Our Creative Ageing Award winners
A conversation with Anne Marie Robertson, Alive & Kicking
There was a time when nearly everyone had a ‘party piece’. Young and old would dance, sing, play an instrument or recite a poem by heart. It was common before the arrival of a television in every home but as the post-war generation grew up and grew older that form of entertainment became less common.
But there is a group in Springburn, Glasgow that has kept the party going for 35 years. Alive & Kicking was set up in 1988 to provide a place for older residents and others who were socially isolated. And for more than 30 years their concert party – the Red Road Young Uns – has performed in care homes, hospitals, schools and halls bringing joy to both performers and audiences.
Anne Marie Robertson is the current co-ordinator of the charity. She was its first member of staff (applying to be an assistant director) starting in August 1988. She remembers how the idea for Alive & Kicking grew from within its community, spurred on by locals like Rose McCallum.
“Rose was a local woman who had been a cleaner in the Foresthall Home and Hospital (which was itself demolished in 1988) and she hated seeing the elderly people there just sitting looking at four walls, in the same way it had been for her parents,” Anne Marie says.
“She was a ‘thinking way ahead person’ and thought that this community needed something for older people. She wanted a place where people could get together in groups, and enjoy themselves – laugh, chat, move about a bit and also get a nutritious meal.”
Rose established the Springburn Elderly Forum and then set to work to see how Glasgow Council could help with her plans. It took about five years but eventually a former primary school near the Red Road flats (1960s tower blocks that dominated the Glasgow skyline until they were demolished in 2015) was given over to the fledgling organisation.
“The local social work department moved upstairs and the Springburn Elderly Forum and and Disabled Forum went downstairs,” Anne Marie says. “They had a a main hall and a stage area and the gym area so it was a good space and Alive & Kicking was created.
“In 1988 I applied for the assistant coordinator position. I was born and bred in the community so I knew quite a number of people, and they knew me and my family so that helped people feel comfortable with coming to the group.
“Within the first few months we had over 600 members and then it just grew and grew – and Rose kept coming up with more and more ideas, including wanting a concert party, so we got a professional director – Kate McCall – and we got it off the ground in 1990.
(Kate is now in her 90s and has been directing the group for over 30 years with support from a choreographer and a musical director as performance day approaches.)
“They used to take the concert party on the road all around Glasgow so it got a good name and it’s been over 30 years of performing. They now perform a programme of song, dance, poetry and sketches twice a year for members of Alive & Kicking and their families, as well as performing for external audiences including MSPs at Holyrood, local schoolchildren, and residents of local care homes.
“When members say they would like to be on the concert party, you never quite know what you will get. They might say they do a wee bit of singing and then you hear them and you’re amazed because it’s talent lying dormant. For the dancing it’s amazing the coordination that some people have and learning the lines for the skits. It is talent that they never thought they would use again.”
Alive and Kicking also established a diverse number of activities for its members. “We got a keep fit tutor and line dancing tutor and got carpet bowls going. Depending what people were really interested in, you would maybe get people come once a week just for carpet bowls and then you would get them to stay for something else,” Anne Marie says.
“People have grown up with the organisation. Now we have people that are maybe in their 70s and because I’ve been here that long myself I remember their mothers and fathers … and people love that, they love that someone remembers so much about them.
“Families definitely encourage the older relatives to come. COVID has changed how people get referred to us, but locally doctors who feel a patient is dealing with depression from being on their own will often say to try Alive & Kicking.
“The years have gone like lightning really. All my nieces and nephews have all grown up with it – my three wee nephews were in the concert party shows. Other people in the concert party would also maybe bring a grandchild and we would do a wee part for the young ones where they could integrate with the older generation, which is very important.
“We have members who seem much younger than their years – there is one woman who is 95 but you would think she was in her 70s and I think it’s because they are still loving what they’re doing – they don’t lie down for anything.”
Having created such a strong presence across 35 years, Alive and Kicking has not been free of the funding worries that plague so many community operations. They have lost their hub and are hopeful that another might be found where everything can once again happen under one roof, so that classes and groups can once again get running and anyone dropping in can discover the range of what’s on offer.
“A lot of our members now are socially isolated and so we encourage them just to come and get out of the house. And then there’s a bit of music playing, there’s a bit of chat and they become a different person. If members need to go to hospital they will be desperate to get out so they can come back to their club here and their families can relax a bit also knowing their relatives are among their peers.
“We are a unique organisation, because of the concert party, and everything else that we do. Alive and Kicking gets you out of the house, there is always something going on: birthday parties, professional people coming in, music or dancing. So many members get all dressed up, lipstick on and best clothes like they are going somewhere. And they are!”