Ageing Without Children Seminar 4th June 2013

Ageing without children seminar

Date: Tuesday June 4th, 2013

Time: 10am – 3pm

Location: Room CM0.012, Moser Building, Keele University, ST5 5BG

This research seminar will explore the diverse contexts and circumstances in which people age without children and some of the key benefits and constraints that childless older people may have in relation to their experience of ageing.  We would like to acknowledge the generous support of the Avril Osborn Award, British Society of Gerontology who funded this study. Details of the speakers are given on the following page.

For further information or to register: Dr. M. G. Ray

Research Team and Guest Speakers:

Research Team:

Dr. Mo Ray, Keele University

Mo is a social worker who practised as a social worker and manager in older persons and adult community care teams for 15 years.  Mo obtained a PhD in Gerontology at the University of Keele and is currently Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Policy and Professional Practice at the University of Keele.  She is a member of the Centre for Social Gerontology at Keele.  Her research interests include:  family relationships in older age; social relationships; improving care cultures in care home settings; social work with older people.  Mo is a Social Care Fellow at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and a member of the British Society of Gerontology Executive Committee.

Sheila Hayward, Counsellor

Sheila is a Registered Senior Accredited Member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, and is a retired university counsellor and trainer.  She has also worked as a staff counsellor in the NHS, and was formerly a teacher and Head of History at a comprehensive school in Staffordshire.  Sheila obtained her degrees at the University of Keele, with an M.A. in Counselling which explored aspects of short-term humanistic therapy.  She has a particular interest in qualitative research, and in the historical aspects of ageing.

Dr. Mary Pat Sullivan, Brunel University

Mary Pat is a social worker who practised in Canada in geriatric mental health and geriatric medicine for 15 years.  She later obtained a PhD in Gerontology from King’s College London. Mary Pat is currently Senior Lecturer in the School of Health Sciences and Social Care and a member of the Brunel Institute of Ageing Studies.  Her research interests include social environments and family structures in older age, dementia and family care, professional interactions with older people and elder abuse.  Mary Pat is also Honorary Secretary Elect for the British Society of Gerontology.

Tony Bunce, Brunel Older People’s Reference Group

During his early school days, Tony was struck down with tuberculosis, but eventually managed a technical college education and subsequently serving an apprenticeship as a tool and instrument maker.  As a result of his many hospital appointments while unwell, he became interested in x-ray work.  While in the Services, Tony trained as a radiographer and radiotherapist and later worked for the National Health Service until his retirement.  Tony now works part-time at the Institute of Bioengineering at Brunel University as a workshop technician assisting with a range of biomedical research.

Guest Speakers:

Robin Hadley, PhD student, Keele University (Keele University seminar only)

Rob is 3rd year PhD candidate in the Centre for Social Gerontology at Keele University, UK.
His present study concerns the life experiences of involuntarily childless older men. His research on the effect of involuntarily childlessness on men has recently been widely reported in the media.

Jody Day, Gateway Women (Brunel University Seminar only)

Jody is a writer and the Founder of Gateway Women, a website and network she set up in 2011 which supports, inspires and empowers childless by circumstance women. She is the author of ‘Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12-Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children’ (due May 2013). A wide-ranging career in the communications sector including PR, marketing, design, branding and public affairs, plus her own involuntary childlessness, prepared Jody to become the spokeswomen for this misunderstood and marginalised group of women. Gateway Women has been featured in The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Times Style Magazine, The Irish Independent, The Sunday Times (Irish edition), The Irish Times and Woman’s Own and is regularly recommended in blogs and online resources worldwide as one of the top sites in the world for childless by circumstance women.

Ageing Masculinities seminar 14th February 2013

Centre for Policy on Ageing and Centre for Ageing and Biographical Studies Seminar 15 in the Representation of Older People in Ageing Research Series:

Studies of ageing masculinities: still in their infancy?

 1-day seminar

Dr Anna Tarrant (Open University), Mr Robin Hadley (Keele University), Dr Jackie Watts (Open University) and the CABS research group at the Open University are pleased to announce a one-day seminar on ‘Studies of ageing masculinities’.

Date:         Thursday 14th February 2013

Venue:       The Open University in London, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden, London, NW1 8NP

           The event brings together scholars from different disciplines to consider the contemporary social lives of older men. Sociological and gerontological research concerning men’s ageing remains piecemeal and under-theorised despite recognition of the gendered nature of ageing and burgeoning recognition that older men and their needs are largely absent and less considered in academic and public rhetoric. In this context, this timely one-day workshop seeks to improve understanding of contemporary men’s ageing by showcasing current research in this area, to forge a multi-disciplinary network of scholars, practitioners and end users interested in men’s ageing, and to generate future research collaborations.

