How do you remember this heady AofA 12 months?
Suzanne: I feel like someone floored the accelerator pedal. It has been a whirlwind of a year. The Arts Council grant, the flamboyant and fabulous bus tour, refreshing the website, starting the Facebook group, the hot tub talks. We did much more than I would have thought possible.
Rose: In fact, I came back from Cuba and Suzanne told me that AofA had been awarded an ACE grant, so we threw ourselves in doing what we said we were going to do for that. The Death Dinner, the Taboo Night at Vout-o-renees, and finally the Flamboyant Bus Tour of London. And then the screening of the film Death Dinner and then the Flamboyant Subway Tour in NYC. It’s been non-stop and brilliant to do.
Also the quality of the articles that have come into the online magazine. It has been a rich experience in terms of cajoling gently people into doing pieces, and witnessing the courageous, often revealing results. I really feel passionately about a fierce sort of writing where the writers dare to be raw and honest and reflective about their lives. A big thank you to all the contributors this year.
What have the spectacular parts of the year been?
Suzanne: The fabulous and flamboyant bus tour felt like a turning point. I’ll just never forget the sight of so many wonderfully dressed women and men walking through Sloane Square to make their way onto the bus. It was just magical. So many new friendships were forged on that day, so many great conversations, it was very special.
The Death Dinner was a humongous undertaking but seeing the final film and the viewers reaction to it made it worthwhile. My wish is that we can find a distributor to help us reach as many people as possible with it. It feels like a very important film.
Starting the Facebook group and seeing the level of engagement on it is what keeps me going. It has been a steep learning curve but an exciting one.
Rose: For me, the coming together of the Death Dinner was really momentous, having the Dissenter’s Chapel for the dinner, gathering ten colourful characters from the Death World ie a mortician, a soul midwife and so many more. And the fact that it was filmed by my son and his team, and that abundant feast was provided by an old friend who also participated because of her own intimate relationship with death made it all seem so close and important. For me it’s important that we have made a film out of it as well and hopefully we’ll find ways to screen it in different places around the country, festivals etc with Q & As.
I loved that we thought of the idea for the Flamboyant Bus Tour when we were waiting to get into the chapel one day. Suzanne and I have a way of organically making things happen and bouncing off one another in a fulsome way. We had no idea that so many people would come in such outrageous outfits worn with such boldness. There was a brilliant buzz on that bus of like-minded people finding each other and then they have kept in touch.
For me, so much of AofA is about forming a tribe of people who want to rebel against stereotypical ageing with gusto and grace. This has started to happen.
Go on indulge yourselves with a few more detailed memories?
Suzanne: The hot tub talks were alot of fun. I loved the one we did on Style with Johnny Blue Eyes, Pasha DuPont and Caroline Sinclair. Often it was the conversations we had after we stopped filming that were the most interesting and that was certainly the case on that evening. Wow is all I can say!
Our trip to NYC, our Subway Parade and subsequently having dinner with Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks. I really enjoyed that trip and showing you around. It was great fun.
Rose: Oh that’s funny that you mentioned them now, that’s just what I was thinking. The Hot Tub Mini Salons were brilliant. They were intimate and relaxed and I didn’t worry at all about doing them. I loved the one about Death because it felt so daring and intimate at the same time. It had a softness to it in the way we were talking and what we were talking about. I’ve love to get these funded as regular ongoing events.
Oh and I really enjoyed the Tantra one because we had a male sex worker, Seani Love who is doing a very different type of sexuality work with women, meeting them on a level that they may not have been met on before. And Monique Roffey and I doing readings from The Tryst, her recent erotic novel and from Tantric Goddess, my poetry pamphlet. It all felt so relaxed. That’s the key aspect to the all-mighty Hot Tub experience.
What has worked between you both?
