Volunteer, Sutton House
A group of young-at-heart over 55 year olds meet every Friday to support Sutton House, socialise and have a laugh. Formed after an intergenerational project between a local school and Hackney Caribbean Elders, the project worked to help people from different social, cultural and economic backgrounds enjoy and become a part of Sutton House.
Nearly 20 years on, the group are part of our heart and soul here. Margaret has been a member of the team for 12 years. She’s a passionate advocate for the important role groups like this can play at the heart of a community.
I’m 71 years old and I’ve been going to Sutton House for around 12 years. I first heard about the group at Age UK where I was enrolled in IT classes to study computer technology. I thought I’d take a bit of a gamble, go along and see what it was all about. I’ve never been so pleased with a decision.
A diverse group
Our group ranges in age from 55 all the way up to people in their 90s. We meet every Friday afternoon, from 1.30pm until 3.30pm. We try never to use the word ‘old’. It’s so important for my generation to get out of the house, to continue to socialise, to meet new people and feel a part of something.
" No one cares what religion you are, what colour you are or where you come from. We accept everybody for who and what they are, we’ve become a family."
Our project is not just multi-age, it’s also multicultural and that’s really important in a community as diverse as ours in Hackney. No one cares what religion you are, what colour you are or where you come from, just as none of us care what age you are. We all get on so well with one another, we accept everybody for who and what they are; we’ve become a family actually.
Activities and opportunities
There are so many different projects to get involved with, we sing, dance and make things. The first couple of years I was here we put on a play. The folks at the Hackney Empire gave us a room to put on our little show and the public came along to see us perform. If you told me at the start of this that I’d get to perform at the Hackney Empire I’d have thought you were mad.
We make lots of arts and crafts and we hold exhibitions in the rooms upstairs. Last year we made Christmas decorations and sold them at the Christmas fete to raise some money to put back into Sutton House. We’ve got a lovely tapestry that hangs in the house too. All of us designed a section and some young ladies came in from a studio and embroidered it for us.
We’ve even been on television recently which was exciting. Sutton House was featured by the BBC on Gardeners World and a few of us were invited along. They interviewed us and talked to us about the Breaker’s Yard, our outdoor space that’s been transformed into a little oasis. It was such a fun and unusual way for us to spend a day.
Coming together as a community
I’ve lived in Hackney for 23 years, I love it here, people are friendly and it’s the same at Sutton House. We work with a really lovely staff, especially Sean the Community Learning Manager. They’re much younger than us, most of us are old enough to be their mothers or fathers, but they give up their time to organise activities and trips and to help us put on those exhibitions and performances. They look after us and we give back through the activities.
There’s a school just across the road and some of the children come over to show us what they’ve been doing and we show them what we’re working on. We communicate with each other, the older generation and the younger generation. We can learn from one another and share our knowledge.
" It all shows that older people still have a place and a purpose in society. We’re not here just to grow old and disappear into the background, we’re retired not expired. "
It all shows that older people still have a place and a purpose in society. We’re not here just to grow old and disappear into the background, we’re retired not expired. We can get out there and do something for other people, mix with people and share our stories. We’re important to each other, we care and we’re able to lean on one another.
I’d recommend Sutton House to anybody, whenever we’re off for a few weeks I really miss it. At the end of every Friday I feel a real sense of achievement. It’s like I’ve done something worthwhile with my day, like I’ve put something back into the community. We might even inspire a few people who’ll think ‘I could have a go at that myself’ and hopefully their lives will be a little bit better for it.