Programme:  Speakers include

Dr Kate Davidson (University of West England),

Dr Paul Simpson (Manchester University),

Dr Kate Bennett (University of Liverpool),

Dr Anna Tarrant (Open University),

Mr Robin Hadley (PhD researcher, Keele University).

Audience:     Academics at all levels, post-graduates to professors and practitioners with interests in ageing and gender. We would especially welcome PhD students.

Price:               Tickets are priced at £30  – students and concessions £20.

Register:        Registrations for this event are now open.  To register please visit our website<> and download a registration form.  You will need to complete this and return it along with your payment to:

Research & Enterprise Events Team, Faulty of Health & Social Care, Horlock Building,

The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA.

If you have any queries about this event, please visit our website:

Winter Fires: Art and agency in old age

A link to the Baring Foundation’s publication of the book Winter Fires: Art and agency in old age can be found on the ‘Links’ section of the website.

Old age haunts the human imagination. Nowadays, it also haunts the politics, sociology, medicine and economics of an ageing world. Art has taken age as a subject since ancient times, giving its unique insights into other experiences. And artists have always shown that ageing does not mean stopping or even slowing down.

Winter Fires explores how the practice of art can change not the fact but the experience of old age. Art confers agency on its creator. It offers a capacity to act in the world by making something that did not exist before.The book is based on conversations with artists of all kinds who, whatever else retirement has brought, are as creative as ever. Illustrated with portraits by Mik Godley, Winter Fires offers an unusual, optimistic glimpse of creative ageing.

Sam Smiles: Thoughts on the four workshops

Sam Smiles:  Thoughts prompted by the workshops

1. The tension between universal and particular qualities. Roughly speaking, if epidemiological and similarly broadly-conceived research is to advise organisations about the needs of people in their last decades, it needs to assume that aging is a phenomenon about which one can generalise. With respect to late-life creativity, Humanities may once have wished to adopt the same tactics for ‘late style’ (when LS simply = old age style), but today Humanities specialists have been taught to shy away from generalities. If we are to contribute to this wider interest in aging, can/should Humanities generalise more, while simultaneously remaining wary about the kinds of effusions that have produced so much lax thinking about late style?

2. Close attention to cultural contexts is one obvious means of avoiding the issue of over-generalisation. Just as Gerontologists don’t restrict themselves to studying the impact of old age on Homo Sapiens, but think of aging in its social and cultural aspects, so scholars in Humanities should approach late-life production with specific cultural considerations in mind. The extent to which old persons (whether ‘creative’ or not) work with/against the expectations about aging specific to their cultural circumstances would be interesting to pursue in greater depth, making use of cross-cultural case studies. In all of this, agency is probably key.

3. More generally, can late-life creativity be positioned as a special feature in the ‘environment’ of aging? For example, is the widely-accepted belief in an inevitable and remorseless decline easier to resist if you are producing cultural goods and working with a positive paradigm – i.e. having the opportunity, even the expectation to self-fashion your last act as a meaningful one? Or, more banally, is decline easier to resist if your creative career was sufficiently successful (in a material sense) for you to remain independent, rather than becoming a medicalised and marginalised inmate of an old peoples home? In either case, can one draw conclusions from this?  Do the arts offer something that might influence policy? Not so much in terms of therapy, valuable though that is as has been shown in the examples discussed at the workshops, but more generally about quality of life? If it could be shown that the old age of creatively-attuned people tended to be less burdensome (to themselves, to their family, to society), any responsible modern state would take steps to invest heavily in the arts as a hedge against the social and economic costs of old-age care.

4. The physical decline associated with old age affects production in different arts very differently. On a sliding scale, you’d have to say that dancers get hit hardest (although I remember seeing Merce Cunningham’s penultimate appearance in London, still finding a way to be on stage when arthritis had laid him permanently low), then singers, musicians, painters, sculptors – probably in that order – all of whom need to compensate for the weakening of fine muscle control and other motor skills and/or eyesight problems. Actors, directors, composers, architects and writers may also suffer from physical deterioration but I don’t think it impinges on their work to anything like the same extent. As an art historian I’m interested – and could have done with more in the workshops about this – on medical analyses, especially changes in perception (e.g. light reception, colour sensitivity, degeneration of eyesight) and other physical alterations that tend to come with age. Analyses of cognitive features associated with old age would also have been very useful to hear about. Beyond the clinical understanding of dementia and other examples of cognitive decline, is there any consensus on the way the healthy mind functions in old age? Is cognitive behaviour in an 80-year old indistinguishable from a 40-year old or is it reasonable to divide adult life, broadly understood, into typical states of mind before and after various climacterics?

