The Claremont Project in Islington does tons for seniors who can come in from outwith Islington and are made welcome anyway.
Magnanimous me, to support Claremont (use it or lose it) and because I am a voting women signed up for “Women and Equality. Where are we now?”
I had imagined a room full of white-haired and permed silent very senior women with gushing thirty somethings making us suck eggs. I was upset when to an audience of five the presenters from The Fawcett Society in an air of defence began the session by reading aloud a timeline about the state of women in the UK since 1888 or thereabouts. Fine enough but tedious to the hilt if you’ve already educated yourself about your gender’s standing then and now. What could have been powerful was using we senior women as those who over seventy years and more have lived through the lead up to many acts of Parliament which serve to erase prejudice against women. It turned out that the audience was made of women and one man for whom English is not their first language and of people who came into the UK from another culture. We only had less than two hours as some participants had committed to the twelve week mindfulness course which partially clashed on the timetable.
The fault was in the planning when Claremont management invite in speakers with no reference to anything else going on at The Centre, International Women’s Day is long gone; Women coming from the UK’s new Women’s Equality Party are neither Salsa teachers nor art therapists. It is the same as mauve pictures of razor blades stuck on Claremont toilet walls calling to action a ban on Female Genital Mutilation when no-one at Claremont had discussed FGM, nor wanted to, so the stickers aka posters were just flies on a brick wall, meaningless and ignored.
What should have been a massive session was not advertised properly. Most people who use Claremont go of habit to art and dance, poetry and mindfulness sessions and would not have been persuaded to book up for a political session where their opinions may have been sought. Bravo Claremont for the attempt because rising up is a new cohort of women who do have opinions to voice. Those are once the teens of the sixties and we know what those days were like.
So through cleverly managed questions from Vicky we answered questions like “Are you surprised at the statistics about women in the UK?” “What would you ask Theresa May regarding the state of women in the UK today?” There was an air of gloom as we thought about the state of women as the back-bones of family life or indifference from those who decided not to speak and that was sometimes interrupted by passionate speeches based on experience and practical realities.
Remembering that the participants’ ages ranged from 55 to maybe 79 then there was a shed-load of wise old women.
There was the recognition that active seniors are actually working as constant childminders in a country where child care costs are spiralling upwards as families negotiate fixed term working contracts and the unpopular zero-contract hours with low pay. Housing costs in London have not been addressed by any government recently.
We learnt about women in prison, the appalling statistics about death and the history of those likely to offend and the double punishments where women are moved to different prisons away from their children.
Phyllis headed up that May was to be interviewed on LBC radio that same evening so we proposed questions to her. It turned out that the lines were busy at 7pm but I led a Twitter feed.
The session was indeed marvellous because it was passionate, because we let each other talk, because we came together in a setting other than one where the table held water-paints and scrap paper, because as older women accommodating one older man and ourselves, we recognised our worth.
Who could have ever known that in a street where diplomats’ cars have right of parking, where in an adjacent street a vibrant market hollers, sat in a building which needs a lick of paint and a toilet refurbished , that in a hall needing care and attention older people were listening and learning, thinking and considering, sharing and talking,
It was what it was. Thank you, Claremont.