The Office for National Statistics recently reported that many British inner cities are becoming ‘no-go’ zones for older people. Dr. Kishore Budha from Leeds University has talked of a “structural shutout” in cities that just don’t cater for the needs of older people. Today in the our office, Entelechy participant and trustee, Kurban Haji, was taking part in a discussion on Radio London about the threat to free travel for older people in London. Are London’s older citizens about to lose their licence to roam?
There is a danger that artists can be tacitly invited to collude in this process. It is now quite common to hear people talking of developing work with older people in ‘care settings’. Perhaps sometimes art is being used as a sugar-coated pill to make ‘exile in plain view’ a more acceptable process.
Today in the café of the Albany arts centre in south London, amid a crowded Meet Me at the Albany session we launched an amazing exhibition of photographs taken by Roswitha Chesher. Ros has been quietly documenting the creative work of older Entelechy artists for the last eight years. There are photos of people in their front rooms, in hospital rooms, in art houses, in open green spaces. There are photographs of movement, of circulation; of people appearing and reappearing in different contexts.
In his book Flesh and Stone the sociologist Richard Sennett connects the seventeenth century physician William Harvey’s writing about the circulation of the body with eighteenth century attempts to circulate people in new designs for the city. He talks of the metaphor of circulation enabling health reformers to see the cities water supply, drains and sewers as its arteries and veins. Perhaps this imagery might be of value to public health teams today when thinking about strategies to support the wellbeing of the isolated old. We need to support movement and the possibilities that it brings for encounter and exchange. We need to have the imagination and the courage to re-introduce our elders to their cities. Care needs to be given its rightful place as a verb and not a noun.