Joey Vines of Age UK paid a visit to the Geezers men’s group, based at Age UK East London’s Resource Centre in Bow.
And then wrote it up for the Age UK Newsletter. Here’s the article:
Young At Heart
Up the ol’ apples and pears (stairs) I went, through the Roger Moore (door), only to be greeted with a cup of rosy lee (tea). Alright, so there weren’t any stairs. And I politely refused the offer of a cup of tea but you know what they say – never let the truth get in the way of a good story…
And speaking of good stories, look no further than the fridge freezers, sorry Geezers (that’s enough cockney rhyming slang for now) – a group of older gentlemen who meet once a week at the Appian Court Resource Centre in Bow, which is affiliated with Age UK East London.
The group, who are spearheaded by founder Ray Gipson, have come a long way since they formed a decade ago and they certainly know how to have fun – all smiles, gentle ribbing and cheeky banter.
‘We’re good pals’ says Ray, 73. ‘Some of them I’ve known for donkey’s years. We have a dig at each other now and again – about our football teams, our ailments – but it’s all good-natured. There’s a great camaraderie.’
The Geezers came into being following a research project commissioned by Age Concern Tower Hamlets (as it was then) which aimed to uncover why older men weren’t going into the Resource Centre and it soon became clear that there was a need for a men’s only group. Ray said: ‘They spoke to guys in the pubs and the betting shops and found out that they weren’t mad keen on some of the classes they ran at the centre – line dancing, bingo, painting. They wanted to go out to museums, talk about football, fishing – that kind of thing.’
And so the Geezers were born. From an initial three – four members, they’re now at full capacity (24 if everyone turns up) and they’ve done all sorts over the years – from summer jaunts to the seaside, trips to the theatre and keep fit classes. And they’re always getting people to visit them at the centre – chefs, magicians, health professionals, councillors, historians – you name it, they’ve got them in!.
But as well as creating an older men’s community that they themselves enjoy, they’re big on inspiring others to follow their lead, as Ray explains: ‘We’ve had people come in from other areas to see what we’re doing and how we do it and we’re always talking to other older men’s group in the area. At least two other men’s groups have started up from what we’ve told them.’
But why are these groups so important? Ray says: ‘Most men go in to betting shops as it’s the only place to meet people of their own age and their own sex – they don’t go there to spend all of their money. It’s the same as the pub – they go there just to get out and talk to other men. They sit and nurse a pint for a whole two hours but they’ve got out – we’ve filled that void.’
84-year-old Ted, one of the older members of the group, supports Ray’s stance: ‘It’s important to get amongst people of your own age. We’ve all got stories. We’re old but we’ve still got young minds. Life when we were young was so different to how it is now but you can still tell a lot of things to the young people and we still try.’
And speaking of intergenerational work, arguably Ray and the Geezers’ greatest achievement involves interaction with a group of local youngsters. ‘There’s been lot of friction on the streets in our area over they years’ he says. ‘Old people didn’t want to go out at night and walk up to the market to get some fish and chips. They’d be scared if they saw crowds of boys standing on the corner. We wanted to break all those sorts of things down so we went to work with some of the boys from the local secondary school.’
And it’s fair to say it was an unqualified success. The Geezers ended up starring in a film with some of the teenagers called ‘Then and Now’ – Ray elaborates: ‘There were about 10 of us and a group of about 10 boys from year 8-9 (around 14-15 years of age). We spoke about aspects of our lives as we grew up – the clothes we wore, places we used to go to, how we did our courting – and they told us about what it’s like growing up in the area nowadays.’
They entered the film in a competition run by the Royal Society of Arts in the ‘Bringing Communities Together’ category and ended taking top prize and it was eventually screened at a cinema in Hackney.
If you’re keen to see it, please click here.