Age defines us. Simple.
That’s how it’s always been, but it’s a belief system that George Lee is setting out to challenge.
With her organisation The Age of No Retirement, George and co-founder Jonathan aim to create a world where our age does not define us, by shattering age barriers and ageist stereotypes to create an inclusive future.
George shares research findings and fascinating insights into ageism and the work she is doing at The Age of No Retirement on The Retirement Café Podcast on 23rd April 2019.
Design can enable or disable us
George is a designer by heart. She believes the everything we touch, everything that we use is designed.
There’s a great phrase by a great friend of hers, who’s also a real mentor and a fantastic industrial designer called Patty Moore who is now in her 70s, where she says, design can enable us or disable us.
George believes that the world that we live in is not designed well, not designed well for older people, but also not designed well for younger people. And her passion is how we can look at everything that we come across, the products, the services, the places where we live and where we work, and make them work better for people across all ages. How can we use design better to make our life easier for all ages?
The ageing phenomenon
Many people, on seeing that someone is 50 plus, creates a negative narrative of age in their head. At 49 people are still interested in you. But suddenly you wake up one day and you’re 50 and then that Age UK narrative of decline, of technological inability, illness, frailty, all of those issues are what people see – especially when it comes to employing older people.
The Age of No Retirement came about when George brought people from business, from government – national and local – older people and younger people together. She also brought designers into the mix to get people thinking differently around some of the issues to do with age.
Over two days, they had about 400 people coming together and what came out of it was about 3,000 ideas and a lot of energy, a lot of energy to think differently around the age issue.
It was born from a real feeling that the has to be a new way of exploring age in a much more positive and optimistic way. Looking at the opportunities rather than looking at the negative issues to do with decline, frailty, dementia and loneliness.
The business opportunity
We all know that the grey market is a wealthy market. The Age of No Retirement has undertaken extensive research into how design principles apply to different sectors and how organisations and brands treat and communicate with different age groups.
Most people don’t feel like they’re being served well by companies – there’s little in the way of a multigenerational, intergenerational, lifelong way of thinking about design and service.
Too often, the language we use aggravates the issue.
If you go into the health care system, we have terms such as bed blockers and the elderly tsunami that we use. People use this language in a glib, frivolous kind of way, but these terms have such an amazing power in changing how we feel about ourselves.
We should look at the language to make sure that we are not causing and stereotyping across the ages.
Worries about ageing shorten our lives
Research in the US has shown that people who are worried about getting older live, on average, seven and a half years less than people who are more positive.
The researchers looked at that factor against things like fitness levels and diet, all of which made little or no difference. Our mindset is absolutely making us ill.
70% of people in this country are worried about getting older, so there’s a big argument for changing the narrative around ageing to something more positive.
Intergenerational and ageless initiatives
George and her team are working with places like Ebbsfleet which is the first garden city for over 50 years. They’re looking at a completely integrated intergenerational community model, which actually understands that human connections help us live longer and healthier, but it’s human connections across all generations.
The other initiative, which George has just launched with Peabody Housing Association and with the support of Openreach is a place called the common room. The first one is open in King’s Cross. And this is a place for people of all ages to come together and find their purpose. Because at different stages in our life, we sometimes feel a little bit lost.
You could be 18 and just left school or 21 just left college or you could have just left your job at 60 had a couple of years of retirement and thinking, actually I’m not ready to stop. What do I do?
They are creating a place where people get together and through a programme of workshops and networking events, help to define what their purpose is in this moment in life and how we can then connect them with other people to maybe start a new business, a new social enterprise, do some, create some new friends or volunteering.
It’s all about understanding that there isn’t any age, there is no retirement age in life.
Instead, how can we keep on living fully as long as we can, from birth right through to death?
About George Lee
George Lee is a serial entrepreneur. With a background in psychology, George’s first business was a design company, This is Real Art, founded with the aim of making radical change through the power of design and radical creative thinking.
In 2012 she launched Commonland, a studio dedicated to using design-thinking to tackle big social issues.
George co-founded The Age of No Retirement in 2014.
In 2016, George was voted as one of the world’s 50 Creative Leaders by the world’s leading creative and innovation magazine, Creative Review.