DAGE Part II

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Sharon Haward works for DAGE, Deptford Action Group for the Elderly, a charity which provides a pensioners’ daily pop-in centre and a charity shop which recycles used furniture to sell it on for affordable prices. Since 2015, Sharon also runs the café Rough & Ready to serve the community of Deptford. The funds raised are used to look after the Deptford elderly. Sharon set up DAGE with her husband Harry Haward, a real Deptford character who was born here, loved Deptford, and died here in November 2016 aged 83. Since then she’s been struggling to keep the charity running, encountering many obstacles and severe cuts to funding. At times, she feels like giving up as it’s simply too hard to keep going when you keep hitting brick walls, but she won’t let the obstacles win. She tells of her experience:

“Me and Harry used to run a nightclub called Cheeks on Deptford Broadway, this was in 1997, and Harry always looked out for the elderly and put on big party nights for pensioners. The business wasn’t going well though over the last 2 years and then I saw something on DAGE in the South London Press. DAGE already existed, had 5 members and was run by an 80-year old lady in a wheelchair. She was going to shelve it so we rang her to see if we could take over the charity, and she agreed. We found an empty shop on the High Street, which was absolutely derelict. Just to make it inhabitable cost £11,000 with a local building company (they don’t exist anymore today). We rented the premises and made an agreement with the owner that if our Lottery bid was successful, he would have to sell us the space for £90,000. He agreed as no-one expected our application to be successful but it was and so he had to sell it to us for the agreed price. We got a Lottery Grant of approximately £250,000, which paid for the full refurbishment and the set-up, which took 3 months.

We have a pop-in space at the back, we offer free tea, coffee, cakes, no membership fee, and in the evenings I go out to collect donated food from Marks & Spencers and hand it to the pensioners. We also used to do 5 outings a year to the seaside and 2 big parties a year. All the food, tickets and transport was free. We have won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, and other awards for recycling as we do furniture pick-ups to then sell for affordable prices to the local population (see image below).

Harry Haward 03Image kindly supplied by DAGE.

The council had always supported DAGE in the past, but in 2014 they warned us that there was going to be a cap, and that they would reduce 25% maximum of our funding. In the end, they took it all away, everything of the £40,000 we had previously received. Apparently, they wanted to fund other projects and we were told ‘the council has no funds left’. We appealed but without luck.

The consequence of this was that we had to let a member of staff go as we couldn’t afford her anymore, but we promised to re-employ her if we find other funding. At that time Harry started to get very ill, and I had to spend more time sorting out the charity’s affairs rather than being at home with my ill husband. It’s all very sad, especially when you have devoted your life to caring for others. Before Harry’s death, I had been a trustee for DAGE for 15 years and had never earned a penny. After Harry’s death I had to get paid a little salary, after all I couldn’t live on thin air. I do the book-keeping, the food in the café, I manage the shop, I sort bags of clothes we receive and bring them to DAGE, and I sell on e-bay – it’s so much work.

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Until January 2018, we still had a bit of Lottery funding but that’s run out now. We still have some money from smaller trust foundations but we need to think about our future. We also try to support ourselves with the furniture but there’s not really any profit because we sell for very cheap and there are costs involved as well. It’s also very hard to find volunteers – most stay for a day and then leave. It’s hard work and they don’t always realise just how hard it is when they sign up. The café also doesn’t make much profit, so it’s hard work to try and keep it all going. I haven’t even had time to grieve because I’m so busy.

Harry was an exceptional man: when MRSA, the hospital bug, first came out, he protested with others outside Lewisham hospital to have better hygiene policies. Because of that, Lewisham hospital was the first hospital to have the hand gels everywhere. He also protested about the reduction of blue badge parking and made sure there were more blue badge parking spaces outside Lewisham hospital car park. He always looked out for pensioners, but never saw himself as one of them, not even at the age of 83 when he died.

Harry Haward 04Image kindly supplied by DAGE.

The pensioners bear the brunt of all those cuts. The outings to the seaside and the big parties have stopped as we don’t have the funds to do this anymore. Many have lost partners and while some of them still have family who look after them at weekends, sometimes DAGE is the only reason why they might come out during the week. DAGE fights against isolation and it is a safe space for pensioners to be in. We used to have the Pension Service come down to help pensioners with their benefit claims as a lot is not claimed as they don’t always know what they’re entitled to. Also, the police community support officers used to come to see if there are any issues the people want to raise. So, without these services, these people are isolated and not cared for. There is a lot of money out there, especially for the young and the arts, but not for essential services to look after the poor. The young should have every opportunity there is, but one day the young of today will be needing those other services and they won’t be there anymore.

