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The social power of travel

SIC spoke with Peter Mangan, 1 of the 4 winners of the 6th edition of the Social Innovation Tournament hosted by the European Investment Bank this year in Latvia, Riga. He shares his inspiration for his project, the 'Freebird Club'. 

Tell us a bit about your project and what inspired you to do this work

The Freebird Club is a travel-based social club for older adults, enabling positive 'connected’ ageing via social travel and homestays among members. Operating as a global peer-to-peer members club, it enables older adults to travel and stay with each other in the context of a trusted community of socially minded peers. In doing so it offers a whole new way of travelling for older adults, a means to unlock asset value in their homes and earn income, and a fun, accessible way to meet new people and enjoy social and cultural interaction in later life.

By enabling seniors to travel, socialise and earn money in new ways, we seek to empower them in ways that enhance self-esteem, confidence and overall well-being. In doing so, we aim to address 3 significant social issues facing our ageing society, (i) loneliness and isolation among older adults, (ii) financial insecurity in later life, and (iii) lack of travel options for independent seniors. Our mission is to connect and enrich the lives of older adults through meaningful travel. We will do this by applying the ‘sharing economy’ model for positive social impact among older adults.

It all has to do with my father, he was the inspiration behind it. I have a holiday home in my native Kerry (Ireland), which I rent out on various accommodation websites. My father, who is a retired widower, was doing a lot of the meeting and greeting on my behalf, as I was based in Dublin city. This was clearly a positive and enjoyable experience for him, meeting new people. However when some older guests came to stay, the level of social interaction was significantly greater. He would take them to the local pub or sightseeing, they might have dinner together or perhaps a game of golf. This all happened very naturally, and was very positive for him. Not only did he get great enjoyment from this, but the reviews from these ‘senior guests’ were exceptional, mentioning this social interaction as a highlight of their trip. In a rapidly ageing society, where the prevalence of loneliness and isolation among older adults is well known, it struck me that the new peer-to-peer ‘sharing economy’, and the Airbnb led boom in homestay holidays, had huge potential as ways to connect and empower older adults.

 

Can you tell us the defining moment where you saw the impact of your project?

When we did our first pilot, bringing a group of seniors from London to stay with Freebird hosts in my local area in Kerry, Ireland.

Some of the visitors had not been away on a holiday abroad for a few years, so it was a real treat for them. They got on so well with their hosts, who were really hospitable to them, taking them out on sight-seeing trips and dining together, the friendships that were created were heart-warming to see. The feedback we received afterwards from all parties was so positive it convinced me that we could have real impact in the lives of older adults.

 

What will be your next steps? How do you aim to maximise the impact of your project?

Following a successful pilot phase, the Freebird Club launched last April. Now that we are live, we begin collaborating with positive ageing organisations internationally with whom we are developing relationships. We are aiming to develop the capacity for age organisations to join as affiliate members of the Freebird Club, such that they can bring groups of their clients/members on trips into the community to stay with our hosts. We are also marketing around specific festivals and events that are popular with older people (eg. heritage, arts & culture, garden festivals, etc). This will enable us to build a critical mass of customers, after which exponential growth becomes possible. Our backing by the European Investment Bank and European Commission as social innovation champions provides a strong platform for European growth. The Irish diaspora network offers a particularly promising route to the UK, US, Canada and Australian markets. We ae developing contacts with these organisations internationally, who are keen to link older diaspora with "home" and each other. We have finalised a partnership agreement with Clubs Queensland to launch us in the Australian market. We also seek to develop strategic partnerships with certain travel companies (eg. Interrail Europe) who wish to target the older market. By growing in this way we hope to reach as many seniors as possible, and by facilitating real connections between them, maximise the social and economic impact of The Freebird Club globally.

 

If you have an inspirational story to share, please get in touch with Lorna Reed, lorna.reed@socialinnovationexchange.org