In March 2008, I attended the Golden-Oldies singing session at Blagdon Park. Golden-Oldies groups have been set up to help older people feel less isolated, by giving them a fun time singing hit songs of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
The groups are the brainchild of local choirmaster Grenville Jones, who noticed the positive effect that singing had on elderly people when a TV documentary brought pensioners together to produce a band called The Zimmers.
The Blagdon Park Golden-Oldies group was the first to be established, and has attracted attention from Canadian and German film crews following reports from the BBC and ITV. Here are some notes that I made when I visited this group.
The session takes place in a small but cosy community room that serves the elderly people who live at Blagdon Park. Some individuals come from further afield and a party from Odd Down are regulars at this weekly event.
Walking into the community room, I heard the clamour of lots of conversations from people happily anticipating the lively renditions. Plates of biscuits and cakes were passed around by the wardens, and the warm face of the Queen smiled over the occasion from a couple of photographs pinned to the wall.
Grenville Jones walked in with a very large ghetto blaster strapped to his shoulder. The machine was plugged in and plastic folders containing the words to many well-known songs of the recent past were given out. Then Grenville abruptly started the session by rushing into the centre of the room and calling out: “Right, good morning!” The first backing track was set to play on the ghetto blaster and about thirty voices filled the air with lyrics by Manfred Mann:
There she was just a-walkin’ down the street, Singin’ do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do, Snappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet, Singin’ do wah diddy diddy…
Other songs followed in rapid succession – Thank You For The Music by Abba, Big Spender by Shirley Bassey, Summer Holiday by Cliff Richard, and many more. Some of the group liked to stand, sway or dance to the music for a time, while the wardens joined in by singing and dancing throughout.
Grenville played a central role, clapping, linking arms with the wardens and calling out instructions – providing the old folk with a stimulating form of entertainment in addition to the songs.
Just when it seemed that we were on course to sing every song in the folder, the hour was up. Grenville gave a short news update and people began to make their way home. Car shares and lifts by taxi are arranged by the Golden-Oldies charity.
A lady named Peggy who comes all the way from Woodhouse Road in Twerton said: “I enjoy all the ‘go-ey’ songs and you can have a bit of exercise.”
The Golden-Oldies have a website at: www.golden-oldies.org.uk.