Think about it ... living creatively, for life!

Exec­u­tive sum­ma­ry by Sheila Spencer of the Think about it … liv­ing cre­ative­ly for life!’ sym­po­sium and work­shop 28 June 2016.

Designed as a pre-fea­si­bil­i­ty stage of an explo­ration of the poten­tial for Inde­pen­dent Cre­ative Liv­ing — a hous­ing com­mu­ni­ty for old­er artists and peo­ple in relat­ed cul­tur­al occu­pa­tions in the North East of Eng­land. Think about it … liv­ing cre­ative­ly, for life!’ con­sist­ed of a sym­po­sium and work­shop held at the BALTIC Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art in Gateshead.

A pio­neer­ing project, unique with­in the UK, Inde­pen­dent Cre­ative Liv­ing would sup­port inde­pen­dence, life-long cre­ative learn­ing and pro­duc­tion in a safe and sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment with peo­ple of like minds. It would stim­u­late new col­lab­o­ra­tions, and by enabling res­i­dents to car­ry on con­tribut­ing to their local com­mu­ni­ty and to the learn­ing and cul­ture of the wider area, would be like­ly to pro­long healthy and inde­pen­dent lives. 

The sym­po­sium was over-sub­scribed with sev­en­ty-nine peo­ple present. Received as an inspi­ra­tional event, it drew on a wide range of ideas and knowl­edge, and heard from experts in the field from across the UK and beyond. Most impor­tant­ly, the idea behind the ini­tia­tive was enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly welcomed. 

The sym­po­sium

This brought togeth­er peo­ple who had expressed inter­est in the scheme, either to sup­port its devel­op­ment or with a view to becom­ing its res­i­dents, to iden­ti­fy the con­text, gaps in cur­rent pro­vi­sion in the region, what such a scheme might con­sist of, and who might be will­ing to be involved in a steer­ing group to take it forward. 

The sym­po­sium fol­lowed from research car­ried out with­in a small group of peo­ple brought togeth­er by Esther Sala­m­on, a semi-retired cul­tur­al con­sul­tant and orig­i­na­tor of the Inde­pen­dent Cre­ative Liv­ing idea, to see whether it was worth pur­su­ing and to raise funds for the pre-fea­si­bil­i­ty stage. A researcher with­in this small group has put togeth­er a read­ing list of resources includ­ing exam­ples of arts com­mu­ni­ties in oth­er coun­tries, on inter­gen­er­a­tional ini­tia­tives, old­er people’s needs and aspi­ra­tions, and oth­er per­ti­nent research and pol­i­cy. One or two of the group have start­ed to trav­el to see some of these exam­ples and this will con­tin­ue as the project moves forward. 

The read­ing list, the pre­sen­ta­tions from the sym­po­sium and out­comes of the work­shop are now avail­able on www​.cre​ative​liv​ing​.org​.uk 

How the idea came about 

Fol­low­ing a chair’s intro­duc­tion from Sal­ly Thomas, Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ties at HACT (Hous­ing Asso­ci­a­tions Char­i­ta­ble Trust), and wel­come from Emma Thomas, Head of Learn­ing & Engage­ment at BALTIC, the sym­po­sium atten­dees heard from Esther Sala­m­on about the dri­vers for this ini­tia­tive. She described the sce­nario which keeps replay­ing in her mind about the poten­tial for lone­li­ness, iso­la­tion, bore­dom, intel­lec­tu­al and cre­ative stag­na­tion which could come from liv­ing alone at a dis­tance from arts facil­i­ties and the stim­u­la­tion of mix­ing with oth­ers from the arts and cul­ture sector. 

She recount­ed her unsuc­cess­ful search for hous­ing mod­els that would be fit-for-pur­pose for sus­tain­ing a live­ly old age for peo­ple from the arts and cul­tur­al sec­tor, and how the idea of devel­op­ing a hous­ing com­mu­ni­ty in the North East could gath­er pace and sup­port over the next two or more years.

Inspir­ing keynote speakers 

Rose Gilroy, Pro­fes­sor of Age­ing, Pol­i­cy and Plan­ning at New­cas­tle Uni­ver­si­ty, set the scene and chal­lenged assump­tions made about old­er people’s choic­es about their hous­ing. Demol­ish­ing the myth that all baby boomers’ are asset- and income-rich, she high­light­ed that many old­er peo­ple in the cre­ative arts sec­tor do not own their own homes or have a lot of cap­i­tal, and that many home own­ers do not have enough equi­ty to buy into spe­cial­ist accom­mo­da­tion for old­er peo­ple or live in accom­mo­da­tion that can be eas­i­ly adapt­ed. It is often assumed that old­er peo­ple do not want to move, have very small space require­ments, and may be hap­py with some­what unin­spir­ing and uni­form hous­ing schemes. Rose sug­gest­ed that the crit­i­cal ques­tion is not so much where will we live, but how, and how we make use of tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments to pro­vide us with more con­trol over our lives, with agen­das need­ing to be bent, new mod­els devel­oped, and new sources of fund­ing found to devel­op sus­tain­able and imag­i­na­tive hous­ing solu­tions for old­er people. 

