It all began when I turned sixty. My junk-mail now included adverts for Zimmer frames, stair lifts and comfy slippers. People would come up to me and say, ’Are you still writing?’ or ‘Are you still kayaking and hillwalking?’ Yes, yes, yes! Admittedly, the physical activities were now happening on a more modest scale, but I had realised that – too often – because of the weight of negative expectations, so much potential waiting to be released on retirement and so many ambitions that could be fulfilled in later life come to nothing.
I began to think that what we need is positive role models for active and creative ageing, particularly in a society where those over sixty now outnumber those under eighteen and where the UK population over seventy is projected to more than double in the next thirty years. Looking at statistics like these, it seems clear that our economy will not survive unless we stop regarding our older citizens as a burden and start see their potential as productive and useful people whose maturity, greater life experience and insights are valuable assets. A society that is better for older people is better for all of us. To address the problems and the opportunities of older people benefits the welfare of our society overall.
I didn’t act on any of this until my mid-seventies when I received an invitation from Anne Gallacher at Luminate. Luminate is a creative ageing organisation who run a diverse programme of activities to increase creative opportunities for older people in Scotland and Anne encouraged me to participate in their programme. Inspired by this, I began looking for role models of creative and active ageing and became aware of the Times-Sternberg Award, given every year to someone over seventy still making a positive contribution to society. I interviewed eighteen of the winners and runners up, which resulted in a book: The New Frontier: Making a Difference in Later Life (ThunderPoint 2019). This was not published until nearly five years after its inception, but in the meantime, I followed up with Autumn Voices: Scottish Writers over 70 Talk About Creativity in Later Life (PlaySpace Publications, 2018).
Before this event, Larry Butler – the editor and owner of PlaySpace Publications – encouraged me to set up a website to support and further the aims of both these books. In May 2017, assisted by Jim Convey, the webmaster, the website ‘Autumn Voices’ came into existence, using part of the promotion budget from the funds provided by Creative Scotland to write the book. In August 2019 we received further funding from Creative Scotland specifically to develop the website, and then backing from the National Lottery’s Awards for All to cover the year 2020-21, enabling us to expand our development team.
We have come a long way since May 2017, thanks to all supporters, well-wishers and contributors. We will continue to develop Autumn Voices, introduce new ideas and improve the website to promote and encourage creativity in later life as best we can.