With one in three people now set to live to 100, the ageing of our population has major implications for individuals and society.
Yet in our youth obsessed culture ageing is still a topic we find very different to discuss. And rarely ask the question: what will it be like for me?
The Barbican and Wellcome Trust commissioned us to engage a broad public audience to think more deeply and imaginatively about their own ageing and the experiences of older people within society.
What did we do?
Using leading research from University College London, data from the Centre for Ageing Better and interviews with hundreds of people from diverse communities conducted over six months, Unclaimed explores the modern experience of growing older. It asks questions about how society might tackle the deepening inequalities in ageing.
This cross-disciplinary project blended cultural, academic and public engagement practice to explore and create ‘unclaimed’, narratives of ageing in two phases. In the first phase we delivered highly creative workshops with over 10 community groups and participants in LINKAGE-Camden (a gerontology research study conducted in one of the most socially-diverse boroughs in the world) to uncover a wide range of narratives about what it means to age in today’s society. Workshops included designing our own personal scents, animation, cooking favourite meals and intergenerational manicures and art tours.
In the second phase of the project, the personal and philosophical insights of the interviewees and workshop participants were combined with academic research to create an installation in the Barbican’s public space; taking the form of a surreal Lost Property office. From within the space, visitors can interact with objects and explore surprising and illuminating stories and facts. With the help of talking shoes, binoculars that let you see through someone else’s eyes and books that read to you - the often untold experience of what it’s like to grow old in the UK today, and insights into what it might be like in the future, are brought vividly to life.
To extend the reach of the project, we created ‘Unclaimed Conversations’, a pack of cards that encourages intergenerational dialogue on important life themes through exercises and questions. These are being used by families, community groups and institutions in the UK and overseas. The pack is available to purchase at a subsidised rate in the Barbican shop or you can order a copy direct from us.
Open to the public for three months, Unclaimed is receiving an average of 5,000 visitors per week. Over 98% of visitor feedback has been positive with many people stating that they ‘lost track of time’ in the space. The project was named Time Out’s pick of the week and received extensive coverage across print, online, TV and radio, and live pieces on BBC and London Live.