Within Lewisham communities there are an increasing number of lonely older people, many living with debilitating long-term health conditions. Frailty leads to loss of independence and impairs quality of life and psychological well-being. It poses challenges on families and caregivers as well as health, social and other support services.
Austerity has brought significant cuts to local social care budgets, and established models of providing day care and social support are no longer sustainable. The London Borough of Lewisham recognised the importance of thinking and acting differently, shifting their focus from delivering services to meet needs to supporting the capacity of their communities to become more resilient in meeting needs on their own, with clear pathways to specialist support and guidance where needed.
Meet Me at the Albany grew out of a question shared by Lewisham senior managers with the Albany and Entelechy Arts: what if frail, isolated older people had the opportunity to go to an arts centre instead of a day centre?
In addressing this question the local authority demonstrated a clear willingness to collaborate and develop a strong and effective partnership with the two arts partners. There was a willingness to take risks, and the initiative has clearly been worthwhile. Three years later there are now over 100 isolated older people engaged in arts activity on a weekly basis. The local social housing corporation has added their own investment with artists now embedded in sheltered accommodation units for the elderly across Lewisham. The initiative has caught the imagination of local residents and there is now a large and active cohort of local volunteers whose time, energy and fundraising skills are contributing to the legacy and sustainability of the programme.
And of course the model has produced great art. Meet Me has provided new contexts for artists to have their own practice challenged and developed by working co-productively with (formerly) isolated older people. Meet Me was cited by Arts Council England in their Create document and in the 2016 Arts White Paper as a model of best practice. The journalist Tanya Gold wrote: ‘This is either a unique experiment in provision for the elderly, if you write like a bureaucrat, or something as lovely and hopeful as a poem.’
This project meets a need in an active, positive, imaginative, sustainable way."