For example, the Lewisham Handyman scheme has been closed, where somebody would come around to fix little things like changing a light bulb or installing a smoke alarm. The pensioner would pay for the bulb or the alarm but somebody would install it for them. So many people don’t know where to turn anymore and just get fobbed off all the time. For old people it’s getting worse all the time and the money is going to the wrong places. What about those big developers – don’t they have to bring back money to the community? Where is it? And I can’t bear the word ‘affordable’ because it’s not social housing and is only affordable to an elite few. Yes, Deptford needs a face-lift but scrapping all the old and bringing in the new is just creating an elitist society.”

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If you would like to donate money to DAGE to keep it going, please go to: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1013449

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DAGE Part I

DAGE pensioners’ pop-in – Monday to Friday 10am-1pm

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The pensioners I’ve been meeting for tea and cake on Wednesday mornings at DAGE, Deptford Action Group for the Elderly, have been coming to DAGE for many years. Women such as Brenda, Carol, Barbara, Kathy and Winnie met at DAGE many years ago and have since become very good friends. DAGE on Wednesdays is an important part of their week and the familiarity between them is clearly visible. Many of DAGE’s more local regulars such as Winnie and Dee come daily to the social meetings made possible by on-going funding support. Whilst many come on a Wednesday because of the market on Deptford High Street, DAGE very much promotes the other days of the week for visiting as well and many make a point of coming on the least busy days.

Kathy, who is 74, explains that DAGE has always been a place for information and where it is possible to find out how things work. Kathy highlights that the information sharing is so important for elderly people by telling me about the difficulties she had with renewing her bus pass which had got damaged: “They wouldn’t do it in the shop anymore, and on the phone I couldn’t understand the advisor. I don’t know how to do it online, so I couldn’t renew it. Thankfully, a nice bus driver helped me. Older people don’t know how to do things anymore because everything’s online now or over the phone, and there is not enough information about how things work. We will also have to pay the rent online from this year. So far, we’ve paid our rent in the post office but we won’t be able to do that anymore. I have no idea how to pay online and I’m worried that I’ll be robbed of my money because we lose control over it with doing things online. The elderly are simply left behind, and we don’t understand how these systems work. All this online business is getting to me, it’s very worrying”, she says.

Kathy tells the story of how she became part of DAGE about 15 years ago. She just walked past, and someone asked her if she wanted a cup of tea, so she went in. What she has always liked and why she has kept coming back is the information she gets at DAGE. “People from the NHS come to inform us about services and art students from Goldsmiths have worked with us too. At times you wouldn’t be able to get a seat on a Wednesday it was so packed. Harry [an active pensioner volunteer who died in November 2016] used to be the driving force behind this – he used to tell us our rights and shout and swear at the MPs over the radio on DAGE’s weekly radio programme, telling them what’s what! We really miss him!“

Harry Haward at DAGE. Photos kindly supplied by DAGE.

DAGE also organises daytrips and parties for the elderly. Everybody at the pop-in reminisces about the great trips and activities over its 17 years. “We have been on many outings and we also have a couple of parties a year. We always look forward to these events, they have always been great days!”

Harry Haward 05Photo kindly supplied by DAGE.

Barbara is 83 and was born in Deptford. DAGE is very important to her. “I’ve been here since it’s opened and I’ll be here until it closes. This place gets me out, otherwise I’d be sitting at home looking at my four walls”, she says. Barbara is a regular on DAGE’s outings to the coast, and she also remembers the day when they visited the Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace. “We had afternoon tea. It was such a lovely day.” Barbara and Kathy also pay tribute to the Job Centre (a pub on the High Street) which has provided a free Christmas dinner for DAGE’s members. They also recall being invited to a school through DAGE to tell young kids about how they used to live in the past, which they really enjoyed. Another highlight of theirs was the outing to the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in the summer of 2016, where they admired the wildlife, ladybirds, trees and other nature. “It’s such a lovely space with lots of kids”, they said. They were horrified when I informed them about the approved planning application to build blocks of flats on the garden land, and to demolish Reginald House to make way for more flats.

“Why are they demolishing perfectly good houses?”, they ask. “Buildings in the past were built to last and to provide for everyone. These flats were spacious, and the aim was to provide decent living conditions for everyone. These new flats, restaurants and bars are all for the wealthy and not for the poor or for people like us.” Luckily, these ladies live in a secure place and don’t have to worry about having to move or about housing in general. “But we know that others are not in this position, and that a secure home is a luxury in today’s standards.”

