“I never thought I’d be old, alone and lonely”
The Chare, Castle Dene Shopping Centre, Peterlee – Saturday 14 September 2019
On Saturday 14 September, Castle Dene Shopping Centre, Peterlee was transformed by Sharon Bailey’s Home Alone project. The atrium of the shopping centre was made into a photography exhibition and performance area, which saw over 500 people view Home Alone over the course of the day. The performance focused on an older woman sitting in her living room, alone. She spoke to the audience about her day-to-day experience, an experience that a growing number of older people in our communities face. Her living room in Castle Dene Shopping Centre allowed people to view what is normally hidden from sight open to public attention.
For eight months Sharon Bailey visited older people who live by themselves, stuck in their homes for long periods of time. Travelling across Newcastle, Gateshead and East Durham she photographed and recorded conversations with them, spending hours talking and listening. She also created alongside them, making drawings, paintings, clay works, digital films and embroidery, re-kindling skills they believed they’d lost.
‘Home Alone’ brought these untold stories and images out of the homes and into busy public spaces. The stories are important and they need to be told. We all need to listen. Our Social Care system is in crisis and things have to change.
The living room installation included photographs made in people’s homes and diary excerpts and featured a specially commissioned monologue, written by Catrina McHugh MBE (Open Clasp). It was inspired by Sharon Bailey’s diaries and used many of the older people’s own words. Associate Laura Lindow from Open Clasp directed the piece and the performing actress was Barbara Heslop.
‘Home Alone’ has been funded through an Arts Council England award, Equal Arts, East Durham Creates and Durham County Council and is supported by Newcastle City Council, Search Newcastle, Elders Council Newcastle, East Durham Trust, Open Clasp Theatre Company and Grange Day Centre, Throckley.
‘Home Alone’ is the lived reality for an increasing number of older people. There has been a marked increase in the numbers of vulnerable older people who are isolated and often alone, especially those with multiple challenges.
The changing funding landscape has had a major impact on people’s quality of life. There has been a reduction in local authority subsidy for those qualifying for statutory care services and the criteria for qualifying has changed, so that only those with complex debilitating needs benefit.
Many older people are not getting the help they need and are spending long periods of time at home. The situation has also worsened during austerity because many locally run support services, such as day centres and luncheon clubs, have been cut or have disappeared altogether.
There are growing inequalities, relating to health care and wellbeing. A recent All party Parliamentary report ‘Creative Health’ recognises that in older life health inequalities affect older people’s vitality, mobility, mental acuity and life expectancy and that social and arts engagement can diminish anxiety, depression and stress while also increasing self-esteem, confidence and purpose.
‘Home Alone’ has taken place within three different areas of the region, in communities where older people are facing multiple disadvantages and don’t necessarily have access to social and cultural activities.
Sharon Bailey is an artist and creative producer working within communities across the north east of England and internationally.
Her projects span art, heritage and health and she tells the stories of those she connects with, those living on the edges of our society, creating a space where individuals can talk, make and share. This has manifested itself through both her personal artist-led projects and through projects she has initiated and produced as a programme manager and producer.
She has many years of experience of working collaboratively with people of all ages to create work of quality, which has been presented in exhibitions, as installations, in books and digital platforms and within our public spaces
She works intimately with individuals, spending many hours in people’s houses, community centres, Care Homes, Day Centres and at hospital bedsides. She develops close relationships with the people she works with and her photographs and sound recordings are created in a sensitive and safe environment.
Catrina McHugh MBE – Writer
Driven by a passionate belief that great theatre can bring about social change, Catrina McHugh co-founded Open Clasp in 1998. Originally from Liverpool but now based in the West End of Newcastle, Catrina McHugh has unparalleled experience of working creatively with the most disenfranchised women to create risk-taking, exciting theatre. She was awarded an MBE for services to disadvantaged women through theatre in 2017.