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 investigated older people as partners, contributors, makers and artists culminating in a spoken word event - MY VOICE IN THE CITY.
In 2016/2017 we explored 'What is the relationship between ageing and culture?' See the research in the film below... View a short slideshow about the year-long project, including what we did and what we discovered
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.
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:
An explosion of purple,
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,
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.
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.
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:
I’ve loved it before
But I’m out of the habit
Off its radar
You have to change at Cornbrook
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
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.
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.
We had eight stimulating conversations over the course of the morning. Writer Sarah Butler responds creatively to the event:
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
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
And in this room, on this afternoon, you say them.
You want us to understand how the arts have helped you,
to be understood
to be safe
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.
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?
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.
We dreamt the NHS
brought it into life
with smudged ink
stamped onto 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
I am stepping into the future
we are all the rage
Time as a passing gift
taken in both hands
'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.
Do we care?
Age Friendly Culture, by Janice
Age is bad
Friendly is good
Culture is good
Age is black
Friendly is yellow
Culture is red
Age is falling
Friendly is embracing
Culture is startling
Age is a double bass
Friendly is a xylophone
Culture is a violin
Age is an epitaph
Friendly is a pun
Culture is a sonnet
Age is King Lear
Friendly is Much Ado
Culture is Hamlet
Age is an encyclopaedia
Friendly is a comic novel
Culture is a classic.
Age Friendly Culture, by Sandy
Culture is the sea you swim in
The strokes you use
The touch of life on your skin, on nerve ends.
You’re part of it, whether you like it
Whether it’s friendly
You swim with others.
Do they speak to you?
Do they understand what you say?
Do they recognise you?
Do they care how you got here?
How you learned to swim?
Whose culture needs to be age-friendly?
There’s plenty of fish in the sea.
Who trawls their experience?
Who decides what goes into the ‘hold’?
What is landed, sold, presented, bought into?
What happens when you can’t keep up,
When the shoal moves off
And you’re tired of swimming
And there’s no land in sight?
Rules for An Oldie’s Visit to the Theatre, by Graham
Matinee or evening, which is the best?
A heavy jumper or a sparkly vest?
How will I travel – car or bus?
Which one causes the least fuss?
Should I swot up in advance?
Or open-minded, take a chance?
Will I understand each word?
Or will it all seem too absurd?
Play by ear or make a list
All the things that must not be missed?
Hearing aid, glasses, medication,
In the bar, some lubrication?
Shall I chatter in the break?
Or keep quiet for safety’s sake?
Will there be some more old-stagers?
Or will they all be cute teenagers?
Time to go at last I think
Do I want to change my mind?
No! What have I got to lose?
I can always have a lengthy snooze.
Rules For Age Friendly Culture, by Pete
Look for the detail
Look to the horizon and beyond
Look in the mirror
Listen to yourself
Listen to others
Listen to the band
Listen to the noises
Touch the cold and the hot
Touch the painful and the pleasurable
Touch the rough and the smooth
Taste the bitter and the sweet
Taste something new and strange
Taste the difference
Smell the coffee
Smell a baby’s skin
Smell a lover’s kiss
Smell food cooking on a hot summer’s day
Smell the memories
Some Rules for Age-Friendly Cultural Experiences for Directors and Policy Makers, by Brian
Don’t make assumptions. You’ll only get it wrong and piss us off.
Don’t try to be too clever. We’ll see through it. You get smarter with age and spot bullshit a mile off.
And please don’t try to be too politically correct. Get things wrong and give us a laugh. But don’t offend anyone either – see what I mean, you can’t win!
Be inclusive. Recognise, celebrate and value our diversity. We’re as different as any other group that it might be tempting to homogenise. And we don’t want pasteurising or sterilising while you’re at it.
Give us a laugh. Challenge us. Let us see things from another place, a different perspective. Oh, and throw in a bit of sex. It’s not like we don’t still do it – or at least want to.
How To Hide A Lion
colours in the glass
spotlights resting, hanging like bats on a branch
a congregation of stools around the dark dull tower
and the stairs lead to who knows where and back again to who knows what
you can’t avoid the history
colours confused, lost in a muddled space
we are walking, walking, striding forward, going nowhere
white on green, a square, an arrow, a man, running a door opens, a light shines, another place, bright, cheerful, friendly people – but I cannot stay here.
Elders investigate is A PROGRAMME TO EXPLORE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AGEING AND CULTURE
WRITER SARAH BUTLER HAS BEEN LEADING A SERIES OF INVESTIGATIONS WITH OLDER PEOPLE AS PART OF OUR ELDERS PROGRAMME.
We wanted to explore the relationship between ageing and culture in a creative way that really involved people. The Elders Investigate programme has included writing workshops, debates, discussions, open space conversations and one-to-one chats to find out how people feel about culture and whether their relationship to it has changed with age.
We are launching two pieces of work that capture the year:
The first is a short slideshow about the year-long project, including what we did and what we discovered. View here.
The second is a series of stories about a range of Elders who have taken part in our Elders programme, including Gwyneth who’s been dropping into our Elders Monthly programme for some time, Anthony who’s just become a member of our Elders Company and Gordon who is now a long-established and active member of the Elders Company. Read here.
In 2017/2018 we are investigating older people as partners, contributors, makers and artists. We’ll be back with our findings next year.