They can’t imagine how the younger generation can afford to pay the rent, and how people manage to live in flats. “With houses”, Barbara says, “everything was more friendly but now, you never see the people who’ve got to go to work; flats are not friendly. The developers don’t think about the people living there. They just find a gap somewhere and build on it, it’s ridiculous, and it ain’t for the poor!”

“And what about pollution levels?”, Barbara continues. “If everything is so built up, there is less space for air to circulate and so we have more pollution! I live on the 9th floor and there are 4 flats with children on the same floor and they’re stuck up there, you never see them, it’s not healthy! We used to see children playing outside. Now, they are locked up in the sky without fresh air.”

Kathy also worries about the younger generation and what they’ll be missing when they get older if DAGE (and other community spaces) could not continue to function. With a loss of funding to DAGE from the council due to their general budget cuts, Kathy asks: “What are people gonna do when they’re older? Places like this won’t exist anymore.” Thankfully DAGE does not rely on a single source of funding and Tim Hamilton, DAGE’s Project Development Officer, has received monies from some 30-plus funders each year to see DAGE continues. However, due to the huge funding shortfall from a major source, DAGE are currently fundraising to try and cover their full running costs and to ensure DAGE continues to provide services for the elderly. If you would like to donate, please click on the link below.

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1013449

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Later I meet Eku, Carina, Ola and Laura who come here every Wednesday after communion in All Saints Church in New Cross. They always used to come here “to see the lovely lady [Diane who used to run the pop-in], she’s very good to us.” The four have been coming here for 14 years and they said it would be a great loss if DAGE could not continue. They have been to many of DAGE’s parties and outings and stressed the importance of such events for elderly people. They also have fond memories of Harry. “He was such a nice man!”

Finally, I speak to Diane, the lady who ran the pop-in for many years, serving tea and cake to the pensioners, and handing out bread, rolls and other food stuffs donated by Marks & Spencer. Like most members at DAGE, Diane pays tribute to Harry who volunteered everyday for DAGE and remains a shining example of the benefits of volunteering at DAGE in befriending more isolated pensioners and signposting those elderly who need advice and support.

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Diane explains that she was an employee of Harry’s since the age of 18 and worked for him in the nightclub, Cheeks, The Harp pub, among other places. Diane worked for DAGE for many years following the centre being opened in 2001, with the support from various charitable funds. The pop-in is also assisted in its running by volunteers who Diane used to supervise. They mostly befriend but can also signpost as Diane kept the centre stocked with leaflets on agencies for advice and support. Sadly, Diane’s time at DAGE has come to an end: her work was supported by the Big Lottery funding which ran out at the end of January 2018.

Diane falls into the category of women born in the 50s whose working life was extended unexpectedly in 2011. Diane tells me to look at WASPI – Women Against State Pension Inequality – a group of women born in their 50s whose pension age was raised in 2011. They have demonstrated on the streets to be allowed to retire early without success. Diane is angry at the government for the fact that she cannot retire for another year. “I got the letter, I can tell you the exact date: May the 6th 2019 is when I can retire, when I’m 65 and 5 months old. On my 64th birthday I will have to sign on and look for a job! I’m tired, it’s time to put my feet up but I can’t. I’ve worked since the age of 15 without a break! That’s 50 years I’ve paid into the system and who is going to employ me at the age of 64?”, she asks. The pop-in is now run by volunteers, and on Wednesdays, Scott is there, Harry’s son who is just as devoted to helping the elderly.

It is clear from conversations with members at DAGE how important it is to look after the elderly. Places like DAGE, and active volunteers such as Harry, really help to combat social isolation, one of the top social epidemics for older people in this country today. Visiting DAGE has highlighted the need for the government and other funders to keep places like DAGE alive so they can continue their good work.

Garry’s Deptford Story

This is the second guest contribution for this blog, written by Garry Lengthorn. I met Garry’s dad and wife at one of the Friday lunches for pensioners at the Armada Community Hall. I was speaking to them about Deptford’s regeneration, and Garry’s wife, who used to accompany her father-in-law to the Armada, suggested that I speak to Garry as he was born in Deptford. This contribution to my research came out of this conversation. Text and images by and from Garry Lengthorn.

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My Deptford Story

My name is Garry Lengthorn and I was born in April 1965 in Watergate Street Deptford. I can truly say I am Deptford born and bred because, being the second of two children born to Maureen and John Lengthorn, my mum was allowed to give birth to me at home! No 4 Rowley House in Watergate Street!

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Here is an early picture of me in the Pram basking in the outdoors!

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Bordering on the edge of the Royal Borough of Greenwich it would be all too easy to say that I was a Greenwich child, but I have always been proud of my Deptford roots; an upbringing that was tough for my Dad, as we lost our beautiful mum to cancer when I was only 7 and my brother 12!

