The power of the silver screen
There are a variety of ways to combat loneliness and isolation, but we could always do with more. That’s why Age UK Lancashire put on an ambitious event in Preston to bring older veterans together through the magic of cinema. We spoke to one of the organisers to find out more.
Coffee mornings get people socialising, and dance classes are a great way to keep fit. But what if people are reluctant to get involved because they find the idea of meeting people intimidating, or aren’t as mobile as they once were? What events could be created to cater for them? These are questions that Christine Mottley, Team Leader for the Lancashire Older Veterans Project, had been trying to answer.
“We’re always looking at different ways of bringing our older veterans together,” explains Christine. “A lot of them live on their own, and coming to places where they don’t know a lot of people can be off-putting, so we wanted to find something to suit them. Sometimes outings and trips are not always possible because of mobility issues, so we wanted to find an activity, other than an afternoon tea, that might be possible in the local area.”
Is cinema the solution?
Christine’s search led to her learning about the Open Cinema, a network of community film clubs. Operating in Lancashire and partly funded by the NHS, Open Cinema is aimed at tackling social isolation. “We thought it was a wonderful idea,” says Christine, “because it’s something that would bring people together and overcome mobility issues because everyone would be in a seated environment. We therefore contacted Open Cinema and they were all for being involved.”
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A team effort
Christine continues: “We’ve really drawn on the experience of the Open Cinema, because they know how to put these events together in different venues. They organise the films and pay for the licenses, as well as providing the screens and a really good sound system, because some viewers are hard of hearing.”
The RAF Wings Centre in Preston, where the Lancashire Older Veterans Project holds their monthly lunch club, also participated in the screening. “It really was a case of joining forces,” says Christine. “Of expertise and people coming together.”
What to watch?
The first screening was a double bill. “We wanted to let people choose from a list of classic films,” explains Christine, “but we didn’t want to presume that those coming would want to watch a military film.”
That list of films on offer included such favourites as:
- Blithe Spirit (1945)
- A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
- The African Queen (1951)
- The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
- The Ladykillers (1955)
- Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965)
The most popular choice was The Ladykillers, the Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness as the sinister leader of a gang of bumbling thieves that meet their match in the form of an elderly widow. What’s more, the screening was accompanied by a cup of tea and some biscuits.
For the second film, meanwhile, Christine and her team decided it would be a good idea to choose something with a broader appeal, so as to open it up to the rest of the local community. As a result, the overwhelming choice was a ‘sing-a-long’ version of the smash hit musical The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman.
More to come?
At the moment, according to Christine, this is a one-off, but it’s a pilot that may well lead to a series of events in future. Perhaps they could be adopted for veterans groups across the country, too? “A cinema is a safe space where people can meet people and quickly go from isolated to included,” says Christine. “It would be great to do more.”