5. The discussion around memory in the last workshop does tie in with the idea of the ‘life review’ promoted by many analysts observing older people. And there is a pattern – although it’s not inevitable – of creative late work recuperating earlier productions. Can these phenomena be brought into any sort of alignment? And if not, why not?

6. How can Humanities help Gerontology and allied disciplines?  The big obstacle is that we rarely read their journals and they rarely read ours. Partly this is due to the problem of interdisciplinarity, lack of specialist knowledge, problems with technical language etc.  However, as the workshops have shown there probably is room for a major research effort that can produce results of interest to both communities.



Anthea Tinker’s reflections on the four workshops

Anthea Tinker writes:

Dear Gordon and David,

Thank you both for organising these seminars.  You asked us to provide 2 -3 sentences on what we had learned and I am not sure that I can do that apart from the obvious that I think we have  all learned something about other people’s disciplines.  From the Gerontology perspective if we have managed to persuade colleagues to talk about ‘older people’ rather than ‘the elderly’ that will be a victory!

Perhaps the only other thing I would comment on is that we, especially in the last session, did have a tremendous emphasis on dementia.  I  know that it has long been a Cinderella topic, and is incredibly important, but we do need to remember the majority of older people will not have it.

Thank you and our teams again.

Best wishes,



Radio 3 Essays

In a short series entitled: ‘The Age of Creativity’ a screen writer, painter, poet, novelist and composer consider the effects of ageing upon their creative lives. A lot is touched upon in these 15 minute meditations including the importance of continued interaction with the world for the creative process, the role of audience, the pressure of a lack of time and need for heightened emotion in order to be creative.

The Orange Prize 2012

There has been a mild furore in the press regarding the age of Cynthia Ozick. This is because her novel Foreign Bodies is on the shortlist for this year’s Orange Prize. The author is in her mid 80s. Ozick is interesting on the subject of her age and its irrelevance. She believes that her novel should be examined for its merits without reference to her age. A simple enough axiom. In a recent interview she states: ‘I suppose if a writer publishes a novel at the age of 10 it is worth mentioning, but if one is mature it seems rather irrelevant’ (The Guardian, 17 April 2012). I wonder what the insistent emphasis on Ozick’s age in press coverage demonstrates? Surprise that an older writer might still be creative and relevant? Perhaps later life is not popularly regarded as compatible with fresh insight or the ability to win prizes for creative endeavours? I did not come across any reference to Ozick having a discernible ‘late style’. This is in contrast to a review of Adrienne Rich’s latest collection ‘Tonight no poetry will serve’ (London Review of Books, February, 2012) . Rich’s poems that are made up of fragments, they refer back insistently to her earlier work and are ‘careless’ of audience – all qualities that the reviewer identifies as consonant with a late style.

Message from the website editor


Slowly the website is taking shape.

Please bear with me as I ‘get up to speed’ with how it works and, possibly more importantly, how to work it.

Please feel free to leave comments, make suggestions, and engage with the site.

I have put a few organisations on the ‘Links’ page and if you wish your own suggestions then please send the details to me. My own details can be found on the ‘Contact’ page.

I will try and put new material up as soon as I can, however , I am in the second year of my PhD and if there is a delay it is probably because I’m doing some work-work.

If you want to know about my project then please visit:

Best regards,


Robin Hadley

late life creativity, identity and audience

In preparation for the ‘new old age’ seminars I have been talking to several older artists and architects about their definitions of creativity and the extent to which their continued productivity has affected their sense of self in later life. The profound pleasures associated with creative activity were emphasised and I wonder whether this is linked with the concept of ‘flow’ as detailed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (see his talk on TED) Csikszentmihalyi (1996) proposes that creative work involves a temporary suspension of self and identity. Maybe creativity provides an escape from time and self that is especially valuable in late life? I was struck by Mel Hill’s comment, that playing jazz was less about the money and more connected with his sense that he was not a ‘civilian’. This was echoed in conversations I have had with a painter who emphasised the role of creativity in maintaining his individuality and purpose. He sees himself as primarily a painter / architect and invites us to regard him similarly. In Elizabeth Costello, Coetzee explores issues of identity, time, creativity, ageing and later life (among other things). The tensions and contradictions inherent in ‘creating’ are laid bare, the limits to our abilities to imagine or think and yet the human impulse to continue to do so. At one point Elizabeth notes that she is too old not to say what she means. The architect Will Alsop noted that he no longer feels the need to work with any overt philosophy or ‘idea’, he said that as he ages he feels increasingly liberated to play. David Hockney’s recent exhibition also demonstrated a sense of playfulness, not least with new technology. This perhaps connects with the idea of audience? Perhaps older artists (writers etc) are less concerned with their audiences and with the reception of their work?