Suzanne: We’re both doers! And people who enjoy doing different things. Rose is definitely the easiest partner I’ve had in terms of a working relationship. We’ve had our differences in approach over the year but have always been able to resolve them in a way that made us both happy. Very grown up! I’ve appreciated our frank discussions and the way that we just get on with things. It’s rare to find a partner like this and I’ve really loved working with her.
Rose: Yes, our mutual directness. We don’t spend much time pontificating or procrastinating, we just get on with it and trust the other will too. I concur that Suzanne is the easiest partner I’ve ever had in the work sphere. She’s very dependable and practical in a way that I am often not. She believed that we would get the ACE grant and we did. That self-belief has been very important in the evolution of AofA, as has Suzanne embrace-all philosophy of living. She’s very generous in the way she looks at life. We have had differences this year and we have been able to talk frankly and choose a mature pathway through. Suzanne is also very supportive of other people’s input and ideas. She’s a collaborator.
Tell us about the Arts Council Grant?
Suzanne: It was my first attempt at applying for a grant. I don’t really think Rose or myself knew what we were getting ourselves into. Rose didn’t actually believe we’d get it. It took a couple of attempts before we secured the money, which was to put on three events around Style, Taboos and Death. We both went out of our way to use the money wisely and frugally. I think one of the advantages of our age is that we have access to an enormous network of super talented people who mainly volunteered their services. I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved with limited resources although, in retrospect, I probably would have put on two and not three events which would have enabled us to earn a project management fee that was in line with the amount of time we both put in. Let’s just say, it was very satisfying from an artistic point of view but I probably would have earned more working the till at Sainsbury’s!
Rose: Hilarious. I totally relished this time. And Suzanne’s determination was key here. In terms of getting the funding. We did a lot!! I loved thinking up ideas and actually being able to make them happen. There was one Saturday were I was doing a walk (for a new book) in Roman London and Suzanne dedicated herself to finding some leopard skin fabric to be a backdrop for the Momento Mori frame!! It was a vital extra. Suzanne put herself out to get it. Yes, the creative community that we tapped into and were able to pay – in a small way – was simply marvelous – from poets to writers to actors – and I hope we can do more with them in the future.
And the FB Live Salons?
Suzanne: It started as a bit of a lark that then turned into something. I think we had over 6k views for our Hot Tub talk on Sex. It’s amazing the effect that sitting in very hot water can have on someone’s personality. There were times I really thought that some of the bigger characters would end up taking over the talk but once in the water, they calmed right down! From a technical point of view I would have liked to have filmed them differently. And my crappy wi-fi didn’t help either! I’d definitely like to carry on with the Hot Tub Talks and I’m hoping some nice, geeky person comes out of the woodwork to assist in improving the quality. Finding a sponsor for them would be great too.
Rose: Yes, I agree with finding a way to carry on here. Also, take the Hot Tub Salon idea to festivals. It could be some sort of TV channel too.
It was wonderful having an array of different characters in that tub!!
And the Business Academy?
Suzanne: It’s my passion. I feel that the biggest challenge we have as older people is remaining valued in society and a lot of that comes down to being able to support ourselves financially. Older people are not being upskilled and we have a huge pool of talent from which to draw upon that is just being ignored. I started a tech business a few years ago and it struck me that I was nearly always the oldest person at the networking events I attended on a regular basis. It’s very lonely being that person, not having any support, especially when you’re starting a new business. I want to change that and working with Yvonne is the start of something that I feel has huge potential.
Rose: Totally Suzanne and Yvonne’s baby. And I can see there is a great need for it as people get older.
And the FB Group?
Suzanne: LOL. It was an idea suggested to me by a guy named Vin Clancy running an Internet marketing course which I attended at the beginning of the summer. “All you need is a FB group,” he said, casually. “It will take you an hour a day and you’ll form a community.” So, off I trotted, doing exactly what he said. Only, of course, what I discovered is that I spend most of the day on FB, engaging with members of the group in some way. I absolutely love it. So many interesting conversations, points of view, people making new connections with others from all over the world. It’s amazing when I think about it. I do feel we are getting to the point where all the work doesn’t have to fall on me and I can see there are other key members now taking an active role in the group, which is great.
