Background

In autumn 2013, with support from Lewisham Council’s Community Directorate, Entelechy Arts and the Albany launched Meet Me at the Albany, a creative arts club for the over 60s that asks:

What could be possible if the isolated old were supported to attend their local arts centre, instead of a day centre?

Meet Me at the Albany is a bold new approach to day care providing a regular meeting place where participants can become involved in creative workshops, experience performances from leading artists or simply sit back and enjoy the atmosphere, as well as enjoying a home cooked hot meal and beverages for just £6 a day.

The work is happening in a context of change that includes an ageing and diverse population, public funding cuts, a commitment to working with the voluntary sector and involving people in decisions about their own lives, and personalised budgets. Meet Me at the Albany is one experiment in response to change.

Lewisham’s investment in Meet Me at the Albany has created space within which to design and implement a sustainable arts programme that can:-

  • Respond to isolated older people, families and carers as audiences and participants
  • Embed itself into everyday health and adult social care provision;
  • Support the practice of artists working with frail and isolated older people;
  • Help emerging older artists become co-creators alongside established artists and isolated older people;
  • Test new models of cultural commissioning; and
  • Be a model of effective collaboration between arts organisations, local authorities, voluntary organisations, carers and others.

Meet Me at the Albany is inspired by diverse experiences including Brazil’s Pontos de Cultura programme, the Prospect Hill Seniors Choir in Brooklyn, the work of ARTZ with MOMA in New York and memories of past homemade communal entertainment in South London. It aims to help isolated older people to create and experience great art – something whose health and wellbeing benefits are supported by research.

Every week Meet Me at the Albany artists and volunteers hear stories of loss and transition: loss of family, friends, of employment, of being recognised and valued. In Winter Fires, François Matarasso writes of the increasing numbers of older people seizing the opportunity to act as artists.

‘In doing so’, he says, ‘they are exercising agency […] The practice of art, to whatever degree of skill or ambition, is one form of resistance to change because, whatever else it might do to bring pleasure, enrich social life or earn money, it confers agency. Through creation, we can act in the world.’

And perhaps that is one of the main ambitions of the programme, to creatively support people to become recognised and valued players within their own communities.