Invest more in creativity and recognise the contribution of older people - Alan Lyddiard
Today, nearly 60 years on, there are certainly more of us living for longer. It is estimated that by 2050, 25 per cent of the population of Leeds will be over 50 with the number of citizens over 80 years old doubling in the next 20 years.
Growing old can be a wonderful, fulfilling process and it’s going to happen to all of us - if we are lucky. We have time to spend with grandkids, we don’t have to set our alarm clocks early and we can be more relaxed, enjoy walks in the country and take up new hobbies. Or is that just a cliché?
With an increasing ageing population come issues that society has to deal with. 90 per cent of deaths during the Covid pandemic were people over 60 years old. The NHS is under threat, we have lived through years of austerity and we have to find better ways to look after our older generation. Care homes across the country are at breaking point unable to cope with demand and not able to recruit staff.
Leeds City Council wants Leeds to become the best place to grow old in. How are they going to achieve that?
We at The Performance Ensemble, together with other like-minded organisations across the city, believe we have part of the answer. We believe that the country needs to invest more in creativity and recognise the contribution older people make to society; to use our knowledge and experience to do more to help others. We can still think, work, support and be useful. Since 2016, The Performance Ensemble has been developing older people’s creativity and gathering and sharing their stories, from across Leeds, in live performances, on the radio, in short films, at social gatherings and from beds abandoned on city streets. We have made appearances on BBC Breakfast TV and the Today Programme on Radio 4. Performed at Leeds Playhouse, The Queens Hotel ballroom and in communities and sites across Leeds.
We believe that everybody is creative and has a story to tell and we gather stories for a purpose. There are currently over 161,000 people aged over 60 in Leeds; 48,000 of them live in the 10 per cent most deprived areas of our city. They have important, sometimes extraordinary experiences and gifts to share, but too many sit at home, unfulfilled or lonely.
We want to bring them into the heart of city life by sharing their diverse stories. They are often housebound, already living with multiple health conditions, unable to connect with others online and reliant on charities to supply their food and pick up their prescriptions.
Their health and housing conditions will mean that they have the odds stacked against them when it comes to resilience against imposed isolation, never more evident than during Covid. Their stories and their voices should be heard - not out of pity but rather celebrated for their contribution to our community.
Older people have a human right to participate in the cultural life of our city and we are helping to make that possible. In doing so we are building their confidence, well-being and self-esteem. We are fighting isolation and bringing people together to celebrate who they are.
Stories help us to understand ourselves and the world we live in. Telling and listening to stories is an act of generosity and we understand more about people if we know their story. What can frighten us about the ‘otherness of people’ can suddenly become reassuring and inspiring when we hear their stories.
By the end of April 2023, we will have gathered 1,001 stories written by older people from Leeds and across the world. These will be shared at a takeover of Leeds Playhouse by older people from April 24 to May 6 as part of LEEDS 2023 - a transformational year of culture.
The Take Over is an ambitious and collaborative opportunity, with older people across Leeds coming together to: share stories; explore their creativity; celebrate a sense of belonging and build lasting relationships and shared experience with others.
It will be delivered by over 80 community partners working together from across the city. Every space at Leeds Playhouse will be taken over by older people. They will occupy all the theatres, the foyer areas, the backstage areas and the streets surrounding the building. They will fill the space with a full range of creative activities.
We will hold a symposium entitled ‘Art, Activism and Ageing’ to show the people in charge that we are serious about making change happen. We may even start a revolution - this is the generation that gave the world punk, put the first man on the moon and championed social cohesion. We will prove that we are not just a burden on society, that we make an important contribution and we will shout that out loud and clear for the world to hear.
Alan Lyddiard is the artistic director of The Performance Ensemble.