Community Reminiscence

Ponders End Munitions Factory, ex-workplace of The People's Story participants

I love old people.  Is it okay if I call them that?  Should I use the term elderly people?  Or pensioners? In class this week we were asked to come up with audience engagement strategies for the over 50s, who we were told were the ‘elderly’ market segment!  But I think of elderly people as those over 70.

By virtue of having been around for double my lifetime, old people are pretty interesting.  They might have climbed mountains, or conducted orchestras, or engineered weapons.  You can’t really tell by looking at them.  Much like babies, those over the age of 70 start to look alike to most of us.  Wrinkles.  Gray hair.  Hunched shoulders.  They become invisible.  Whenever I see an elderly person shuffling alone through Sainsbury’s or quietly waiting for the bus, I remember that they were me once.  They were 34 and their lives were busy and rich and they were surrounded by friends.

Age Exchange work hard to bring elderly people to our attention – to foster relationships across the generations based on understanding and empathy.  Last week, they showed a documentary at the BFI, based on their ‘People’s Story’ inter-generational work in Edmonton and Enfield.  Many of the older people and teenagers featured in the film were in the audience.  Art, theatre and storytelling brought them together over the course of the project – not to look back at the past as some sort of exercise in nostalgia, but to better understand the present.  It was touching to see young people from Oasis Academy Enfield acting out the childhood of the older people.  Some had worked in the Ponders End Munitions factory; others had migrated or fled here.

Afterwards, I got talking to a woman in her late 60s at the cafe downstairs.  She hadn’t seen the Age Exchange film but was there for the free pensioners’ film later that day.  We had a lot in common.  Neither of us have jobs.  We’re frugal (she was buying one small pot of tea to share with a friend; I was getting a latte to supplement the packed lunch in my bag that I planned to sneakily nibble on in the corner).  We both do as many cultural activities as possible to keep our lives interesting.  She was warm and engaging and spoke to me freely.

Our lives intersected for a few minutes in time, and we won’t meet again, but I felt happy to have met her.  Too often in London we don’t have the time or energy to engage with strangers around us.  But there will always be one older person in a bus stop with you who’d love you to say hello.

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