François Mataras­so, a free­lance writer, researcher and con­sul­tant in arts prac­tice and pol­i­cy, had as his pri­ma­ry theme the notion that the great prize of adult­hood is the pow­er to make choic­es and take respon­si­bil­i­ty for the con­se­quences, a pow­er known as agency’. He likened a human’s life to a dra­ma, a sto­ry with a begin­ning, mid­dle and end but sug­gest­ed that we seem to have lost the capac­i­ty for hap­py end­ings but rather replaced this with the idea of loss at the point of retire­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly loss of con­trol and agency. Quot­ing the words of one of the toy­mak­er Robert Race’s automa­ta, the idea that you don’t stop play­ing because you grow old: you grow old because you stop play­ing” struck a real chord with the audience. 

Hans Beck­er, a guru for old­er care’ and Chair of Rot­ter­dam-based hous­ing asso­ci­a­tion Human­i­tas, drew on 30 years’ expe­ri­ence of upend­ing care for old­er peo­ple in The Nether­lands to look at how we can change the world of care and sup­port for old­er peo­ple. He spoke about the core busi­ness of the care sec­tor need­ing to be how to keep peo­ple hap­py rather than safe. He described both indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive hap­pi­ness as crit­i­cal for peo­ple in res­i­den­tial and nurs­ing homes, and the impor­tance of a cul­ture which says yes’ to requests and then finds ways to sat­is­fy the needs and aspi­ra­tions of res­i­dents.

Facil­i­ties in homes oper­at­ed by Human­i­tas help to keep peo­ple fit and active, to look after them­selves, to learn new skills, and to have things to talk about. The audi­ence was treat­ed to a short film which showed not just small pets pro­vid­ing a talk­ing point, but also how ele­phants and camels came into a home for its open­ing event, and how even trop­i­cal birds were intro­duced. This gave a new mean­ing to the phrase the ele­phant in the room’! Final­ly, Hans urged us not to stop old­er peo­ple doing things that might be unsafe, if this made them safe but unhappy. 

The work­shop

Some six­ty peo­ple, far more than had been envis­aged, par­tic­i­pat­ed in the after­noon work­shop. Facil­i­tat­ed by Chris­tine Mor­ri­son and Dawn Williams, Sage Gateshead, this con­sist­ed of two ses­sions, the first of which com­prised of a dis­cus­sion about three ques­tions aris­ing from the morning’s presentations: 

  • What sur­prised you?

These includ­ed the ele­phant, and trop­i­cal birds – reg­u­la­tions vs fun, a refresh­ing lack of health & safe­ty cul­ture, the myths about old­er peo­ple and their hous­ing sit­u­a­tions and aspi­ra­tions, how old­er peo­ple have been giv­en the right to make choic­es in the Nether­lands, and the impor­tance of humour. 

  • What res­onat­ed with you?

It’s more impor­tant to keep peo­ple hap­py than safe, auton­o­my and agency, impor­tance of choice and respect, the yes’ cul­ture, how sub­stan­tial change had been achieved in The Netherlands. 

  • What was impor­tant to you? 

Chal­leng­ing health and safe­ty, risk assess­ment, per­spec­tive and per­cep­tion, choice = free­dom = con­trol of own des­tiny, hav­ing agency at the core, devel­op­ing a yes’ cul­ture, new mod­els of liv­ing and hous­ing, being able to say what makes you hap­py or unhap­py, embrac­ing space for cre­ativ­i­ty, and real­is­tic and planned busi­ness approach­es to sus­tain­able econ­o­my for cre­ative old­er peo­ple, using ideas and exper­tise of old­er people 

The remain­der of the after­noon was spent devel­op­ing ideas about what Inde­pen­dent Cre­ative Living’s hous­ing scheme and com­mu­ni­ty would ide­al­ly look like and con­tain. Divid­ed into eight groups, most drew their ideas using dia­grams, some using the ideas for St Gall, a 9th Cen­tu­ry monastery, which was pro­vid­ed by the facil­i­ta­tors. All eight were agreed on the basic premise of need­ing inde­pen­dent liv­ing with com­mu­nal aspects, and it not being a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty but a space opened up to the com­mu­ni­ty at large, and outward-facing. 

