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Caring for our Elders –  a Creative Solution

Cara McAleese, Project Manager, Meet Me at the Albany

Meet Me at the Albany is a radical alternative to daycare for older people. It’s a participatory arts programme run by the Albany – an arts centre in Deptford, south east London – Entelechy Arts and the London Borough of Lewisham. It aims to help isolated and vulnerable older people to create and experience great art and is led by professional artists and volunteers working collaboratively with participants.

It began with weekly sessions at the Albany three years ago. It has since grown to encompass dance projects, a film club and cultural trips all over the capital. In 2015 the Albany and Lewisham Homes, a housing association who manage 18,000 council homes in Lewisham, launched a partnership allowing the club to pop-up in residential sites throughout the borough. That meant we could reach older people who might not have the confidence or resources to access activities outside the house – for example, those with cognitive challenges and / or mobility issues.

Participants from both the weekly Lewisham Homes and Albany sessions reported feeling less lonely, more confident about the future and better equipped to manage health conditions (via Campaign to End Loneliness’ measurement tool and session reports). Increasing referrals from health and social services demonstrate wider recognition of the impact of the project. They’ve formed new intergenerational communities, rich with friendships, support networks and creativity encompassing participants and the staff and volunteers who work with them. They help each other not just with creative projects but much more – from attending birthday parties together to supporting each other with day to day challenges.

Lewisham Homes resident, Daisy, describes her experience of the project:

‘It introduced so many possibilities – knitting, drawing – so many things. Before there was very little going on. We had a coffee morning before but people were no longer interested and we weren’t doing anything. When the Meet Me at… artists started coming more people came out, more seeing each other and talking to each other, less TV – it keeps yourself going.

When you sit at home doing nothing, when you are indoors alone, you feel very low. You start thinking back about the problems that you have been through and all of the problems you are in at the moment. That makes you worried and sad. But when you come here you feel happy. Talking to other people, seeing them, watching what they are doing – it’s good for your health. It makes you feel so much better.’

Lewisham is one of the 25 local authority areas in England where poverty and deprivation were found to be greatest. Isolated older people are a key constituent of those with the least support or opportunities.

The problem isn’t confined to Lewisham or even London though – last year there were half a million people aged 90 and over living in the UK. People are living longer but 40% of older people attending GP surgeries, and 60% of those living in residential institutions are reported to have ‘a mental health problem’.

The support to become active and regain agency within their own communities has proved life changing for a handful of people already but we believe it has radical reach. Our small project evidences how a creative approach and collaboration can positively affect the ability to age well – something we should all aspire to. As a result, Meet Me at… is a project we want to grow exponentially – well beyond our organisations or even city.

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