'We Started a Nightclub For Seniors'

My mom lived in Hackney, London for most of her life, but then my dad died, so she was really lonely and isolated there. I had moved to a town in England named Crawley, so she sold her house in London in 2003 and bought a house right around the corner from me.

Mom made a couple of friends when she moved, one of whom was a next door neighbor who was in her 90s. I suggested that I host a tea party for her and her friends, and bought some old crockery and a cake stand at a thrift store, made some nice food and gave them a little present each. I couldn't believe the joy it brought them. But when people are quite isolated and someone does something special for them, it's so significant.

They absolutely loved it, so I did it a few more times. Then my brother, Simon, said that we should do it on a bigger scale and bring the concept to lots more seniors who are in the same position.

Simon was able to get us a small amount of funding, so we held a pilot event in Crawley in a church hall, and called it The Tuesday Club. We decorated the hall in a vintage style, bought thrift store crockery and lovely white tablecloths. The seniors came in formal dresses and tuxedos and we had two or three musical acts performing. About 20 seniors turned up to the first one, but once they had been, they were telling their friends how great it was.

We ran a number of Tuesday Clubs and then got five years of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund. My mom knew we got the funding, which was really lovely, but sadly she passed away before we started our newer version of the event.

We eventually got a bigger hall in Crawley, painted it and gave it a bit of love. Then Simon came up with the name: The Posh Club. It's meant to be tongue in cheek, because guests come out and get dressed up. It's for working class people or people who aren't able to do so many lovely, special things but can come along to this wonderful afternoon.

Seniors were coming along and they were loving it. There wasn't anything like it, and there's still really nothing like it. But it does take quite a lot of funding to put it on, because there's a lot going on. We run The Posh Club on Tuesdays for 30 weeks of the year and charge each senior £5 ($7) to come along, but the vast majority of costs are covered by funding.

A lot of people call it a nightclub in the daytime, because we close the curtains and have music and acts performing. The lights are low and the seniors get up and dance, sing along and enjoy themselves.

After a while, we decided we wanted a Posh Club in Hackney because Simon knows a lot of artists and people in the area who could help and perform. And of course, Mom used to live there. It's perfect really because it's in a church—with a very accommodating vicar!—just around the corner from where she used to live.

Simon lives in Brighton now and there were a lot of people there who wanted to be a part of The Posh Club and hold one there. So we now have Posh Clubs in Crawley, Brighton, Hastings and in Hackney in London. Some Posh Clubs are more raucous than others! Hackney is absolutely mad.

I now compere The Posh Club in Crawley and greet everyone at the door. I know most guests now, and I make a table plan so I know where everyone is sitting and can make sure everyone is comfortable.

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Volunteers take jackets and then our seniors are taken to their table and served teas and coffee. At 12.15 we take round sandwiches, cakes, scones and jam while a pianist plays some gentle music. Just before our first act comes on we have started doing a "maracas dance", where we go around the tables dancing with maracas, and the guests have maracas on the table so they can join in. While the acts are performing, I will go around the tables with a teapot to collect their £5 ($7) entry and give them each a raffle ticket.

We try to have performances catered to seniors, and have a lot of tribute acts, Elvis is a really popular one. We recently had an old school juggler called The Gentleman Juggler, it was very gentle and fun, people loved that.

Just before the main act comes on, each senior gets a glass of champagne. So they're sipping their champagne watching a performance and get to dance if they want to. What better afternoon is there than that?

Our rule is that you can't come in if you're under 60, unless you're a carer or a senior's guest, though we don't encourage lots of younger guests. Someone came recently who was new and was going to be 60 the following week so of course I said they could attend. Now and again, we get someone who is "underage" and I'll have to decide. But obviously it's needed if they are asking, so we will allow it.

One of the Christmas cards we received recently had a note in it that stuck in my mind. It said: "You bring the sunshine on a Tuesday." This lady lives on her own, so she's quite isolated. For a lot of people, The Posh Club is the only social event they have each week.

You could say that we are saving the seniors in some way, but they are also saving us. We get so much out of it. I know I do. I've grown so much from doing The Posh Club, so it's a two way street really.

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This is my full time job, I eat, sleep and breathe The Posh Club. But I also have two daughters and four grandchildren and the wonderful thing is that I can fit it around my life.

We've had quite a few couples who have got together at The Posh Club and stayed together, and so many friendships have begun. Lots of people who may not have had any friends or had a very small friendship group now have loads of friends. It's a little community.

Sadly, we've just lost one of our guests; he was the epitome of a posh clubber. Brian was such a wonderful character. He didn't have any children and he and his wife used to come along together, until she died . Then Brian met someone else and they used to come to The Posh Club together, but after a few years she also died. He was so bereft, but he's been the most wonderful person. He would come in all sorts of outfits and would bring all these weird and wonderful vegetables to The Posh Club so we could raffle them off.

Eventually he actually met someone else at The Posh Club. He was in his late 70s and I think he realized he only had one life. A week before he died, I spoke to him and he said was going to be at the next Posh Club, but he sadly died the day before the event. I knew he had cancer but I just thought he would go on forever. He was wonderful.

We are running out of funding in March 2022, so we're applying for more and keeping our fingers' crossed that we'll be lucky, but we'll carry on somehow. It would be great to be funded by the government so there had to be a Posh Club in every town. Wouldn't that be lovely? But the personal touch and attention to detail is so important. It can't become run-of-the-mill.

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People have such busy lives, but it would be great to have more younger volunteers so they can see what a difference it makes, and realize how much it's needed and wanted.

It's just so sad when people are alone. But then the seniors come along and they're so happy. That makes us happy because we know we're doing something that brings sunshine into their life.

My mom would be so proud, and so happy. She'd be first in the queue to come along, just like she was before.

Annie Bowden and her brother Simon Casson are the founders of The Posh Club. You can find out more at theposhclub.co.uk or follow them on Instagram @the_posh_club.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

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