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Age UK: What does culture mean to you? Part II

Emily Baldwin is a postgraduate student at The University of Leeds – her research interests are in urban geography, culture in cities and place branding. She is currently on a placement with Leeds City Council and is working on The Culture Strategy. 

On April 26th, Leanne, Kat and I were invited to join Sarah at Age UK Leeds again – this time we were able to speak with members of their creative writing group.

The session began with an introduction of why we are having these conversations across the city about culture. It becomes easy to focus on the bid for Leeds to become European Capital of Culture 2023 – but these discussions are about more than just the bid. The city needs to redesign and rewrite its Cultural Strategy. The aim is to do this with the people who live here to make a more inclusive plan for the future of Leeds and for its culture. It will last beyond the bid and the framework that the city can use to deliver the bid.

We were interested in thinking about what things the members of the creative writing group enjoyed doing with their time. They all had such an interesting range of interests, some of which included:

  • Walking groups
  • Attending other centres like Headingley Heart or Seven in Chapel Allerton
  • Theatres
  • Book clubs
  • Drama
  • Painting

They all enjoy a real mix of activities and events that are on offer in and around the city. A key message they communicated was just that – if you are fit and healthy, then there is a great deal of things for the older community in Leeds to do. Many of the group believed that they were in a fortunate position here, where there is so much on offer, especially when they compared their experience with many friends living elsewhere in the country.

The Bradbury Building, Age UK Leeds
The Bradbury Building, Age UK Leeds

A little about Age UK…

Sarah told us that when she joined Age UK Leeds there was very little going on in The Bradbury Building itself. She had a concern they may not be able to attract people to come into the city centre – feeling that people did things like this in their own communities rather than wanting to come to the city for it. And, although the group did agree that there is plenty going on in their own neighbourhoods, they also felt it was important for them to get out and to come into the city centre as well. Age UK Leeds now has waiting lists for all of the group sessions it offers – clearly demonstrating the overwhelming popularity of The Bradbury Building and what it’s doing in the city.

The Bradbury Building itself appeared just as important as the activities it offers. As people get older there become fewer and fewer opportunities to meet people. Age UK Leeds provides this meeting place – it’s somewhere that people can come to make bonds and form friendships – something that is so important as you get older. The Bradbury Building is more than just the classes it runs, it is important to the relationships it creates and the friendships it sustains.

Something that the group felt to be important to them was keeping active, both physically and mentally. They don’t want to just sit at home or do typically ‘sleepy, old’ activities. This is another thing they all felt Age UK Leeds does so well – it runs such a range of classes that aren’t just what ‘older people do’. They still enjoy dance or drama as much as anyone else and appreciate the opportunity to keep doing what they love in a space that feels safe and enjoyable.

The creative writing class at Age UK Leeds is free. This is something that was clearly, and understandably, very important. So many other writing clubs or painting classes elsewhere are too expensive to keep going to. It was commonly felt that it is difficult to find spaces where you can come to learn and create that are reasonably priced. Classes in the mainstream are created as if it’s a single hobby – someone will go to one class in their spare , not five because they suddenly have lots of spare time!

This is something that I believe spans the generations – it is difficult to practice arts, drama and sport in an affordable way in the city which makes it really hard to keep doing the things you enjoy doing everyday.

How easy or hard is it do the things that you love in Leeds?

Transport. The long and short of it is that transport does appear to be a problem for people in and around Leeds. One lady visits her friends in Manchester and says “It costs £4 to get all the way to Manchester on the train, and yet just to get down the road in Leeds will cost £2.50!” It seems to be so expensive to travel into and around the city for many. Although the older generation may have a bus pass to curb this cost, they do still appear to be struggling with the buses in the city. Unless they are coming in to the city centre it is difficult to actually get anywhere without having to get a few different buses and work out the routes and timings of getting there which can be daunting and tiring.

Another common problem felt among the group was of the closure of the Tourist Information Centre at the Station. It was felt that for such a busy station it was a pity that there was nowhere for people coming into the city to find out about what was going on here. They have missed having this space as somewhere they could go to find out about what was happening elsewhere that they could plan to go to – feeling that they don’t get the same experience from the Tourist Information Centre in town. For many of the group the centre provided an important service for home tourist, not just people outside of the city. It helped people to get to know and experience their home.

Sarah Prescott leads an Age UK Leeds Health Walk
Sarah Prescott leads an Age UK Leeds Health Walk

An interesting thought…

A consideration by one member of the group was that the different generations of Leeds had a lot to offer one another…although it was broadly agreed that technology has in fact become a barrier to this. One comment I found particularly pertinent was that technology has created a street full of strangers. It becomes difficult to interact any more – even asking for directions becomes a challenge when so many people have headphones in or are on their phones. I’m not sure if there is any way that this could be changed or if there is some way to overcome the technological habits we have all become accustomed to – but the thought was significant to how culture in Leeds, like everywhere else in the world, has been changing.

Many in the group commented on how the different generations have become silo’d in the city. Each group keeping to its own culture. This group of people didn’t necessarily want to go to ‘events for old people’ they wanted to mingle and socialise and understand the world around them even there are elements of it they choose not to take part in. Many had grandchildren and loved spending time with them and seeing the world through their eyes. One member of the group said “it’s how we understand our world”, which seems as good a definition of culture as any.

The creative writing group at Age UK Leeds had a real positivity towards their way of life. They had very few concerns for their quality of life and were overwhelmingly happy to keep active and busy doing the things they love. They didn’t want to sit and reminisce about the way things were or how things have changed – being very intent on living in the now and enjoying the cultural transformations going on around them in Leeds.

One Comment

  1. Susan Nicholas Susan Nicholas

    Once again Emily has hit the nail on the head! She has shown that those of us who are well into our retirement are not a different species from the young just a different variety & we all know that variety is the spice of life. This is why there is a special magic in mixed age groups where each brings there own special something to the group. Inside our heads most of us feel much the same as when we were young which is why we still need & enjoy socialising, laughing & learning new things. However, Emily obviously understands the financial restraints on Councils when attempting to provide the many interests covered in her writing. If we can’t all have a Bradbury Building surely it would work out cheaper & socially more diverse if a nursery school was built next to a library, next to a health centre & meeting place or cafe. This would ensure that the paths of all ages would cross narurally. Age UK is a great organisation with forward thinking ideas so why not begin multi age classes? Learning is not confined to an age group. Young folk bring sunshine into our lives & we can bring much to theirs. How sad that the station information centre was closed. Surely we oldies could could have manned it on a voluntary basis. You’re right, Emily, most of us aren’t that wrapped up in the quality of our lives if we can still remain active, busy & maybe even some use!!

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