Elderly Club: Tea Party Raves to Combat Loneliness
Step inside a certain South London church hall at 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, and you may be surprised at what you find. Women dressed in their finest frocks and flowery hats, whipping their underwear at the Elvis impersonator on stage. Men in their suits sipping on champagne while dancing to MC Hammer. A young entertainer in hot pants and a bowtie flexes powerful thigh muscles while steamy scones are brought out from the back kitchen on antique china. Crutches, walking sticks, and wheelchairs line the decorated walls. Each member of this audience has experienced 60 years on Earth or more. However, this is not your mother’s senior citizen bingo night. This is The Posh Club – a weekly cabaret-style party for “swanky senior citizens, elegant elders, and glamorous golden girls.”
A Close to Home Issue
Brother and sister duo, Simon Casson and Annie Bowden, were inspired to create The Posh Club after their own mother moved to a new city seven years ago. At age 80, she found herself feeling isolated and lonely. To lift her spirits, they planned a vintage tea party to be held in her living room. The siblings invited two of their mother’s ninety-year-old neighbors, served sandwiches and cakes on special occasion dishware and played a soundtrack of the 1940’s greatest hits.
The three ladies enjoyed themselves so much, Simon and Annie decided to do something bigger to support the elderly in their city who might otherwise be forced to spend their days without their family and friends. Thus, The Posh Club was born.
Two major goals of The Posh Club are to enhance the lives of working class people over 60 years old in order to create “a community of healthier, happier older folk,” and to encourage intergenerational connectivity. Each of the three-hour weekly is fully staffed with volunteer entertainers, waiters, greeters, and floaters, representing a range of ages and social backgrounds. “I think we’ve lost a lot of interaction between the ages, it’s not the type of thing that capitalism encourages,” Casson says. “But it’s our responsibility to create that crossover between generations.”
A New Kind of Community Building
The Posh Club is just one of Casson’s events for creating nurturing and safe spaces for various culture clubs around London. In 1995, he founded Duckie, a collective of performance artists that describes itself as “a post-gay independent arts outfit.” They have explained their work as putting “highbrow performance in backstreet pubs and lowbrow performance in posh theaters.” Duckie runs cabaret and club nights for many populations of working class people every Saturday at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, the UK’s oldest LGBTQ pub. The organization is mainly known for its engagement with the queer lifestyle and community, for showcasing queer performers at weekly shows, and for providing a creative forum for gay and lesbian performance and culture.
Duckie’s other socially engaged culture clubs besides The Posh Club include a project with homeless Londoners struggling with alcoholism, addiction and mental health issues; a dementia friendly arts show in care homes; an LGBTQ youth theater program (coming soon!); and a club for queer people of color. Though the population of each of these events may differ, the mission stays the same: to use art and performance as tools to bring about community solidarity, and to provide the opportunity for personal development.
Loneliness is a Battle We Can All Help Fight
According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbor or family member. The weekly camaraderie of The Posh Club is able to provide this particular demographic with all the necessities for a fulfilling life: connection, laughter, good food, and physical activity.
“It’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been involved with,” says Dicky Eaten, who has worked with Duckie since the organization’s conception. “What we’re doing is really an anti-loneliness campaign presented as a club event. A lot of our guests maybe don’t get out as much as they once did and don’t see friends as often. Well, this provides a unique way to do both, while also being part of something that’s vibrant and exciting. Just because you reach a certain age, doesn’t mean you don’t want to have fun anymore. I think society has a habit of forgetting that. A lot of what we, as younger people, do to enjoy ourselves, these guys, they’ve not only seen it and done it all, they invented most of it.”
And it seems to be working! In the video below, guests speak about what The Posh Club means to them, and how it has nurtured their current lives. One woman says, “Pampered is the word I would use. I just love it.” Another woman explains that she was invited to The Posh Club after the sudden loss of her husband. She says: “Here I met friends from school that I had lost touch with over the years, so that means a lot to me.” Another golden party girl comments that she loves that the guests have the unique opportunity to perform on stage for the rest of the group, in addition to watching the talented entertainers.
Beyond The Posh Club
The Posh Club is not the only space working to eliminate loneliness amongst the elderly. For example, Shish, a Turkish restaurant in southeast London, recently served free three-course meals to both the elderly and the homeless on Christmas Day. One of the restaurant’s managers, Irfan Can Genc, told CNN: “It’s not about religion, language or culture. It’s about community.” With more and more families living further apart these days, there are large pockets of elderly people who rarely receive frequent company or the proper care they deserve, desire, and desperately need. Even small gestures, such as stopping to talk to your elderly neighbors if you pass them on the street, offering to help with their errands or chores, or even making a meal to share can make a big difference. It’s likely to make you feel better, too!