Last night (2nd October) we celebrated Magic Me’s 30th Birthday, in this first of our Director’s Blogs, Susan Langford MBE, founder and director of Magic Me writes about her inspiration to start the charity and the motivation that has kept her going:
Reflections as we celebrate Magic Me’s 30th Birthday
About 32 years ago I met Kathy Levin, of Baltimore in America who had founded an amazing charity called Magic Me. She was in London spreading the word about the power of intergenerational projects.
With a colleague, the late Stephen Clark, I started to try out the idea of bringing young and older people together, using the arts as a positive and exciting focus for meeting.
After a couple of years of learning much, from trying out different activities in schools and care homes across London, we decided to focus on one Borough, and chose Tower Hamlets. In 1989 I also set up Magic Me as an independent charity in the UK, with a small board of supportive trustees.
Back then I was running the organisation from my bedroom, juggling Magic Me with about four other part-time jobs. With no computer, I had files on friend’s computers in various flats around North London and was mostly using a typewriter and running to the newsagent at the end of the road to do my photocopying.
Little did I imagine that 30 years on, in 2019, Magic Me would still be growing and thriving and recognised internationally.
So what has made that possible? And what has kept me working at Magic Me for 30 years?
Most importantly it’s the people. Magic Me is all about people and one of the joys of being part of Magic Me is the extraordinary people I get to meet and work with. The coming together of younger people, older people, artists, singers, photographers and theatre makers…
People of all ages and life experiences whom I have met and worked with over the decades. There must have been thousands over the years.
Some people and their stories have really stayed with me over the years. I want to tell you about one person, Rose.
I met Rose through Magic Me, back in 1990, when she was living in an East End care home for older people. Rose was proud of her Jewish heritage and told me about her childhood, growing up in Whitechapel in a community where all the neighbours knew one another. With large families, small flats and little traffic, children played out, getting up to mischief, roaming local streets and markets.
Rose died when she was 83. I’d only known her a few months, but she’d made an impression on me and I went to her funeral. It turned out to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
I was the only person there. The care home had messed up and organised a Christian burial for Rose, which I was powerless to stop.
Bearing witness for Rose, I was overcome with a sense of how wrong it was that her long, rich life could be denied and stripped away by a system that was supposed to care for her. That a person who had lived at the heart of a community for so long, could end her life so unnoticed.
This sense of injustice has fuelled me and my work and Magic Me’s work ever since. The dignity and value of every individual, remains at the heart of what we do.
Much has changed for the better since I founded Magic Me in 1989, but many issues still remain: loneliness, ageist assumptions and the exclusion of people who are seen as ‘different’.
There is much still to do. And new challenges, not least the climate emergency, which needs new actions and solutions, which harness the energy and will of people across all generations.
The value of activities building intergenerational relationships is now widely acknowledged. In the 1990s we were one of a small number of community arts organisations pioneering creative work with older people. Together we have grown into a strong, diverse sector which, in the last 18 months or so, has seen a sea change at policy level, with new recognition of the benefits of the arts in reducing isolation, boosting wellbeing and generating hope.
1 in 3 children of today’s 9 year olds are predicted to live into their 90s. So while Magic Me projects are designed to bring immediate benefits for younger and older people, they also aim to challenge outdated ideas about ageing.
30 years on Magic Me still harnesses the power of the arts and the power of people, to reimagine and reinvent what it means to age and be old. Please join us on our future journey.
Susan Langford MBE Founder & Director of Magic Me