Interview with H

Julie invited me to come down, that’s how I found out about Claremont. I wanted to join as there are lots of interesting things taking place and opportunities to make devices to help you out, like the device I made for cutting bread or cutting circles out of paper. The first group I came to was the Craft Group with Julie, she talked me into coming. Julie turned up to be my minder and make sure I didn’t get into trouble. I come on my own now.

If I didn’t come here I’d be locked up in my room which is only 15ft sq, so it’s nice to get out. I had my room to myself until recently but now I share it with a little mouse. I discovered a shop around the corner [from Claremont] which sells tools you can’t buy anywhere else. For 15 years I repaired antiques and bits and pieces I find – I met John Wayne. I used to work part-time polishing metals – not a very healthy business.

I’ve been evicted 2 or 3 times – they didn’t like my large collection of wood. I lived in Highgate Woods for 2 or 3 years and I’ve lived with St Mungos for 3 years.

Other than Claremont I don’t go to any other centres – I’ve had the opportunity to but I didn’t go. Everybody seems friendly here, I have no enemies. It’s a nice place. It’s nice to be with other people. If I didn’t come here I’d stay in my room. Coming to Claremont has improved my health. I feel better about things.

I lived in the same place for 54 years. When my parents died everything got difficult. I collected wood and had filled the house. A nasty lady came by and said I deserved to have kerosene poured all over me and a few days after that I had an accident and got badly burned – that’s where I got all the burns from. I got evicted after that. They had to clear the house as I’d filled it with wood, the whole house and the attic. It took them 10 full days to clear the house apparently. They didn’t like the wood. They took all my tools and bits of wood; they had taken me years to collect. I got evicted from there and then 2 or 3 other places after that, before living in Highgate woods.

I’ve regretted not learning to dance. In the evenings from about 6 until midnight I listen to classic FM in my room, they have some good radio programmes on.

Interview with J

I joined Claremont in the summer – end of July or August. I had been through a couple of tough years. We all go through times when things are tough – all you can do is go through this. It is important for older people that they belong to somewhere like Claremont – it’s an intelligent place not decrepit, you are treated like human beings not old souls.

This place is saving the National Health Service an incredible amount of money, because instead of taking the tablets, we’re here. Claremont has benefitted my health big time! I’m disabled and having problems and pain all the time; all of us getting older have problems which so often get so much worse sitting at home on our own.

Most importantly Claremont has helped me physically. I haven’t slept all night because of pain. And that got me thinking: what would I have been doing today if it hadn’t been for Claremont? Last night I couldn’t lay on my side, I had pain in my spine and then I get into depression. I often think what would I be doing if I wasn’t here? I’ve got other local community centres but if I’m honest they are full of moaners. I’ve found them very limited and very enclosed in their world. Here you focus on what you are doing, on a show or end product – not on ailments or age – you are constantly moving towards something, there is a goal, you are not just focussed on ailments. It’s hard work but you are working together, with each other, supporting each other when you are getting on a bit. What made me bring up last night was that I was lying there thinking I am going to dance. The teachers are very kind, there is no pressure and it made me move more than I could have done. The classes are great fun.

The art class was absolutely incredible. I’m not an artist, I’m no good at painting: I’ve done some good things, I’ve also done a lot of crap! Again, you are always moving towards a goal. Just like with writing, there’s no way you can write without thinking: ‘someone may read this’. It’s great fun but there’s always a little bit of ego involved. In the gallery seeing our work up had a very moving effect on people – seeing your work up on the wall was amazing, and sharing to see what other people had done.

To be honest I was stuck with my writing – I started writing my autobiography in January 1972, it’s been really hard and I’ve had massive problems writing as I’m dyslexic and I have massive difficulty reading and writing. Being a creative person allows me to get away from the shitty parts of life. I’ve never read any books so everything I write comes from me. I’ve given up correcting it, I just write it as it is in my head.

My painting for the art class came from a nightmare I had, it stemmed from the news story with Elizabeth who was abused by her father and trapped in a dungeon, that made me ill. So I sat myself across the other side of the room and thought: why is this upsetting me so much? And I realised I’ve been trapped in my own emotional dungeon for 34 years; it was incredible to discover that about how I feel. Painting brings out the emotions – that’s gone now. I have now written about Elizabeth. I have gone back 34 years. It all started in 1962 when I started my own businesses: a marriage service. I was the youngest and only woman to start an escort service. There was a lot of police suspicion but I couldn’t have done it without having 100% respect for the people I worked with all the time.

It’s nice if you dance well. The teacher feels pleased and you feel pleased. It’s all about sharing and communication, they are good words. When I came to the ballet class I’d never done anything like ballet before in my life. There was such a friendly atmosphere, a warm and friendly welcome. I’ve been to other community centres when I really thought I ought to get counselling, I had lots of nervous energy but they did absolutely nothing.

I was surprised seeing a woman in her 80s doing dancing and things – she was a great dancer. I think it’s a lovely place. When you get older you lose your power and people don’t listen to you so much. When you lose your power you can lose your importance. And if you don’t feel important you can lose a bit of self respect. It’s important to feel you belong. There’s a fulfilment in what you are doing here.

I wouldn’t be able to access services if they were at a higher cost. I feel absolutely limited with money – everything all the time costs money. I feel very limited with money. I was brought up to get on with it; I think the older generation don’t like to ask for more, we like to get on with it.