ENNIS was launched as an Age Friendly Town, at an event held last Friday morning.
It is joining the national Age Friendly Cities and Counties Programme, which aims to improve Ireland as a place to grow old.
Writing in the Ennis Age Friendly Town Plan, County Council Chief Executive Pat Dowling said, “An Age Friendly Town should cater for all people. Age Friendly Ireland believes that if you design for older people you will, in the main, design for all of society and it has pioneered the walkability audit tool to capture the experiences of people using their own towns. Collaboration with the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design and the National Disability Authority has led to an even greater understanding of how towns cater for a range of people with differing abilities. People with visual impairments, mobility issues, wheelchair users , as well as older people participated in the walkability audits of Ennis.”
He also stressed the importance of hearing the voices of older people. “Consultation is at the heart of the Age Friendly Programme and listening to the ‘voice’ of older people is key to the programme’s success. A representative of the Clare Older People’s Council who took part in the walkability studies of Ennis is also a member of the Age Friendly Town Team to allow the ‘voice of older people to be heard and bring a greater understanding of the issues facing older people in Ennis.”
Mr Dowling said the findings are very helpful. “The information generated has been very useful in informing our town planners’ and future development plans for Ennis by understanding what works well and the issues and barriers that people face every day. The study also provided a valuable learning experience for participants and our own council staff.
“Seeing their town from other people’s perspectives, for example for people with mobility issues, led to an increased general consciousness of the different issues facing people as they move around the town.”
Mayor of Ennis Ann Norton welcomed the launch of the Age Friendly Town Plan. “It is clear that the percentage of Clare’s population aged 55 years and over will continue to increase over time and therefore, we must be ready to face challenges that such an eventuality will bring to society.
“The design of a community’s built environment can often become the determining factor between a healthy and active lifestyle or one characterised by limited mobility and high levels of social isolation. In areas where the built environment is adapted, such as through the provision of safe footpaths, older people can be supported to be more physically active and to make more regular use of the public spaces, services and facilities provided.”
The Ennis Public Realm Works Project in Parnell Street was cited in the document as an example of where age related considerations were borne in mind. “The Ennis Public Realm Works Project in Parnell Street and adjoining laneways and bow-ways is being delivered with full accessibility, shared surfaces, table top crossing points, dropped kerbs and seating areas.
“The design development for the project has been informed through a process of public consultation, stakeholder engagement and technical design studies.”
It said the feedback on the Parnell Street works has been very positive.
There are also plans for improvements in a variety of other areas. “Ennis Municipal District are undertaking a public consultation process to amend disabled parking spaces and improve accessibility in the Friary and Abbey Street car parks as well as Lower Market Street, following items raised during the Walkability Audit undertaken by the Older People’s Council.
“Ennis MD are also looking to improve pedestrian connectivity at various areas throughout the town.
“Design works are being undertaken for the river crossing at Club Bridge and Drehidnagower Road. There is also funding provided to join up areas of missing footpaths such as Roslevan, Ballybeg and Old Mill Street in 2021 with further design being undertaken for funding submissions for 2022.”
It stated that an accessible lift has been installed at the train station, making public transport easier for wheelchair users, individuals with mobility issues and people with buggies.
The new County Library will have a number of age friendly features according to the document, while some age friendly parking has been installed in six areas of the town, including Abbey Street car park, Friars Walk car park, Parnell Street car park, O’Connell Street Upper, Market Place and Francis Street. Age Friendly seating has also been installed in places such as Ballyalla and Parnell Street.
In the Conclusion section of the document it stated, “Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of depression and mental health difficulties, as well as cognitive decline in older people. In Age Friendly Towns, older people are supported by an age friendly public realm that can help people of all ages participate more fully in the social, economic, cultural and public life of their communities.
“It is often the simple things such as the ability to safely cross the road in confidence that can provide older people with enhanced access to critical services in their communities. The Ennis Age Friendly Town programme aims to play an important role in supporting older people to stay more independent for longer and enjoy an enhanced quality of life.”