I’ve just finished my final event of Positive Ageing Month. It was, unsurprisingly enough, a tea dance in a community centre with lovely tray bakes and a bit of a knees up to the Hokey Kokey at the end. I’m pretty sure I’ve now reached my saturation point for lovely tray bakes and free tea bags and slushing round the dance floor to “Show Me the Way to Amarillo.” I. Am. Exhausted. However, I am also happy in that strange kind of post-brilliance, peaced out way I only ever experience after I’ve launched a book or run a really good event. I am high on happy old people, (and possibly also the thousands of tea bags which I’ve been carting round Belfast for the last four weeks).I want to sit in a quiet room, smiling to myself whilst thinking about all the wonderful things which have happened in October. There have been far too many to remember so I’ve gathered up some of my favourite photos from the 200 or so events which made up Positive Ageing Month just to remind me of all the individual magic moments.
We’ve had drum circles, chocolate tasting, conservation work with Sir David Attenborough, guided tours a plenty, more tea dances than my feet could cope with, outings on the train, crafting, painting, singing, cinema, Slipped Disco, (Belfast’s first ever club night for Senior’s), budding romances, writing workshops, talks, lectures and readings, storytelling sessions, duets with Hugo Duncan, gardening, knitting, sewing and swimming, cycling lessons for those who’ve forgotten how to cycle and computer classes for those who’ve never computed before, massages, yoga, pilates and beauty treatments, dozens of go’s in the photo booth with funny hats on and hundreds of caramel squares, pints and cuppas and sausage rolls, ballet classes and museum visits, jazz and jiving and dear only knows how many rounds of bingo, (though I’ve not won so much as a single line), scones, songs and so many renditions of Country Roads Take Me Home we’ve all started humming it in our sleep.
When I think back over the last few weeks the word which keeps coming to mind is joy. Joy isn’t usually the first word which comes to mind when we think about older people and provision for our seniors. Mostly, when it comes to this topic I hear words like strain and burden and duty and other such heavy-handed sentiments. However, Positive Ageing Month has been absolutely full of joy from start to finish, (with a few small exemptions mostly involving tea shortages and tired staff members).
I’ve seen so much joy in the way Belfast carers serve and encourage and care for their older people. At a time when care staff are often criticised and almost always under resourced, it’s a real joy to see smiling, enthusiastic nursing home and fold staff members on the dance floor with their older people, laughing, singing and enthusing about how wonderful their residents are. I run events for older people once or twice a week at most. These folk love and support our seniors day in, day out, often for a lifetime. They are incredibly inspiring people to be around.I’ve also been astounded by the joy which comes when older people are challenged to try something new, something a little out of their comfort zone –drumming, circus skills, writing, getting on a bike- and find they actually thrive on having experienced an activity which is a little different. So often we dumb down our provision for older people. We offer them the dregs of what’s left in terms of resources for arts and cultural participation. We expect them to be content with the same old, same old, delivered in an increasingly lacklustre fashion. It has been a joy, a real joy, to offer our older people hundreds of different eclectic options for getting involved this month and a further joy to see them thrive and grow more confident with these experiences.
Which leads me to my final observation about the last month. It has been the biggest joy of all to watch many of our older people blossom over the last few weeks. We saw a huge number of people take brave steps to get involved with our activities despite recent bereavement and loneliness and illness. It’s no joke trying something new when you’re in your 70s or even older, especially if you have to embark upon this new experience on your own. The joy of watching these individuals become part of our community of older people, make friends, grow in confidence and perhaps even take their first steps back on to the dance floor, has been far and away the very best part of Positive Ageing Month.There have been quite a few occasions when I’ve had to choke down the happy tears.
The thing about joy is, it’s terribly contagious. It kind of sticks to everyone it touches. I’ve watched the energy and enthusiasm spread through our older people over the last few weeks. I’ve heard them grow animated and laugh really hard as they tell stories about what they’ve been up to. I’ve watched their kindness stretch to embrace other, more isolated older people. And I’ve been a recipient myself. This month I’ve danced and been hugged, encouraged and complimented more than I have been in years. It’s been an awfully positive sort of month and I want to thank all the hundreds of individuals and groups who made it possible. Same again next year?