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 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

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?

  • Creative Responses to the idea of Age Friendly Culture
  • On 18 July, 20 older people came together with writer, Sarah Butler to creatively explore the idea of Age-Friendly Culture as part of the Elders Investigate programme. Below are just five of the great pieces of work produced during the session.

    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
    Or not.
    Whether it’s friendly
    Or not.

    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
    Look out

    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.

  • Elders Exchange Day
  • On National Older People’s Day, Sunday 1st October, writer Sarah Butler ran two creative writing workshops as part of the Elders Investigate programme. Participants created new work in response to the Royal Exchange Theatre. In one exercise, we walked around the building and collected images and observations on post-it notes, which we used as starting points for new writing. The piece below is created from a selection of those notes.

    image 1


    How To Hide A Lion

    colours in the glass
    intricate patterns
    space ship

    muted light
    diagonal floorboards
    circular shadows

    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

    bruised blue
    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.

  • What Have Our Elders Been Investigating?


    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. 


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