Rose: It was been brilliant to witness the flourishing of the FB page and Suzanne’s dedication to growing it, and also providing material for engaging dialogue as well as wit, fun and irreverence. I think it has been vital with regards to the community feeling and momentum. Questions can be asked, information garnered and events supported. Yes, I agree it’s important to spread this work now.
Do you feel like you have formed an AofA community?
Suzanne: 100%. We’ve still got a long way to go but we’re getting there. I’ve been encouraged by so many people telling me how much they get out of being in the group, how it has helped them make new friends. I think there’s more we can be doing on the professional/business side to support people and I’m working on that. The lifestyle side is great, the events, hot tub talks, the website but I think we could be campaigning. The bigger the group gets, the bigger our voice. I think it’s important that we have our seat at the table when it comes to talking about bigger issues affecting older people.
Rose: The FB group is lively in a way that reflects how we aim to grow older. There is sparkiness at the same time as compassion. I agree re campaigning. I enjoy witnessing others connecting in this community and then the offshoots. Recently, we did our version of Pina Bausch’s Nelken Line on a pier near the Oxo Tower in London, over 20 people turned up early on a Saturday morning and danced. It was so uplifting and now we have a film on the PB Foundation’s website. There is a feeling that anything is possible, which is echoed in the way we want to live as we get older.
Now you’re a Social Enterprise what will that mean?
Suzanne: Forming a company always comes with its share of responsibilities but it also provides us with more opportunities. And, from a funding point of view, there are grants available and ways of crowdfunding that mean that we can start to become sustainable. I’ve invested nearly £10k of my own savings over the past two years and I’m not in a position to be able to continue to do that so we need to find a way to support what we’re doing and create value from it. I know we can and we will.
And obviously, it has been a learning curve?
Suzanne: Yes and a steep one. Applying for grants, what it means to run a social enterprise, running a Facebook group. These were all things I had no knowledge of until this year. Every day I look at the whiteboard in my living room and see a whole list of new things I have to do and learn about!
Rose: We started AofA without any concrete ideas of what we were doing, beyond a mission statement to grow old differently and provide a support around this for others. I have been editing the online magazine for almost two years now and towards the end of this year, my priorities have changed. It is unpaid work and now I want to a few other things. Suzanne has been brilliant in terms of investing her own money in the AofA, and now we’ll have to see what funding comes in…
I really have been longing for time to write poetry and my new book so I am intending to change my relationship with AofA in that I will no longer edit and gather in article, but instead will focus on special projects for us instead. I hope to develop the Death Dinner in terms of distribution and screenings, other poetry events, the Hot Tub salons and festival visits.
Is there anything you would change in terms of what you’ve done?
Suzanne: We’re coming up to our second year since establishing the website and I know from previous experience with other organisations I have run, that it takes that long to work stuff out. If I’d known how important the Facebook group was going to be, I probably would have started one earlier. I still can’t work out how to drive traffic to the website which is chock full of inspirational articles and that bothers me. I know that it’s a great online magazine, looks great and I want more people to check it out!
Rose: Not really, it’s been an organic process and we’ve just been adapting as we’ve gone along. I do hope too that a way can be found to garner more readers to the brilliant new website and online magazine.
How do you see the future for AofA?
Suzanne: I see 2018 as the year of work and when a lot of the ideas that I’ve had, particularly around the Business Academy come to fruition. We’re looking at having a monthly social event and I can see that building into something that everyone looks forward to and gets bigger and bigger. I think that we can become the umbrella organization for lots of other groups, a resource that people can go to for help or advice, the place for fun activities. I think there is space for us to be that and for a new voice around ageing.
Rose: I see 2018 as the year when AofA gets grounded in a financial and pragmatic sense. Other members will come forth – and are already – to support Suzanne in her quest to spread the pro-age revolution. It’s already on track.