Picture this and then try to work out what’s going on. It’s a blowy midweek afternoon and we’re in the middle of a spanking-new banqueting suite in Woodhouse, Leeds.
About 200 people are sitting at big, round tables, none of them children and many of them aged between elderly and ancient. There is also a generous sprinkling of younger people who look very public-spirited, if public spiritedness can have a look, which I believe it can, especially if you try to imagine its opposite – a meeting of a campaign to bring back fox hunting or lynch benefits claimants, for example.
The gender and ethnic mix is that of a typical health department information leaflet, where a carefully-weighted random collection of people are pictured smiling inanely to celebrate diversity and other important issues, such as not catching flu.
On a platform at one side of the hall are a lord mayor and a university vice-chancellor and during the afternoon we will also see an alternative comedian/poet called Mik Artistik (possibly not his real name), a close-up magician called Harrison, a plunking of ukulele players (and I know there’s not yet a generally-agreed collective noun for ukulele players, but there should be because they have recently become almost as numerous as starlings murmurating), a local MP who can’t be named for electoral reasons and, most excitingly, Helena Belly Dancer, who in a room containing its fair share of people with limited mobility , moves energetically and elegantly round the tables like a Duracell bunny on speed.
Give up? Well, it’s the 20th birthday celebrations of the life-enhancing Caring Together in Woodhouse and Little London, a charity for older people which is not celebrated as much it should be, given that life-enhancement, at all times and especially in lean times, becomes almost as important as food banks or preserving the NHS.
Caring Together (of which I’m a member, even though I look far too young) organises trips, walks, talks, courses, discussions and other staying-alive activities possibly more important than the winter-fuel allowance. The afternoon’s entertainment was provided by the Woodhouse Festival committee (of which I’m also a member, though a far less useful one than my partner, Lynne) and by the Caring Together members, because nobody over the age of 60 should need entertaining. We can entertain ourselves, although good food and entertainment never go amiss.
The celebration also marked the retirement of Cherril Cliffe, who had managed Caring Together since its birth and, in terms of energy, organisational flare, fresh ideas and balancing competing demands to make things work, is the mental equivalent of Helena Belly Dancer.