Updated: Mar 29
Stationary bikes lining one side of the room, exercise equipment sprinkled around, and a few tables and chairs that the elderlies’ can use to chit-chat and do activities to keep their minds active - This is what I remember the senior centres of the early 2000s to be like. As technology progresses and the needs of seniors evolve, so must senior centres. Apart from providing opportunities for physical activity and social interaction, senior centres need to also be a learning ground for seniors to master important skill sets and keep up with the moving times.
COVID-19 accelerated many things, but it also created a bigger divide - in this case, between seniors and technology. According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, the percentage of seniors above 65 would be close to 24% by 2030 compared to 17.6% in 2021. With an ageing population and rapid digitalisation, we need to develop different ways of incorporating seniors into the digital landscape and prevent them from getting left behind.
A fine example of how 3P sectors (People, Private, Public) can work together to achieve great impact: RSVP Singapore, Singapore Pools and CapitaLand Hope Foundation came together to conceptualise the Majestic Smart Seniors Applied Learning Centre (MSSALC) to bridge seniors and technology.
In such a rapidly changing digital landscape, coming together and forming partnerships of such nature are imperative to build and strengthen Singapore’s digital resilience. President Halimah Yacob
The MSSALC was launched on 18th February 2022 and it provides a safe space for seniors to learn the latest lifestyle changes and digital technology. In doing so, it hopes to build their confidence and integrate new skills into their daily lifestyles through SMART (Specific, Motivation, Adaptive, Relevant, Talent) living. Seniors get to embrace experimentation through applied learning in a welcoming and nostalgic space.
We partnered with Participate in Design for community engagement, design, and project management for this project. The success of this partnership can be attributed to the fundamental beliefs of each of our organisations - that the community should play an active and important role in each stage of the design process.
The Engagement Process
We started off the engagement process with interviews of key decision makers in each organisation. As we gathered findings on their roles in this project, we also dived into understanding their aspirations for the centre. Through the 1-on-1 interviews, we found out what the centre hopes to be beyond the project brief. After all, the space needs to go beyond its primary function, so as to truly serve its hope of empowering the seniors.
Thereafter, we conducted a visioning workshop whereby various stakeholders from each organisation gathered to discuss project boundaries and challenges as the vision of the space was crystallised. Each participant offered valuable insights for the centre, and prioritised the needs of potential users of the space such as having an open and welcoming space where it is perfectly fine to make mistakes and embrace experimentation. The end result is a space for intergenerational bonding that evokes a sense of sentimentality with a twist.
Apart from having conversations with stakeholders, we also immersed ourselves in the environment through site observations at Chinatown. Around its vicinity, we actively analysed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the space. Not only did we look at the space itself, but we also explored what the surroundings could offer. Through this, we hope to create a centre that both contributes and is supported by the existing landscape.
Kopi-talks (informal chat sessions) were held with seniors from different senior centres and RSVP volunteers to develop a holistic sensing of what they feel about the neighbourhood. Moreover, we also delved into understanding their interest and the programmes that they hope to attend. These insights further cemented our findings from site observations and allowed us to develop more purposeful content for the design workshop.
Lastly, we ended the engagement process with a design workshop to co-create the space together with the seniors. Additionally, we also brainstormed various potential programme ideas for the space. The process was an empowering one for the seniors, as not only were they able to have a voice in the design process, but they also had the opportunity to pick up a pen and design with us.
The entire engagement process provided insights that informed the design of the space, which was not just aesthetically pleasing, but user-oriented as well. The eventual space can be divided into 3 general spaces: Social Space, Learning Space and Innovation Space.
The Social Space is an informal learning space that is senior-friendly and inclusive. Within this space, it can be further sub-divided into small enclaves for learning to take place in a cosier setting. Nostalgic images of old Chinatown is scattered around the enclaves for seniors to reminisce about old times.
As for the Learning Space, it is an open environment for group learning with the ability to be converted into smaller breakout rooms. During the engagement, a few seniors placed a suggestion to create a platform over parts of the existing stairs, hence, making it a larger area. We took this suggestion and expanded the space with an additional platform that looks out to the Innovation Space.
Last but not least, we have the Innovation Space. The Innovation Space is a flexible area that allows for thematic events and different learning experiences. Programmes taking place in this part of the centre is based on applied learning principles where seniors have the opportunity to apply what they have learnt. Instances of such chances include making e-payment with the different partners.
Future of Spaces
We need to consider the usage of spaces not just for the near future, but also what it can possibly be in the next 10 to 20 years. Though we may be unable to exactly predict what can happen in the future, one thing is for sure: we need to remain nimble and flexible to stay relevant.