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In December 1969 we moved to Chester House overlooking Sayes Court; with shops below and a fantastic park in front of us it seemed a step up from Watergate Street; it was a shame that we lost my mum within a few years and she never had the chance to enjoy our modern flat and childhood life.

My early school life at Hughes Field was largely a pleasant experience, albeit interrupted by my mum’s passing. I had a great set of friends who all lived either local in Watergate Street or the surrounding streets of the Dacca Street and Sayes Court estates.

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We were always looked after; when I was about 9 or 10 I got collared by the Sayes Court park keeper for being in the park playing run outs when the park was closed; one of the older teenagers politely asked the keeper to let me go when he was threatening to call the police; it seemed polite at the time!

Football started to become a big part of my life playing 20 a side football every Sunday in the gravel pit at the end of the park with all the lads from the area, playing football in Sayes Court with my Dad and brother, as well as going Millwall with my Dad, brother and Uncles; fantastic memories I will never forget!

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As I developed in to my teens and attended West Greenwich boys school, it become clear that Deptford was a much tougher place to grow up as a teenager; avoiding fights and trouble was something you learned very quickly; an instinct I hope I still have today. Unfortunately, many of my friends at West Greenwich did not have that solid home life behind them and I am sure are now either in prison and or struggling to cope with what life threw at you; I consider myself very lucky, but also realised early on that a solid family background was a key part of why I survived these early years.

Once I left school with a solid, but uninspiring set of qualifications I attended South East London College after qualifying for a paid computer course; from this I got my first job as an IT engineer and this has kept me in work to this day.

Deptford was a tough area to live during those early 80’s, as I left school and started working life; the community spirit was there in patches, but families were struggling under the cloud of a Thatcher government, the real threat of a nuclear war and a general mood of depression; cars regularly being broken into and the threat of burglary real, as I found to our cost on at least 3 occasions. Deptford High Street and the market were in decline and pubs were not nice or safe places to drink.

Most of my close friends left the area and started to live in the surrounding areas or the Medway towns. Deptford was certainly not somewhere you choose to live, and it was only getting worse.

During the early nineties I met with my wife and, as she come from South West London, it was inevitable that we moved out. It is fair to say that I was not sorry to leave.

My Dad to his credit remained in Deptford (my brother had already moved out to Kent during the eighties) and never had a bad word to say about Deptford going about his usual way of life; if he ever felt threatened he would just give someone a piece of his mind; something he continued to do in to his eighties!

During the nineties and noughties, we continued to regularly return to Deptford to see my dad with our kids and stay over; this typically coincided with a family party, a game at Millwall or just a visit to see my Dad and enjoy Manze’s Pies and Mash (of course with Liquor)!

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But then we started to see the changes; gradual at first with the old Surrey Docks being redeveloped and then parts of the Pepys Estate, as well as the Deptford Market and station areas. Now Deptford was being touted as the new Shoreditch; edgy, but the place to be seen! The old job centre that I had visited on one or two occasions become a cool bar and all of a sudden, a number of the original pubs become Kitch or Hip to be in. Little Nan’s became a hip cocktail bar to go to and suddenly Deptford was becoming popular again.

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It is easy with all this going on to look back and say what a shame Deptford is changing! It is easy to say that with rose tinted glasses if you don’t remember the bad old days of the eighties when it started to become a very unsafe place to be.

Deptford has always had a fantastic community spirit; this started in the war when people’s houses were bombarded by German bombers, but it continued in the sixties when the council decided to demolish some fantastic properties and build a concrete jungle, as well as the eighties when parts of the UK and South London were becoming very gloomy places to live.

People were proud through all of this to come from Deptford; to think they had survived their childhood and come through it. They always looked after the old folk; even today the community spirit is amazing.

Do I think Deptford is better for the changes we are now seeing? I have mixed views; as I said earlier Deptford was a dangerous place to live in the eighties and certainly you had to be very lucky or have a good solid family background to survive this; today the developers are all over the area and no doubt property prices will go up and people will be forced out; it will be very bad if this happens, as once again this will put a huge strain on the community spirit.

I have confidence that no matter what happens that Deptford will remain a great place to live, as it has seen many changes since the turn of the 19th century and it has always survived. Yes, it will see a whole new community enter the area, as it has done in the past, but I suspect the mix of old and new folk will ensure that the underlying spirit continues.

I also personally would like to see Deptford prosper again and I hope this includes its rich heritage of ship building and dockers. With the plan to re-generate Convoys, it is likely that the rich heritage of shipbuilding will be celebrated once again, so Deptford should become the home of this historic boat craft rather than a popular estate agent!