I live by the principle that you don’t know until you try with very little consideration to the consequences. This attitude has in the past gotten me into sticky situations, primarily where men were concerned. Advantages of Age was no different, although with far better and more exciting results!
I was sitting with new friends introduced by Rose in my hot tub back in December 2015. We were lamenting the media’s attitude towards ageing as being a state to be avoided at all costs, despite its inevitability, when Amanda remarked, “Someone should do something called the Advantages of Age.” Having had a few glasses of prosecco, a little drunk, I nevertheless thought this sounded an excellent idea, and once everyone had left for home, I went online and purchased the website name advantagesofage.com. Then I set about creating the site, sourcing more positive representations of ageing. By the time of the next hot tub gathering, three months later, the site was live. Rose came on board as editor, and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Over time, we’ve grown beyond the site to host activities and the Startup School for Seniors, which I run with Mark Elliott, who officially joined Advantages of Age as co-director in October 2020. During the past year, I suspect as a result of COVID and Rose’s more direct involvement, the Facebook group has become a very buzzy place where differing opinions are freely expressed in a manner befitting our age. In other words, without it turning it into a bun fight. I gave up most of my work four years ago to set it up, and it’s great to be able to take a back seat now and feel I can participate in the discussions without always having to be the one to start them.
I’m fortunate to be working with Rose and Mark on two different sides to the business, both with different skill sets and interests but with our shared aim of helping people over 50 manifest the life they desire in whatever form that takes. We are passionate and committed to this shared objective. Although we don’t have the hundreds of thousands of members that some organisations aimed at the over 50s do, I believe our group is far more eclectic, engaged and exciting than the others!
The group has led to me having a much bigger circle of friends and new businesses. Despite being called Advantages of Age, the new connections I’ve made and the discussions in which I’ve taken part has led me to want to take action around two crucial topics – housing and employment, for which being older come with challenges.
As a direct result of living with lodger my age and the conversations with others in the AofA group in a similar living situation, I created nestful, my business supporting more people over 50 in finding compatible people with whom to share. It really was those early conversations with AofA members that made me realise how many older people are in this situation financially. In other words, they have to share. That’s how this business came into being.
Moving into the housing space led me to all sorts of other realisations about the challenges of housing in later life. I was also invited to participate in panel discussions and to become part of a growing community of academics, business owners and investors interested in the impact of our ageing society on different aspects of life. Advantages of Age is starting to become recognised within these influential communities, which is gratifying.
Sadly, the pandemic had a crushing impact on nestful. Many of the older homeowners who are part of the nestful community identify as vulnerable; they didn’t want their spare room occupied by a stranger. The business flatlined, although I’m hopeful that we may begin to see more older people consider the benefits of sharing, both from a financial and a social viewpoint, by the spring.
As one door nearly closed, another opened. I saw friends and group members losing their jobs with no possibility of permanently rejoining the workforce. Startup School for Seniors is an Advantages of Age initiative that goes into its sixth term in January. It first received funding in September 2020 to build the eLearning platform on which the course sits. It has its own Facebook group for members. It is financially self-sufficient due to tenders we’ve won to deliver the programme to residents based in London, Central Bedfordshire and Dorset.
I submitted a grant application on behalf of Advantages of Age to perform with other musicians aged over 60. It was successful so we created a jazz concert of standards on Kilburn High Street, as part of the London Festival of Ideas. The musicians enjoyed it so much that they recommended we perform on high streets in other deprived areas of Britain!
Approaching 2022, we are considering more ways to support and receive support from our members. The first website we created in 2017 is currently undergoing a significant refresh, focusing on the hundreds of exclusive articles that Rose has commissioned over the years from both published and unpublished writers. It’s a goldmine and my go-to place when I want to read inspiring stories about growing older. Other Advantages of Age members have said the same. If you haven’t already, check it out. It deserves more recognition, and we would like to be in a place where we can pay to commission articles that support our ethos. We want to host an Advantages of Age Awards Ceremony in 2022 with both fun and serious categories, spotlighting organisations, people, media that promote positive ageing and those that could do better. COVID permitting, we want more opportunities for members to meet, either face to face or virtually. We’ve mooted the idea of an AofA Book Club, as we know many of you enjoy reading. This year we had a couple of fabulous walks – one on the South coast in Emsworth organized by Nadia Chambers, and the other (funded by TFL) around Nunhead cemetery with superbly well-informed psychogeographer and author, John Rogers. This is another area we see growing and John is equally keen to create more walks for us; members may well offer to take us around their areas too.
We talk about premium membership, but we’re aware that we could improve it from the research we’ve undertaken. It’s unclear what it delivers, and we know that for the vast majority of the premium members who pay a monthly £4 99, it’s about supporting us to help pay for the website, for paying for Rose to moderate the Facebook group – which takes time – as well as commissioning articles and any other staffing requirements. We’re in the process of transferring this aspect of Advantages of Age to Patreon, a platform expressly created to help champion creative individuals and organisations that would benefit from financial support in order to evolve. Stay tuned for that announcement.
I can see so many brilliant opportunities for Advantages of Age. From a small kernel of an idea in a hot tub, we have grown into a tree with many branches, of which I’m enormously proud. Whether it’s Rose’s Arts Council funded project ‘Dance me to Death,’ the poetry project she has curated, Startup School for Seniors, more informal social events, the Facebook groups. We want to encourage and support more people who want to flex their creative muscle or in other ways, like championing a JustGiving campaign or other crowdfunded initiative. We’re a group that clearly cares about one another and have seen what happens when people come together over a shared concern and what a difference that can make.
I want to echo Rose in thanking everyone who has participated in a discussion in the Facebook group(s), attended Startup School, provided Mark and myself with feedback, and paid to be a premium member. The kindness you have shown to us and each other is remarkable, especially during this time when such divisiveness is all around. As we enter 2022, I look forward to taking Advantages of Age to the next level and us all having some part to play in that. Thank you, AofA members, for being you!