DAGE pensioners’ pop-in – Monday to Friday 10am-1pm
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!”
Photo 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.
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.
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.