In autumn 2017, one of our creative producers Rachel Yates started a new project at Chickenshed called The Space Between Us. The project was created to bring together a group of participants and collaborators all over the age of 50 with a group of young people to share and celebrate their differences, commonalities and all the space in between.

Below Rachel reflects on the first phase of the project, and one participant shares his experience.

It was just over a year ago, when I read an article about students in The Netherlands being given free accommodation in an old people’s home. The only rent to pay was in the form of a few hours each week socialising with the older generation. The outcome had been transforming for all the residents, young and older, and the friendships that developed were deep and real and full of laughter, the benefits immeasurable and the impact- life changing.

A concept seemingly so straightforward, practical and humane and yet is this something we could imagine happening here in our country one day? Most would say the gap between the generations is increasingly stretching wider creating loneliness and isolation on all sides, and in recent times It has certainly been an issue highlighted during the post Brexit fall out.

The Space Between Us Project was created for our young people at Chickenshed to address this generation gap, to work creatively with another much older group of people with the hope that in doing so both generations would learn from one another, forge new relationships, artistic collaborations, and ultimately become performing partners.

My mind has been opened to how people of different ages can work well together, an important understanding for everyday life not just theatre.

- Youth Theatre Participant

This year is also the 50th anniversary of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s album and in marking this, and using this as the artistic thrust, the first phase was launched by reaching out for a willing group of over 50’s to take part in this new venture. The response was overwhelming and numbers were well beyond what we imagined. For many of this new membership group, it was the first time experiencing a creative workshop environment such as ours, and this particular process was designed to ask a lot, asking people to open up, delve into their pasts, voice their beliefs and struggles, trust and share. Thankfully they embraced it wholeheartedly. After only a couple of sessions many people discovered the hidden dancer or actor surfacing or produced beautifully written poetry or dialogue for the first time in years! Friendships have already blossomed and feedback has been wonderful.

The most rewarding moment for myself personally was four weeks into the process when we finally brought both separate groups together, ages ranging from 14 to 90. The project had been designed so that both generations would work separately early on and only correspond through messages and letters, swapping memories and offering advice. By doing this their relationship had been gently growing through the written word, so by the time they met they already felt connected and familiar. Personally it felt like a party you had planned for a year, after thinking through every detail, every possible awkward moment that could occur you finally get everyone together, and the house is full of warmth, mutual respect and laughter. The only thing missing was the wine!

Rachel Yates, Creative Producer at Chickenshed Theatre

If you remember the 60s, it’s because you were actually there. And you have lived a lot since then. What did the album mean to you? Can you still relate to any of the emotions conjured up? What would you say to your younger self if you had the chance? Are you still loved and loving now you are 64?

Our group is exploring what we have learnt and experienced, lost and loved in the past fifty years. Using short bursts of music, writing, drama, movement and design, we are experimenting and discovering about ourselves and others. This is all in a safe, relaxed environment in which nobody does anything they don’t want, but guess what, people often find themselves doing things they didn’t expect of themselves or haven’t done for many years. (I was very surprised to find how easily I got the idea of acting an angry man with two other people I had barely met!)

You might come across an old memory, perhaps painful, but you can share it because everyone in the group has some of those. You might realise you should have done more of what you did when you were young - playing that instrument; protesting and standing up for your principles; having a go at something where you are not judged but encouraged; talking to your parents.

And then, you find you are working with the youth theatre - young people who are the age you were when Sgt Pepper burst onto the scene, and so the explorations continue: How do they look to you? How do they see us? How do we connect with our similarities and make use of our differences?

It has been a fascinating adventure finding out.

- Peter Hastings, Participant

Space Between Us Project 2018

Space Between us Programme Trailer

The Space Between Us Project

Photos by Alesha Bhakoo

Artwork by Michelle Thompson