QCOSS Member Profile - Lisa Hodgkinson, COTA Queensland

This week QCOSS talked to Lisa Hodgkinson from the Council on the Ageing (COTA) Queensland.  As the Seniors Week Coordinator, Lisa told us about her passion for COTA, education and social change through awareness raising events during Seniors Week.  

Initially I came to COTA in a temporary placement administration role.  I had recently moved from Canada and as you do, you engage with a recruitment company to find some work.  The Council on the Ageing (COTA) Queensland, the seniors peak, is a state wide not-for-profit organisation that advances the rights, needs, and futures of people as we age.  Contributing to an understanding of ageing enabling older people and all sectors of the community to plan for healthy ageing through education advice and activities, promoting and engaging in research which is of interest and concern to older people has been the focus of our work. 

We give priority to older people experiencing injustice, discrimination, disadvantage or disability and empower older Queenslanders to make informed choices and for us to act on their behalf.  Since 1957, COTA has been working in partnership with older Queenslanders to shape COTA’s policy and advocacy work to challenge and influence decision makers to co-create positive social change.   Since 2007, COTA has been providing advice to governments, community organisations and businesses on how to be age-friendly.  
Over the years my roles with the organisation have adapted and changed.  This is my fifth year of coordinating Queensland Seniors Week, or as I like to say the state’s largest social inclusion event.  Since 2012, when we were engaged by the State Government to coordinate Seniors Week, we have grown the number of events in the calendar from 40 to 862 in 2016. 

Last year over 126,600 people participated in events and activities with a media audience in excess of 4 million.  COTA coordinates Seniors Week on behalf of the Queensland Government, and receives funds to collaboratively plan, run and subsidise Seniors Week events and activities. 
We initiated the first Seniors Week in 1960.  Back then it was called Old People’s Week and COTA was known as the Old People’s Welfare Council.  Certainly, language has changed over the years but the aims of the week have remained the same:

  • improve community attitudes toward older people and ageing
  • facilitate community participation including those from Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • enhance community connection and intergenerational relationships. 

What I enjoy most is that through our work is the direct impact on the quality of people’s lives and shaping their future.  Seniors Week is a time to learn and over the years we have heard stories of people who had experienced isolation and yet by attending events and activities they reported afterwards that they felt informed, connected and empowered.  

One story that resonates with me is about a woman aged 101 who was the primary carer for her son who was living with a disability.  They unfortunately lost everything in a house fire and travelled from Taroom to Theodore to receive supports and services.  She attended a Seniors Week event, and it was the first time in weeks she had a smile on her face.  
The evolution of events and activities has been interesting to observe over the years.  This year there are a number of events with a focus on digital inclusion, intergenerational connections, healthy lifestyle, and physical activity.  It’s such a pleasure to see folk of all ages and backgrounds getting together to connect, share new experiences, and discover services and support to assist in reducing social isolation.  
The Face of Ageing event was initially developed as a Seniors Week 2016 activity to draw attention to and celebrate the diversity of older Queenslanders.  Our aim was to address the media’s negative stereotypes of ageing.  In addition to community members and organisations participating, our Community Ambassadors began taking photographs of older people and recording their stories.  The stories and photos were shared on the COTA Facebook and Twitter accounts with the hashtag ‘#faceofageing’ promoted through our website.  
Feedback from our Community Ambassadors highlighted that through these conversations they were able to shift the discussion from a negative to a positive focus.  Too often we are bombarded with anti-ageing messages and older people are perceived as a burden on society rather than seeing the fact that more of us are living longer as something that we should celebrate.  COTA aims to shift the conversation to one of positivity and possibility.  
COTA’s Ambassadors have continued the project, now in partnership with Queensland University of Technology, shifting the focus to what people value and are proud of; about who they are, their past achievements and their aspirations for the future.  The aim is to challenge stereotypes of ageing and the ageing process, recognise the diversity of experiences as we age and to show new ways of thinking and to support older people to value themselves and their experiences.  
First and foremost, it is about engaging with older Queenslanders and co-designing programs with and for them.   Older people are not a homogeneous group - they are as far from it as you can get.   This is a very exciting space to be in.  Since 2007, COTA has been a strong advocate for building Age-friendly cities and communities.   We are continuing to work with the state and local governments, community organisations and business.  

Through our Community Education Team, we are empowering older Queenslanders to make informed decisions and act on their own behalf.   There is big potential for future topics and partnerships.   We are continuing to grow our COTA Reference Network of over 600 consumers throughout the state who contribute to our policy and advocacy work.  It is imperative that the voices of Queenslanders are heard.  
Let’s come together and celebrate a Queensland for ALL ages.   We are inviting everyone to get out into their communities, discover the wide range of events and activities or host an informal get together with friends and neighbours.