The Royal Exchange Theatre’s Elders Company have always been open to new things, to challenging themselves and to taking a trusting leap into the unknown. So, when the doors closed on theatres over two weeks ago, they were ready to embrace the idea that their regular workshops would now take place in a virtual world.

Andy Barry, the Royal Exchange Elders Programme Manager said…
‘We currently have over 65 members who are all incredibly dedicated, not only to the Theatre and the work but also to each other. We knew that we had to find a way to continue to deliver our programme over the next few months, so we quickly adapted our plans so that workshops could take place digitally. Overcoming isolation and loneliness has always been a key driver in developing work with Elders, and as many of our existing Company are self-isolating it is more important than ever to stay connected. That doesn’t mean we just ‘call in for a chat’ it’s crucial that the sessions address the desire to be creative, make new work and continue to be interactive. What’s really exciting is that the group are ready to embrace both the challenges and the opportunities working digitally can offer.’

Elders Company member Ann Cole, age 81 said…
“The Royal Exchange Elders Company has without doubt been a lifeline for me as I am sure many of the members will agree. Prior to this Pandemic, the staff have always been very caring and treated us with the utmost respect. It made a change from being dismissed as ‘Over the Hill’ and generally being ignored or left out. Their attitude to older people has surpassed all my expectations and for this I thank them.

During these unprecedented times they have reached out in so many ways. One of the excellent ways was taking part in the Zoom meeting. This enabled me to see the other friends I had made during my time in the Elders. I was afraid that because of the lockdown I would lose contact. We were able to see each other and to talk together and share our experiences. I sincerely believe this helped to reduce the ‘fear factor’ and anxieties beneath the outward signs of bravado. Doing our exercises virtually brought smiles and laughter all round.

I had never used Zoom before so this in itself was a challenge but again with the help of the staff all my fears of Zooming were overcome. I simply can’t wait to continue interacting with the staff of the Royal Exchange who by now have become virtual family member caring for all our well-being. Many thanks.”

The Royal Exchange Elders Company has been running for 6 years and includes several stands of work. The Elders Company are a resident company who meet every Friday for creative workshop sessions with professional theatre makers and have the opportunity to work towards the development of a production for the Exchange. The Elders Leaders are graduates of the Company and work closely with Andy to manage sessions and support new members. Alongside this the Exchange also runs Elders Mondays, a twice monthly ‘open-day’ welcoming anyone over the age of fifty to take part in workshops, drama games, writing groups and much more.

Andy continues…
‘Our current Elders Company are aged between 62 and 81 and we had our first ‘Zoom’ session last Friday, out of twenty members eighteen of them logged-in. We’d sent out a digital working document – a guide and policy for working online to help them get started. I was thrilled by how many people had taken the time to read it and were ready to join in. I’ve just held a session with 14 of our Elders Leaders (graduates of the company) and they have already started to use the digital platforms themselves – including setting up a digital birthday party complete with nibbles and a dress code. We shall see where we get to but there is already an appetite to make a piece of work that responds to the current situation. I’m hopeful – which is a great place to be right now. In our first session, people were able to talk about how they’re coping and we also got down to some creative writing. We randomly created a work bank together and then each wrote our own short poem.’

The Exchange will continue to run the Elders sessions online, making a space in which the community can get together and share their experiences creatively.

Glyn Treharne, aged 76 a Graduate and Elders Leader also commented;

“Being a Royal Exchange Elder has added so much to my life, that when I knew the theatre was going to be continuing with online sessions, I was more than excited. I have been a part of the Elders Leaders since its inception in 2018, assisting with the admin of groups and a part of the free sessions that happen in the Hub. On Tuesday we had our first online session of the Elders Leaders led by Andy Barry, and it was excellent. It was so brilliant to see so many of my fellow Elders, some who were new to the zoom experience. As part of the session we did a creative writing activity that involved creating a poem using words that Andy had picked out from what Leaders had said when signing in. It was fun, good to be using our brains and putting something together. It created some impressive writing which it was decided was good enough to be included in the Elders newsletter. Afterwards I felt so much more positive knowing that, although we are living in such uncertain circumstances, we will still be helping in the growth of Elders Mondays and looking at the possibility of it going online and planning its future development. As a group the Elders have a strong bond with each other, and it was heartening that in the Elders Leaders online session we all expressed our concerns about the people who couldn’t link to zoom or had limited access to digital technology. We wanted to make sure they were still included be that through texting or telephone, or any other form of communication.”


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