A programme led by writer Sarah Butler for Elders who want to explore the relationship between arts and ageing. 

Each year we investigate a different question through a series of creative writing workshops, discussions, debates and events with groups of older people.  

In 2017/2018 we are investigating older people as partners, contributors, makers and artists.

In 2015/2016 we explored 'What is the impact of the Royal Exchange Elders Company on individuals who attend?' The result of this research can be read here

In 2016/2017 we explored 'What is the relationship between ageing and culture?' 

Click here for upcoming Investigate sessions!

Elders Investigate Blogs

  • An Introduction
  • Writer Sarah Butler introduces a new strand of work with The Elders Company.

    As well as writing novels, I do a lot of work with different communities in different locations (you can find out more at www.urbanwords.org.uk and www.sarahbutler.org.uk) . At the moment I am studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the Open University, investigating home, ageing and identity. My interest in ageing and culture brought me to work with The Elders Company at the Royal Exchange. It has been a delight and a privilege to work with this passionate, dynamic group of people; I’ve found that every time I come away from a session I feel invigorated and energised.

    Last year, I worked with the company to explore what being in The Elders means to them, as a group and as individuals. We created a beautiful piece of print, detailing our findings as well as a fabulous group poem:

    The Elders Is...

    An explosion of purple,
    blue velvet,
    a brave sunrise red.

    It's an ice-cream sundae, knicker bocker glory,
    a scotch bonnet chilli, matured in brine.

    It's an oak tree, firmly planted,
    a beautiful rose with hidden thorns.

    It's an old-fashioned charabanc,
    a red Mazda RX7,
    a campervan with room for friends.

    It's a hat for all seasons,
    a roomy sweater,
    re-waxed Barbour,

    It's a time machine.
    It's a case of unread books.
    It's a roller coaster, and I'm not getting off!

    Written by members of The Elders Company: Alan, Brenda, Christine, David, Doreen, Glyn, Gordon, Graham, Judith, Marianne, Maureen, Norman, Tony

    This year, I have put together a programme of activity called Elders Investigate. The programme includes creative writing workshops, debates and conversations, all geared towards opening up a conversation about arts, culture and ageing. Some of the events are open to the public. Find out what’s coming up HERE

    Throughout the year, I will be blogging my own creative responses to the programme, and inviting members of the Elders Company to share their creative work and reflections. I am looking forward to having my eyes opened and my ideas challenged.

  • Marianne Downes responds to THE SPACE BETWEEN US
  • Elders Company member, Marianne Downes, responds to her experience of THE SPACE BETWEEN US, an intergenerational performance, which premiered in the Studio in February 2017.

    Our breath mingles, is noisy. Our chair is our refuge. We circle around the space and I feel a closeness as we all collapse, melting to the grey floor.

    A guitar soars through my headphones. Holding and hugging them to my ears, I feel joy as I listen to Waterfall – remembering laughter in a moment long past. Lines of the song linger in my head.

    The microphone scares me, because beyond the spotlight’s glare, there is a deep purple darkness, into which I am speaking words of emotion I haven’t revealed even to myself. I feel myself blush. A reflective moment that means the game’s up!

    My favourite moment? When, as one entity, our bodies create swirls of arms and hands that come together under a yellow spotlight, before we break away, but remain in unison until we melt for the last time.

    Find out more about The Space Between Us, the Elders Company and the Young Company.

  • Barriers to theatre-going
  • Six members of the Elders Company have been working with Sarah Butler to investigate why some older people don’t go to the theatre or take part in drama groups.

    They have visited different groups in Manchester to talk to other older people about their experiences and opinions of the theatre.

    On 1 March 2017, the group created zines documenting their visits and the themes and conversations that came up.


    Jacquie and Graham visited the Happy Mondays group at Inspire in Levenshulme. Estelle and Janice visited Wythenshawe Good Neighbours lunch club. In their zines, Estelle and Jacquie thought about ways to introduce new people to the Royal Exchange and the Elders Company; Jacquie and Graham discussed barriers preventing people from attending the theatre.

    Sarah Butler wrote the following piece in response to the workshop:

    Reasons Not To Go To The Theatre

    I’ve loved it before
    But I’m out of the habit
    Off its radar

    You have to change at Cornbrook
    Battered about
    By the wind and rain

    It’s like a foreign land
    Like a place I don’t know
    I don’t go. I don’t go.

    I’m not posh enough
    Not for that place
    Not me.

  • Sarah Butler in response to THE SPACE BETWEEN US
  • Writer Sarah Butler, who leads the Elders Investigate programme of work, responds to intergenerational performance THE SPACE BETWEEN US which premiered in the Studio in February 2017


    This is what holds us together.
    This is what keeps us apart.
    Let me unfold you,
    one vertebra at a time.
    Take my hand.
    Meet my eye.
    Pay attention.
    Come close. Closer. Look.
    We are so many bodies,
    dancing to our own tunes.
    We are breathing.
    We are falling.
    We are considering the end.
    This is what keeps us apart.
    This is what holds us together.

    Find out more about The Space Between Us, the Elders Company and the Young Company.

  • Arts Culture and Ageing
  • On Monday 7 November 2016, Elders Investigate hosted an Open Space conversation event, inviting participants to suggest conversation topics under the theme of arts culture and ageing.

