The aim of implementing O4O in rural communities was to engage older people in the co-production of services.

O4O aimed to:

  • Recognise that older people contribute to sustainable, vibrant communities.
  • Maintain people living independently in their communities for as long as possible.
  • Include people of all ages.
  • Develop resources that already exist within communities to promote the health and wellbeing of older people.
  • Recognise that older people greatly help each other to live in their communities.
  • View older people as a positive force and valuable assets. 

O4O was not about doing the things that statutory providers are there to do. It was about providing things that statutory providers do not do or cannot provide that improve quality of life for older people. O4O was about supporting service providers.

Why was the project set up? Did the approach change over time?

O4O grew from the ‘Our Life as Elderly’ Northern Periphery Programme which found that people wanted to remain living in their own communities when older, but were concerned that there would be insufficient support services. O4O was a response to emerging policy across the EU suggesting that people in communities should become increasingly involved in providing their own basic services to benefit both communities (development of social capital and capacity) and individuals (developing social contacts, helping to improve wellbeing and health). 

O4O was set up as a three year project which began in January 2008 funded by the European Union Northern Periphery Programme with support from organisations within each of the partner countries: Scotland, Sweden, Finland, Greenland and Northern Ireland. The approach taken grew organically based on work within the four unique communities. 

Who were the participants and the partners?

O4O worked in remote, rural and peripheral communities in six locations across Europe. This case study is based on the project based in the Scottish Highlands which included four remote and rural geographical communities: Ardersier, Assynt, Tongue and South West Ross. The project worked with people aged 55 years and over in these four geographical communities and engaged up to 200 people.

Funded primarily by European Northern Periphery Programme (NPP), O4O ran from January 2008 to December 2010. The lead partner country was Scotland, based at the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for Rural Health.

The Scottish O4O Project Manager was recruited in June 2008, and remained in post until June 2011. In three communities a local social entrepreneur was engaged as a consultant on a part-time basis to help develop the communities’ ideas into an organisational structure capable of delivering services with a view on future sustainability.

Three of the four community led social enterprises which were supported by O4O are now well established community resources.

“What’s good for the whole community is good for older people and what older people need, the whole community needs.

What did the project do?

O4O was a response to the increasing proportion of older people in the Northern Periphery, especially in remote and rural areas, and looked at how communities could support older individuals to maintain independent living. In some communities it worked to help develop potentially sustainable social enterprises (not-for-profit social businesses) and in other communities it supported the development of volunteering. The project sought to test the policy rhetoric about the role of individuals and communities in accepting responsibility for their own care and support and the changing role of public services from top-down delivery to co-production.

O4O Project Managers ‘mentored’ communities and captured information on the process of social enterprise development through an action research approach. Communities were supported to develop organisations that they felt met their needs. This was an organic and intuitive process with communities opting for different organisational and service types. No budget was available to communities but there was individual support to each community to develop its unique plan. The focus was future sustainability and the development of a service which would help older people to maintain independent living, i.e. “something good for the whole community with an intergenerational focus”

O4O aimed to develop initiatives that generate positive community impact.  Four stages of implementation were identified within the project to act as a guide for the development of social enterprises – initiating community engagement; needs identification; establishing the social enterprise; and sustaining the social enterprise(s). In general, O4O staff worked with communities to:

  • identify their needs for services to help maintain older people living at home;
  • identify gaps in service provision that would help statutory providers to keep older people living in their homes and communities;
  • develop new ways of providing supporting services involving community members; and
  • assist in the development of volunteering, social organisations and social enterprises.

In Highland, the O4O Project Manager first engaged in a consultation exercise with public and third sector practitioners to determine which remote and rural communities of older people might have unmet needs. Meetings were then held with identified communities and voluntary groups. The Project Manager worked with and mentored the four communities that had expressed interest in developing an O4O initiative.  The focus was on supporting the communities to recognise a specific need and supporting organisational development.

“Fantastic resource for families and children and for the future.”


