Storyhouse hosted a fantastic new festival celebrating the creativity of Chester’s older communities.
The new festival celebrating ageing creatively was held at Storyhouse in October this year.
The event came about from the ideas of a number of community groups within the city and was programmed by their members working in collaboration with Storyhouse itself.
It featured 12 days packed with music, dance, theatre, workshops, storytelling, films, wellness activities and crafting created by Chester ‘elders’ – some with seaside themes, and with many of the events being either free or with nominal ticket prices.
Across the festival there was lots of opportunities to get creative, whether that be trying something you have done before and have missed, or an activity you have always wanted to give a go.
Festivalgoers were also invited to enjoy some of Storyhouse’s regular weekly programme of free activities including book clubs, board games and ‘chatter and natter’ events.
Storyhouse Elders opened on Monday, 10 October with the launch of a new sensory art installation in The Kitchen.
A Trip to the Seaside! celebrated the heyday of the great British seaside holiday from the post-war years until the 1960s, recalling memories of childhood visits to the coast and its exciting attractions.
The installation, which ran throughout the festival, will include a seaside-themed booth to transport people to their favourite resort and there is also the chance to write or draw a memory on a postcard or create your own special stick of rock.
The Kitchen was also the location for a seaside-inspired Card Craft Workshop on Tuesday, 11 October led by artist Clare Owens. The participants were encouraged to let their imaginations run wild and make a set of greetings cards with items they might find on a beach.
And the theme continued with Seaside Memories on Film in the Storyhouse Cinema where the Blacon-based group Here and Now screened the premiere of its series of digital stories inspired by seaside holidays.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on 11 October there was the chance to enjoy an afternoon of free live jazz in The Kitchen. Popular buskers John Higham (trumpet and vocals) and Malcolm Hogarth (keyboard) have been entertaining the people of Chester for more than 10 years and brought their early jazz era sounds to Storyhouse.
Wednesday, 12 October opened with Childhood Stories Read Aloud in the Storytelling Room. The unique event was inspired by the charity Silver Stories which links children to the older generation to bring a little joy to both, and celebrated the effect that intergenerational reading aloud can have on both the storyteller and the listener.
A Storyhouse Elders Film Special takes place in the cinema on Thursday, 13 October.
Then the Garret Theatre was the venue for Keep on Dancing! organised in partnership with Cheshire Dance and saw over 50s dance groups from across Cheshire joining forces for the first time to share, devise and, of course, to dance.
On Friday, 14 October Haylo Theatre visited Storyhouse with Spice of Life, a funny and thought-provoking piece of storytelling which encouraged conversation and challenged society’s approach to old age.
Haylo Theatre – ran by Hayley Lamb and Louise Harris – is a northwest-based theatre company which uses the arts to engage and explore issues which affect communities.
The performance in the Garret Theatre was followed by a Spice of Life Workshop. It was the perfect event for anyone who loves to meet new people, get creative and tell stories.
There was also tours of Storyhouse throughout the day, run by volunteers and allowing festivalgoers a peek behind the scenes and to find out more about the building and what goes on there.
The Kitchen was the place to be on the afternoon of 17 October when The Gelatos played a live music set. The high-energy, all-singing jazz trio performed jazz from the 1940s and 50s with an Italian twist.
And there was a Silent Disco where people used wireless headphones to tune in to a soundtrack of either 60s pop or 80s rock ballads.
The Kitchen also hosted drop-ins Keep Me Out: Doorhanger Workshop on Tuesday, 18 October. Participants were able to create their own door hanger specifically to give a doctor, nurse or paramedic with functional information.
Then Storyhouse Youth Theatre performers aged five to seven took part in Stories and Drama workshop in the Garret Theatre, with older people bringing a favourite childhood book and prop that represents them.
Young and old were paired together to share stories and create work together under the expert eye of Storyhouse Youth Theatre leader Cassie John-Baptist.
Storyhouse Community Programme manager George West led a Singing Workshop on Wednesday, 19 October, including exercises which help with breathing and posture as well as filling singers with a sense of joy.
Alternatively, Write Your Life Story, an introductory workshop helped participants to collate key moments in their life on to a single sheet of paper.
Real Life Stories, took place in the Garret Theatre, giving the stage to three remarkable older heroes who were discovered by Storyhouse Community Programme manager Nicola Haigh during visits to the city’s day care centres, residential care homes and groups designed for older people.
They were Captain Ken Stacey who spent more than 50 years in the Merchant Navy, Kate Rayner – founder of the Chester chapter of Cycling Without Age, and performance poet Joy France who entered the world of ‘battle rap’ in her 50s and now collaborates with UK rapper and spoken world artist Skully.
Meanwhile a pop-up Makers Market was at Storyhouse during the day, offering people the chance to buy handcrafted items from talented creatives of all ages.
Baby Brahms ran two relaxed Intergenerational Classical Music concerts in the Kitchen on the morning of Thursday, 20 October.
And the Manchester Royal Exchange Dominoes and Dahlias (+Oware!) performed on stage in the Garret Theatre.
The production, led by artist Cheryl Martin, created by older people from the African and African Caribbean diaspora, and with music by Clive Hunte, is part of the Royal Exchange’s Dream Project and is described as “a garden party not to be missed”.
The festival started Friday, 21 October with a Sport and Exercise – Try It Out! speed-dating style session where people were matched with a new exercise, sport or activity to support physical and mental wellbeing.
Hula hooping, mindfulness and taking a ride in a rickshaw were among the diverse events available during the day, and Cheshire West and Chester Council community health champions were on hand to help with any questions people may have about their health.
There was also a Multi-Sensory Storytelling in the Storytelling Room which is perfect for anyone who loves hearing or telling stories with the help of a treasured object.
Finally, on Saturday, 22 October, Storyhouse-based community group Parados presented Ellie and Joe, a psychological drama which propelled audiences from the 1990s to a dystopian alternative reality.
Storyhouse creative director Suzie Henderson said: “Storyhouse Elders explores and challenges the societal perceptions of age and ageing, and the impact of creating and experiencing art in later life.
“As a society we have much to learn from the older members of our community, and creativity is the perfect vehicle to share and connect.
“Storyhouse has always been a warm refuge for everyone. It’s a home where you can find a new passion, meet an old or new friend, share your interests, and discover something new whatever your age.
“This was an opportunity to restart, revitalise and reignite after the pandemic keeping us at home.
“It was a festival to welcome you back in and show you how the arts and culture can maybe give you a much-needed spark back.”
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