We decided to create an Age-friendly Neighbourhoods Toolkit after learning that small changes make a huge difference to quality of life for older people. Whilst creating the toolkit we interviewed a variety of older people from communities across Bristol about their experiences of developing their neighbourhoods. You can read about Saada's experience below.
I am an older person, a father, an active citizen, and a gay man, and I am proud of all of those things. It hasn’t always been this way; I came out in my later years, and the transition to where I am now was a challenging process of presenting myself to the world in a new way, stepping into new places and introducing myself to new people. This is why I give so much of my time to my community; I want to be able to offer the same kindness and support that was offered to me when I came out.
I discovered GayWest shortly after I came out, around 10 years ago. I spotted an advert in Bristol listings guide Venue for the Rainbow Café, a weekly drop-in social in Bath for LGBT people of all ages. I rang the number on the advert and had a chat with the organiser who assured me that I would be met with a friendly welcome. It still took me three or four visits to the outside of the café before I had the courage to step through the door, but when I did, I knew instantly that it was the best decision I’d ever made. My husband and I have now taken over the running of the café – we’re up early every Saturday to get everything set up for the 30 to 40 people who regularly attend. We also organise twice-monthly evening events in Bristol, as well as monthly events such as picnics, walks and a Christmas dinner. The group is a lifeline for those who want to meet others who identify as LGBT, but who don’t feel attracted to the mainstream ‘scene’. Most of our members are over 50, and around half came out in the second half of life.
GayWest was formed in 1982, when two local campaigning groups merged. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality and Bath Gay Awareness Group were both very politically active, writing to politicians and organising talks and events to highlight the legal and social discrimination that LGBT faced. These days, the focus is more on providing support to individuals, helping them to feel that they have the social connections they need. It is also still a useful forum for discussing how later life could be made better for LGBT people, such as greater awareness among nursing home staff. Running a group does have its difficulties; it was running at a loss at one point, and we had to increase the membership fee slightly in order not to rely on unreliable charity funding, but thanks to a few very committed members I’m confident it will continue to thrive. One of the brilliant things about reaching later life is that you stop caring so much what other people think of you, and understand better what you need in order to feel content.
One of my happiest memories is a few months after I came out – I stepped outside of the door to my new flat, on the way to watch my son play a concert at a local music venue, and felt absolutely fantastic. It was as if Gloria Gaynor had written ‘I Am What I Am’ just for me. And I wouldn’t be what I am without the people around me.