The first stage of O4O in Ardersier was an oral history project – the Ardersier Heritage DVD project. A group of older people interviewed other older people who live in or have a connection to the village about their early memories. A video camera and editing equipment were purchased by the Community Council with support from the local Councillors’ Ward Discretionary Budget and the interviews were video recorded in order to create a social history DVD.  Approximately 20 interviews were filmed and footage was edited by a volunteer to produce DVDs.  Training in interviewing and camera use was provided for the older volunteers. Those who agreed to be interviewed benefited from the interest shown in the stories they told. The project successfully included people who were housebound as well as those with a disability or short-term memory loss. O4O in Ardersier worked with the Highlanders’ Museum, local councillors, UHI Centre for History, BBC Alba, the Scottish Oral History group, and various local groups in the village.

"The centre is a resource for the whole community, across all age groups"


The Assynt Centre had been run by the local authority and provided day centre services, residential respite, and a lunch club. When the local authority decided to close the service they agreed to give money to the community to make alternative provision for older people in the area. O4O supported the development of Community Care Assynt (CCA) which was established as a community interest company to run services for older people in the community. CCA is continuing to develop the Assynt Centre as a community care hub, offering a range of opportunities for social interaction, peer support, and the development of social networks. Training from the Social Enterprise Academy has been provided for volunteers involved in establishing this O4O project.

The Assynt Centre is not a care facility but a community resource. By registering the people who work in the Centre and the services they provide rather than the building itself, the community have greater control and flexibility over the activities and functions of Centre. The Centre provides a lunch club and more – reminiscence sessions, Gaelic classes, chess club, book club, creative arts, knitting, ceramics, etc with the “older people seen as resource”. Social interaction between the community and bringing people together is seen as one of the most important aspects of the work of the Centre.

“It provides a safe place for people to be happy. If they are happy they’re more likely not to feel ill or have poor mental health.’’


The Tongue community’s priority was a community transport service which they called T4T – Transport for Tongue, Melness and Skerray. The community wanted a bespoke and tailored service to specifically meet the needs of the elderly residents and to support the whole community. Applications for funding were made by the community group supported by O4O, and T4T successfully obtained a Highland Council Community Transport grant. The need for transport in the area was heightened by the withdrawal of the Royal Mail bus service.

T4T has four strands. The first is an informal service making links between those individuals who need transport with those who can provide it. The second strand involves volunteer drivers using their own cars to transport people in return for a mileage allowance. These, along with the third element, a community car scheme, are funded by a grant and local fundraising activities.  This funding has enabled the community car scheme to purchase a car and pay a driver. Both are regarded as community assets. The community car is used to transport groups of individuals to various locations and for various purposes. The fourth element of T4T is the maintenance and hire of a donated minibus to other community groups.

The community and the social entrepreneur ensured that T4T meets both community needs and, importantly, generates income that will contribute to future sustainability. T4T have recently secured a new transport grant and are focused on diversifying and becoming established, as opposed to an additional service, and plan to tender for a public transport contract.

“The service is now a valuable part of the community.”

South West Ross

The Howard Doris Centre is a social enterprise that provides a range of services for older people in South West Ross. O4O worked with the community and the Centre to develop additional community services (e.g. a neighbourly helping scheme) to support older people in their own homes. The idea of O4O met with some resistance in South West Ross and has not been as successful as in other places. The lessons learned from this were used to strengthen O4O in the future. 

In what way was the approach ‘asset based’? 

O4O sought to portray older people positively as valued members of society and not as ‘helpless’ burdens or victims. By involving older people in the design and development of service provision for other older people, O4O sought to acknowledge the skills and experiences of older people. The project supported lifelong learning in older people, helping them to flourish as assets within their local communities and to “feel valued again’’.

Older people were empowered to identify and meet the needs of local citizens and supported to develop a variety of social organisations to meet those needs in order that they, and other people, might continue to live healthily and happily in their own homes and communities for longer, sustaining remote community life. This helped people take control of their lives and maintain people living independently in their communities as long as possible. 

