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The Money for Jam project to build better retirement incomes got its name from a woman whose neighbourhood gardening work meant she and her husband, both living on pensions, could afford more than just butter on their morning toast.

The Adelaide woman, aged in her 50s, does gardening for people in their 80s and 90s who want to remain at home but struggle to look after their property.

"Our parlance would be to call it a micro-enterprise, while she calls it a bit of pocket money, but it's enough to make a real difference," says David Hetherington, Executive Director of Melbourne-based independent think tank Per Capita.

Money for Jam is one of a number of projects being supported by Per Capita's Centre for Applied Policy in Positive Ageing (CAPPA).

With cornerstone funding from the Wicking Trust, CAPPA was set up last year in response to the issues identified in the Blueprint for an Ageing Australia report, published by Per Capita with former members of the Federal Government's advisory panel on ageing.

"The whole thrust of the Blueprint was how do we shift attitudes to see ageing as an opportunity or asset rather than a burden," Mr Hetherington said.

It followed the two-year Per Capita project, also funded by the Wicking Trust, on Longevity and Ageing: The sleeping giants of Australian public policy, which looked at ageing from a whole-of-society view, including housing, retirement income, urban design, and workforce participation.

The Blueprint identified the "biggest pressure point", in terms of boosting retirement income, was for women, particularly those who do not have a lot of superannuation, may not have many assets, and are probably on a pension.

The Money for Jam project is now being trialled in a local government area in Victoria to see how best to nurture and support small-scale business ventures among seniors, and older women in particular. It will be built from the ground up, on co-design principles, to see what best supports their endeavours: an actual meeting hub, a peer-to-peer support network, or something else.

"We purposefully have not had a preconceived idea to ensure that the model we come up with is co-designed with the community and has the best prospect for being a sustainable model that we can then roll out elsewhere," he said.

Another practical initiative is the Wise Young enterprise, which is seeking to bring together young and old people in business partnerships, and significantly has the backing of both National Seniors and the Foundation for Young Australians and their networks.

Wise Young doesn't work on the assumption that young people will bring the ideas and old people the capital. That may be what happens but it could be the reverse, or a mix. The point is to encourage different generations to get together to get businesses up off the ground.

Trialling and nurturing community ventures is not the usual task of a think tank, but the Wicking Trust funding has allowed Per Capita to step beyond its pure research origins and to become, as it puts it, a 'do tank', testing its research and policies on the ground, with a big focus on co-design.

It's doing that at both the community level like with Money for Jam and Wise Young and also in advocating for systems change in larger, collaborative forums.

One big systems focus is on the critical and thorny issue of affordable housing.

Mr Hetherington is concerned that most advice on what incomes people on lower incomes will need as they head for retirement far underestimate their housing costs and issues.

"None of them factor in housing," he said. "They assume you own your own home, when in fact the proportion of people moving into retirement with mortgage debt and who rent are significantly rising."

CAPPA is currently researching a paper that aims to "start a new conversation" on what is a realistic retirement income for those who don't own their home outright and that looks also at issues like tenancy security and the likely rising demand for social housing.

CAPPA  is also looking at the supply side, setting up a partnership with superannuation funds and state governments to come up with affordable housing development models that can provide sufficient scale to attract investment.

Mr Hetherington makes no bones about the role of Wicking Trust in this work.

" CAPPA wouldn't exist without them," he says. It's not just the welcome funding that Per Capita values from the Wicking Trust, but its knowledge of the issues, and the people and organisations, involved in ageing and aged care and capacity to bring them together.

"They know the lay of the land so well that they can see how different organisations fit together," he said. As an example, the Money for Jam project was worked up through collaboration with fellow Wicking Trust grant-holders The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) and the Council on the Ageing.

"They don't just look at one grant partner and how they can get one project off the ground in a year," he said. "They look at how an organisation might, over a period of time, do something bigger and how that could be interwoven with others. They're very much about building their community."