Chairman of Meath County Council, David Gilroy and Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee jointly launched the ‘Age Friendly Athboy’ report which documents a walkability audit in Athboy town, County Meath and the changes that the town is making to become more Age Friendly. The project was led by the Meath Age Friendly Programme, in partnership with Age Friendly Ireland and Dementia: Understand

Together, the Health Service Executive’s national dementia awareness campaign. Cathaoirleach, David Gilroy got involved with the project from the start, he brought locals and businesses together to address the accessibility of Athboy town.

Local Age Friendly Programmes across the country carry out walkability audits in towns and villages as a way of assessing how walkable a community is for older people, people with disabilities and all members of the community. For the Athboy project, Dementia: Understand Together brought in additional technical expertise around designing the built environment for people with dementia who may experience cognitive or visual impairments.

Speaking at the launch, Minister McEntee said “I am delighted to be in Athboy this morning for the socially distant declaration of Athboy as an Age Friendly town. In recent years Meath County Council has been at the forefront of driving the Age Friendly ethos locally and nationally, which I was very proud of in my former role as Minister for Older People. Athboy’s walkability audit, with its special focus on dementia, provides a model of accessibility and inclusion that other towns can be inspired by and emulate.

“I salute the Cathaoirleach for his leadership on this as both a public representative and local businessman. I also want to thank Dementia: Understand Together for their input around dementia. The recent lockdowns have shown us the value of exercise both physically and mentally, and safe walking routes are vital to this.”

This project was spearheaded by Cathaoirleach of Meath County Council, David Gilroy, who himself is based in Athboy. Cllr Gilroy explained, “The Athboy Walkability audit involved local groups assessing a number of walking routes through the town from the perspective of people of different ages, groups and abilities. What added to the uniqueness of the Athboy project was its particular emphasis on people affected by dementia. As the number of people with dementia is projected to increase into the future, it is imperative that we make considerations now and by doing so we can

ensure that our communities can meet the needs of all our neighbours, friends and family in the years to come.”

Fiona Foley of Dementia: Understand Together further described the innovative nature of the project, “Universal Design aims to provide an inclusive environment for people of all ages, sizes, abilities and disabilities, and we now have the knowledge and expertise to design and improve environments for people with dementia who may experience physical, cognitive or sensory difficulties.

With the majority of people with dementia living in the community, and wanting to stay active, engaged and valued members of their communities, it is fantastic to see communities such as Athboy conducting walkability audits and implementing recommendations from the findings to ensure that the public spaces and buildings are accessible for people with dementia and every member of the community. Design for dementia can simply be design for everybody.”

Many community and voluntary groups supported the walkability audit process including Prosper Meath, the Laterlife Network, the Men’s Shed, Active Retirement groups, Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Tidy Towns, Health Service Executive staff, and the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland. A wide range of age groups and abilities were represented on the day, including children and young people, older people, and people with disabilities.

Since the walkability audit was completed last year, there have been many changes made to the public spaces in Athboy including work in the Fair Green park, footpath re-surfacing, and installation of bollards. Meath County Council was successful this year in securing significant Rural Regeneration and Development Funding for Athboy to undertake re-design of the public realm.

The project was shortlisted this year for the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards and last year for the EU Innovation in Politics Awards.

The publication is now available to all local authorities and Age Friendly Programmes and will be a useful tool to inform the future development of public realm built environment projects.