“Find sources of local support for local issues.”

O4O started with the assets and resources in a community, including older people’s knowledge, skills and experience, and invested in the older people as active participants, recognising that they contribute to sustainable, vibrant communities. These new skills and confidence made possible the running of an organisation and service which did not run previously. The approach taken by O4O supports the changing role of public services from top-down delivery to a model of co-production. Furthermore, O4O supported people to develop their potential by providing support to complete training, access funding and gain public sector support. 

How was success measured?

Research was carried out to monitor the impact of O4O projects on individuals, communities and statutory service providers.

The Project Manager captured information through activity reporting – the completion of a template on a monthly basis that captured perceived achievements, progress, issues and risks. This acted as a data gathering and self reflexivity tool. Written reports were analysed qualitatively to identify stages of social enterprise development and to draw out the policy implications emerging from the implementation process. 

At the beginning of 2009, an O4O questionnaire asking about aspects of health and community participation was sent to over 2,500 people aged 55 years and over. The response rate was 58% indicating high interest in the research.

Interviews with 26 older people who were involved with their local O4O project were carried out in July and August 2009. Interviews were also carried out with potential users of the proposed services. The interviews aimed to assess the progress and impact of each project in its community and to record the experiences and views of both participants and those who might benefit from the future service.

What were the strengths and challenges? 

O4O challenged perceptions of older people as being a burden on society and presented them instead as a rich resource and the lifeblood of rural communities. The European partners brought into perspective what life is like for older people in other communities which helped the older people in Highland reflect that they are not alone. 

O4O provided real support to the community as a whole and to individual community members and helped open doors for the community which would have otherwise remained closed. The Project Manager ensured that the project was led by the community. Support was provided at the pace of the community and helped instil confidence that they were able to take this on. Although the project came to an end, the services developed by older people in the rural communities involved have been sustained and continue to develop.  

The project produced a toolkit to help others develop social enterprises in rural communities. O4O also published a series of policy briefings. Learning from the project can be used to shape a future agenda for older peoples’ service provision through social enterprise and help develop practical recommendations on what needs to change in local, national and international policy to develop community co-production. Policy recommendations from O4O include:

  • Communities should be involved in the delivery of older peoples’ services.
  • Policy should commit to service co-production with communities.
  • Structures need to be put in place that empower communities to engage with service co-production.
  • Older peoples’ needs must be fully integrated into policy-making and public sector decision-making. 

Each community was able to readily identify a need but required a catalyst to spark plans and activity to achieve something real and long term for the community. There was a lack of confidence and knowledge amongst older people in the community. Had O4O not been involved and able to support local plans and progress, the outcome for each community may have been different. 

Furthermore, O4O encouraged and supported the development of services based on a social enterprise model and, after a specified time period, stepped back form the community. One staff member expressed some apprehension about the burden of responsibility this left on local people, many of whom have other commitments. Pre-existing and deep rooted conflict within communities was also identified as an ongoing challenge for the project, which was thought to be particularly difficult to manage in a rural community. Finally, some local people wanted more service provision and financial support from the Council rather than doing something to help themselves.

At a personal level, staff expressed high satisfaction and pride in being part of the journey taken by each of the communities as they developed their own unique services and their ability to overcome the challenges they faced. Staff also spoke of the inspiring and energetic individuals who worked tirelessly for their communities.

“Community spirit has spread through the whole community.”

On the other hand staff reflected that the work was highly stressful at times.  In “standing back and letting communities do it for themselves” there were frustrations due to a need for progress within the time limited project. Taking on the development of a social enterprise was also felt to be “a huge undertaking for a small community”.

Participants expressed great appreciation for the support brought to the community by O4O and the skills they had developed. Participants also highlighted how the project had brought the community together and built new relationships and new friendships locally. Participants also spoke of the steep learning curve involved, the difficulties encountered working with large statutory agencies and the “weight of expectation” in developing and running a sustainable social enterprise for the whole community.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  health, social capital, population, mindset and Understanding Glasgow film series: Sense of Place