By Callum Cuddeford
Elderly Londoners were “on top of the world” after meeting for the first time in 15 months on Tuesday.
Members spent a sun-soaked afternoon relaxing and catching up in the garden of the Albany arts centre in Deptford, after a year of lockdowns and isolation.
Meet Me at the Albany is an award-winning all-day arts club for isolated old people where members can sing, craft, and connect, supported by artists and volunteers.
Joan, 77, said: “It has been a year and a half, it has been a long-long time, but when I sit here amongst you it seems like only yesterday, that is the feeling I get being here with you.
“All I can say is: Welcome back to the Albany.”
It began in 2013 after The Albany arts centre and charity Entelechy Arts, with help from Lewisham council, decided to start their own day centre with a bit of colour.
Members can be found suspended on silks in a circus workshop, enjoying jazz, creating sculpture, writing poetry, or singing in the choir.
Ted, 91, said: “It’s been great coming back here. It is heaven.
“It has brightened me up a lot, you are all my family.”
During the pandemic members stayed in touch with conference calls and listened to the Meet Me radio show.
They also had covid-safe activities like doorstep visits by performance artist Christopher Green as Ida Barr, a rapping pensioner who has found hip-hop.
Over the summer small groups of Meet Me members will return to the Albany garden weekly, the service normally runs for 50 weeks a year.
They will also continue “remote telephone creative cluster programmes”, letting members sing and make poetry if they cannot come in person.
Entelechy Arts director Maddy Mills said: “It was a joyous and emotional moment as we welcomed some of our members back into the building today to restart Meet Me at The Albany in person.
“After such a challenging year we have all been waiting for this moment to come – and it didn’t disappoint.
“We’re so grateful to our members for their resilience, hopefulness, and creativity that they’ve given us over the past year as we ran our programmes remotely, and we’re looking forward to the coming weeks and months as we continue to welcome more members back”.
Throughout the pandemic there were 1,591 dementia friendly creative wellbeing calls made, 250 Gnomes hand delivered, and 60 older people connecting weekly over the phone.
The project has grown since 2013 with small gigs, a film club, and a cultural visits group, they also have groups to cater to dementia.
The Albany director Gavin Barlow said: “Seeing our Meet Me members back in the building today has meant just as much to us as it has to them.
“Although all of us at the Albany, Entelechy Arts and a brilliant team of volunteers have worked hard to support members with activities, remote choirs and phone calls, it’s people that really bring the Albany to life and so we’re thrilled to be seeing them again in person after over a year apart.”
Entelechy Arts is a Lewisham charity that makes projects to “powerfully test the boundaries between art, creativity, care, wellbeing, and community.”
The Albany is a performing arts centre with activities, events, and programmes for young creatives and adults over 60, using the talent and imagination of the community.
In 2019-20 over 80,000 people enjoyed performances or took part in projects at the Albany, and a further 100,000 went to events.
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