    We had eight stimulating conversations over the course of the morning. Writer Sarah Butler responds creatively to the event:

    A Monday Morning Meditation

    Ageing is fantastic
    Ageing is frustrating
    Ageing is feared
    Ageing is misunderstood
    Ageing is political
    Ageing is worrying
    Ageing is lonely
    Ageing is good
    Ageing is a rebirth
    Ageing is an awakening
    Ageing is different for everyone

    We need respect
    We need connection
    We need role models
    We need self belief
    We need to do not be done to
    We need to ask why
    We need to ask why not
    We need to stand
    We need to speak

  • Elders Arts Culture
  • ‘Every arts organisation in the UK should have a programme specifically aimed at older people’. Discuss

    On Wednesday 19 October 2016, ten members of the Elders Company came together in front of a public audience to debate the motion the debate was rich, wide-ranging, and lots of fun.

    Novelist, Sarah Butler, who is leading the Elders Investigate programme creatively documents the event:


    Five pitted against five.
    There are things to be said about money
    about health
    about joy
    about stereotypes.
    And in this room, on this afternoon, you say them.

    You want us to understand how the arts have helped you,
    to belong
    to be understood
    to be safe
    to shine.

    But you won’t be compartmentalised,
    or put into a box –
    an old box, an over-there box, a never-mind-about-them box.

    The lines keep on shifting.
    And what we think,
    what we all seem to think,
    is that there is nothing better than that moment of connection
    across difference, across age, across any line you might care to draw.

    What we think,
    what we all seem to think,
    is that there are bridges to be built
    lessons to be learnt
    energy to be exchanged
    from old to young
    young to old
    and back again
    and back again.

  • I See You
  • After the workshop about language and ageing on 19 October 2016, Elders member Brenda Hickey was inspired to write another poem exploring how she might be seen by others.

    I See You

    You may think I am inconsequential and my home is in state residential
    But, I’ve lived a full life, I’ve known trouble and strife, I still hide from the man from prudential
    Tell me, what do you see when you look at me, when really, I don’t need to ask
    If you had your way, I’d be well on my way, screwed down in a big wooden cask
    Now, when I see you, you would cry if you knew, you are me in 50 years’ time
    Woo! Look at that face, like a mad Norman Bates, that’s drunk down some chloride and lime.

    Please, won’t you spare me a moment, and if you don’t like what I say
    I’ll just walk on by; you may hear me sigh for the chance we may both miss this day
    I used to be you well, your age group, oh, you find that so hard to believe
    Just get to know me, the person inside, as sometimes your eyes can deceive
    I was you, I am you, NO! Don’t turn away, from a chance you may live to regret
    I can help you prepare for your future, give you insights you will never forget

    We have the same needs, we both love to laugh, do you tingle when a stranger smiles
    And for family and friends, we‘d tread broken glass for miles and miles and miles
    So, now you know me better, don’t you wish that you were me?
    See me, know me, trust me; we’re not so different you and me
    Are you glad you stopped to listen, hey; you’re smiling that is a start?
    I have a present for you; it is a place inside m y heart.

    I see you. Do you see me?

  • A Dictionary of Age
  • On 29 September 2016, writer Sarah Butler worked with Elders Company members to explore the language used about age and ageing.

    She took inspiration from the words the group came up with, and the conversations they had about them to create this mini-collection of poems.

    A Dictionary of Age


    We dreamt the NHS
    brought it into life
    with smudged ink
    stamped onto card
    after card
    after card


    Let’s start over
    every time the sun lifts itself
    above the rooftops


    To dance if I want to
    to cry if I please


    Past what?
    Says who?
    I am stepping into the future


    we are all the rage


    Time as a passing gift
    taken in both hands

  • Language and Ageing
  • On 29 October 2016, Sarah Butler worked with 9 members of the elders company to creatively explore the language used about age and ageing.

    'We began by collecting words associated with ageing, categorised these as positive, neutral or negative, and used them as a starting point to create poems. Here are just four of the great poems written during the workshop.' Sarah Butler 

    Freedom by Gordon

    To have time,
    To feel liberated to enjoy the days I have left,
    To do selfish things and not count the cost,
    To ride on a train for nowt,
    To say bugger it, I’ll do it.

    The Freedom of a Pensioner by Brenda

    This freedom I feel is so new to me
    I’ve never know the like,
    Now, if someone tries to push me around
    I say, ‘Hey you! On your bike’
    I do what I want, I say what I feel,
    I never follow the rules
    Cos now that I am a pensioner
    I don’t have to suffer fools.

    Scrounger by Judith

    [based on a conversation overheard on a tram]

    Who is the tolerant one?
    Who is the intolerant?

    Who is the scrounger?
    Who is the worker?

    Her attitude angered me
    But my anger came from her.

    She thinks she is hard done by
    She thinks I have a free ride.

    She thinks and says she is the worker, the builder.
    I feel she is the destroyer

    The destroyer of humanity
    Compassion, manners, understanding.

    Bedblocker! by Jacquie

    What comes to mind?
    Old and infirm.
    But a person.
    A person with a past.
    A person with needs.
    Feeling afraid.
    Feeling worthless.
    Feeling sorrow.
    In pain.
    Rejected. Neglected.
    Do we care?

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