Com­mon themes 

The hous­ing

  • A mix of hous­ing, uni­ver­sal, cre­ative and ther­a­peu­tic facilities
  • Small clus­ters of hous­ing units – age-proof, adapt­able as peo­ple age and as their mobil­i­ty changes, of dif­fer­ent sizes, and both self-con­tained and shared spaces 
  • Lots of green space around the housing
  • Com­mu­nal din­ing space
  • Space for grow­ing food, and for animals
  • Facil­i­ties such as laun­dry and lifts
  • Guest rooms

Uni­ver­sal ameni­ties (to be shared with the local community)

  • Mul­ti-use exer­cise space and com­mu­ni­ty rooms
  • Pool, bowl­ing alley
  • Library, cin­e­ma, gallery
  • Bar, kitchen, restau­rant, shops, bak­ery, hotel
  • School, nurs­ery
  • Spir­i­tu­al area

Ther­a­peu­tic facilities

  • Med­ical room 
  • A base for care ser­vices on site

The cre­ative amenities

  • Art stu­dios and work­shops – includ­ing noisy, dirty spaces
  • Gallery
  • Sheds

There were also com­mon views on the need for an excit­ing design, for sus­tain­abil­i­ty (both envi­ron­men­tal and eco­nom­ic), for good acces­si­bil­i­ty to the site, good links with local trans­port, lots of light and run­ning water, and ease of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with each oth­er and the out­side world. The scheme needs to be afford­able to peo­ple with dif­fer­ent lev­els of income and assets, and to engage res­i­dents in iden­ti­fy­ing and pro­vid­ing ser­vices with­in the site. 

Where there were diver­gent views, these focused on: 

  • An inte­grat­ed com­mu­ni­ty for peo­ple of all ages, or a com­mu­ni­ty for cre­ative old­er people? 
  • How large should the com­mu­ni­ty be? 20 – 30 units of accom­mo­da­tion or much larg­er, say up to 200
  • In a town or city, on the edge, or near a village? 
  • How to make it afford­able – some units for sale and for rent, or only for rent? 
  • Include some self-build units of accommodation?

Next steps and recommendations 

The next step will be to set up a steer­ing group to move the ini­tia­tive for­ward. It is clear that there should be no dif­fi­cul­ty find­ing enough vol­un­teers with appro­pri­ate expe­ri­ence and skills to form this from amongst those who attend­ed the event. This group will progress fundrais­ing for the next stage of the fea­si­bil­i­ty study, and com­mis­sion a con­sul­tant or con­sor­tium of con­sul­tants to help to explore issues such as gov­er­nance and legal mod­el, the oper­a­tional mod­el, pos­si­ble sites, busi­ness and finan­cial mod­el and the fundrais­ing strategy 

It is rec­om­mend­ed that the fol­low­ing key issues be clar­i­fied by the steer­ing group at an ear­ly stage: 

  • Which of the peo­ple who have expressed inter­est in the ini­tia­tive is inter­est­ed as a poten­tial res­i­dent, in bring­ing skills to the table, as an aca­d­e­m­ic, or in order to devel­op a sim­i­lar scheme elsewhere 
  • A clear set of val­ues and prin­ci­ples for the devel­op­ment, and resolve some key questions 
  • Whether the scheme will be mixed tenure, just rent­ing or just for purchase 
  • How to gain a sign of com­mit­ment from poten­tial res­i­dents before too long 

In addi­tion, it is rec­om­mend­ed that a list is put togeth­er of exam­ples of schemes already pro­vid­ing accom­mo­da­tion for old­er cre­ative indi­vid­u­als around the world, explain­ing how they were set up and how they are funded. 

Acknowl­edge­ments and references 

Event organ­ised by Inde­pen­dent Cre­ative Liv­ing in part­ner­ship with Age Friend­ly New­cas­tle. For fur­ther infor­ma­tion on Inde­pen­dent Cre­ative Liv­ing con­tact Esther Sala­m­on esther.​s@​lineone.​net

The plans for St Gall’s monastery, the ear­li­est pre­served visu­al­i­sa­tion of a build­ing com­plex pro­duced in the Mid­dle Ages pro­vid­ed by the work­shop facil­i­ta­tors, comes from. http://​www​.stgallplan​.org/​e​n​/​i​n​d​e​x​_​p​l​a​n​.html

Thanks also are due to the speak­ers who pro­vid­ed copies of their pre­sen­ta­tions and/​or texts. 

Sup­port grate­ful­ly acknowl­edged from Baltic Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art, Sage Gateshead, Insti­tute of Social Renew­al New­cas­tle Uni­ver­si­ty, Qual­i­ty of Life Part­ner­ship. Engage FMS, Clous­ton Group and Hawthorns