Leeds' first 'Age Proud' festival encouraging older people to meet friends and take up hobbies again after COVID isolation

As lockdown restrictions have lifted over recent weeks and life has started to return to what we knew 'before' - there is one group of the Leeds community that is ready to get back out there, and shout it from the rooftops.

Sunday, 12th September 2021, 4:45 am

Whether that is a dance class in Yeadon, Leeds People's Choir at The Playhouse, playing the ukelele in Bramley, a yoga session with the Association of Blind Asians in Leeds City Museum or a walk in Crossflatts Park - they all have one thing in common.

They are part of a two week programme designed for the one section of society that has probably felt the effects of the pandemic and lockdown more than most with enforced isolation, loneliness, health fears and vulnerability.

Last year was supposed to be the city's first 'Age Proud' festival to celebrate all the events, activities and opportunities taking place across Leeds and that are aimed at the over 50 and above age groups.

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Dance moves from years gone by and for all abilities get members of the Dance Through the Decades group moving.

However, like thousands of planned events it had to be put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic and the country being in lockdown. Despite, a little apprehension as to whether it was the right time to run it, Time to Shine at Leeds Older People's Forum went with it and have completed a week of events already, with the programme set to continue next week.

The main aims of the project are to promote the wellbeing of older people in Leeds and have fun; challenge the stereotype/perception of older age and turn negatives into positives, and

showcase how many activities there are for people aged 50 plus in Leeds.

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Making the most of the sunshine this week, some members did the dance moves outside at the Yeadon meeting.

Linda Glew is the programme manager.

She said: "It is something we were supposed to have planned for 2020 but that went wrong. We have been a bit tentative about whether we felt it was appropriate doing it as it is for older people, who have been shielding, to come out and be in the same space as each other. But, still following the guidance, we decided now it probably the time to get people to re-connect.

"This is part of the Time to Shine programme and the whole mission of that is tackling loneliness and social isolation, activities that get people out of that and into the communities. The government has been asking people not to come out and it went against the grain to some extent.

"This is about getting people back to communities, connecting with friends again and their passions and getting back to life. They have really had to put life on hold but are at the age where every minute is precious and don't want to spend it stuck inside watching Jeremy Kyle type programmes."

Embracing the disco moves, there was music from all genres to dance to.

As well as a host of events in person, the organisers recognise that there are still many older people who don't feel ready to get 'back to normal' and so the Age Proud festival also has a series of on-line only events or the option to join live events virtually - but added the programme had served to encourage people to venture back out and given them the confidence to keep doing it.

LOPF had secured £6m from The National Lottery Community Fund to reach more than 15,000 older people in the city by 2021 - and the third sector events that are offered in Leeds are contributing to this.

Ms Glew added: "Leeds is really rich in the third sector and community stuff and we wanted to showcase that and let people see how many opportunities there are to do something different and explore what's out there."

Age Proud continues until Friday September 17 and the programme can be found hereShe said: "This is the first time for many going to the city centre, out of their locality, for a year and a half, or getting on a bus. It is a long time and it is quite daunting but they thought they would give it a go and they said it was okay, safe. We want to encourage people to give it a go."

Meeting again, the start of community groups since lockdown was lifted has put a smile on people's faces again.