For Whom Does Ageing Mean “Living Without?”
By Helen Manchester and Alice Willatt, 22nd February 2022
In our last blog Alice explained one of the creative methods we’ve been using to understand more about the lives of people aged 60-75 who are working with us on our project. In this blogpost we explore how the My Album activity [add link] has enabled us to understand the richness of everyday lives as we age. The data we’ve collected challenges the widely held belief that ageing represents “living without”. In fact, we’ve found ageing to be a creative process that involves responding to change, developing relationships and finding new rhythms. Importantly though, experiences of marginalisation continue to affect us as we age and it is largely those who have had to ‘live without’ throughout their lives who continue to do so as they age.
First, let’s talk about creativity and creative ageing. The albums became a place to document and reflect on everyday creativity. We found the creative rhythms of lives – knitting, bead collecting, cycling, poetry writing, cooking, gardening – have a positive impact on wellbeing and sense of self. Also, the doing and sharing of these activities are important for forging and maintaining social connections.
People have used their albums to talk about and reflect on significant relationships in their lives. Many explained the varied social connections they enjoy – including with family members, friends and through groups and activities that they have more time for following retirement. People described the pleasures of ‘pottering’ and ‘lounging and the freedom in being able to choose what they do, with whom and when. There was a sense of opening out, of potential for new becomings and new identities to be developed.
The 20 people we are working with come from communities including disabled older people, and socio-economically and racially minoritised communities. For some of them experiences of marginalization across their lifecourse continue to mediate their lives as they age. Whilst creativity played in a key role in many of their lives they described short term community arts projects that helped them to find an outlet for their creativity but the grief when these ended due to short term funding cycles. Those living in social housing described the difficulties in finding a place to feel comfortable in their homes- the poor heating, lack of space or feeling of disconnection they experienced in flats where neighbours continually changed or where the ‘quietness’ affected their mood and left them feeling lonely.
Overall, the data collected through the My Album activity suggests that ageing can be a time for flourishing, for creativity and for forging new identities and relationships, for some. However, for others, the marginalization they have experienced throughout the life course continues to affect them as they age. As bodies might start to fail or become ‘unruly’ these experiences of marginalization often become more acute and are ‘felt’ more strongly. We need to better understand experiences of ageing for communities at the margins in order to develop more creative, caring societies for us all as we age.