Belfast Telegraph

Yes sir, I can still boogie: NI charity for elderly turns the tea dance into a disco

Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

It's a disco - but with a difference.

Slipped Disco was created in a bid to tackle loneliness for older people in Northern Ireland as part of events and activities organised by the charity Engage with Age.

It came about after the charity started the PAL (People Addressing Loneliness) project. This was inspired after they spoke to more than 200 older people and asked them about what the charity could do for them and what kind of events they wanted.

A trustee of the charity said she didn't want to go to another "tea dance", nor did she want to go to a "First World War event". She said she wanted to "get dressed up, go out and have a glass of wine and dance the night away".

And as a result the Slipped Disco was born.

The Belfast Telegraph put on its dancing shoes and went along to join the party - and as we arrived it was clear this was certainly no tea dance.

When you walked into the event held at the Black Box in Belfast, you were hit by the buzz of chatter amidst the feel-good classic songs - supplied by DJ Groover.

And it wasn't long before the dance floor was full - and that's how it stayed for the whole evening.

Among those who were enjoying the night was Pamela McCambley who runs an over 60s club in east Belfast.

She said the event "means a lot" to those that attend it.

Enjoying Slipped Disco
Enjoying Slipped Disco
Claire Williamson with two revellers
Enjoying Slipped Disco
Enjoying Slipped Disco
Enjoying Slipped Disco

She said for some of the ladies in her group, they might not have spoken to anyone else that day.

Pamela always makes a point of ringing them after the event to talk about the night so they can let the fun memories live on a little longer.

She said: "They are torturing me, when is the next one, when is the next one.

"It means a lot to them."

Donal Trainor (80) and Gloria McAleese (74) became friends through the event run by Engage with Age after their partners sadly passed away.

Gloria said things like this really help her and others find happiness.

She said: "It makes you happy and the dancing is good and the craic is good.

"They are so generous and it's free, so it's wonderful."

Loneliness is a growing problem as the older population here is increasing - 19% of Belfast's population is over 60 and this is estimated to increase to 36% by 2050.

Loneliness can also have an impact on older people's health - as one study states the impact of loneliness is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

According to figures from 2018, one in six older people may be lonely or isolated.

And shockingly, 25% of those aged over 75 who live alone don't speak to someone every day.

Engage with Age is working to tackle this and are inviting older people to be a PAL - people addressing loneliness.

The PAL project offers a range of activities based on the interests of older people. They also include groups teaching people how to use iPads and smartphones.

Eamonn Quinn from Engage NI told the Belfast Telegraph: "The PAL project came about because we spoke to over 200 older people and asked them open questions about what we can do for them and what do they want.

"Eighty-four percent of them said they want company, social contact, friends - everything was about some kind of social engagement.

"And a lot of research about the impact of loneliness on older people, on medical research states it has the medical impact equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

"People who experience loneliness in later life are more prone to diseases like heart disease and dementia and so forth.

"It's a rising problem, so the PAL project, which this is part of, is to try and address that and to try and seek out how people are experiencing loneliness and isolation.

"PAL stands for people addressing loneliness but the idea of friendship is really at the bedrock of it all. To try and make sure that they are encouraged to get involved with actives."

Eamonn said the results have been great and they have had some "pretty impressive feedback".

He said: "We've worked with people that have experienced isolation because of a medical complaint.

"One woman in particular had pneumonia, she wasn't going out, she said she kind of shut down, wasn't going out, wasn't intellectually stimulated, wasn't emotionally stimulated and the way she became involved was getting involved in a cinema group which was a safe thing to do.

"She then got involved in the creative writing group, then a Tai Chi group and then the IT Group which is a group called the KIT group, Keep in Touch, and that's where older people show each other how to use their smartphones and iPads so they can Skype and WhatsApp and use Facebook.

"And she says it has turned her life around. Now she's in the role where she is almost acting as a volunteer leader where she welcomes people in and asks them how they are.

"Her story is a recurring story that happens on an ongoing basis."

The next Slipped Disco event is tonight at the Black Box from 7.30-10pm.

To find out more telephone: 028 9073 5696 On Facebook: EngageWithAge On Twitter: Engage_With_Age Website:

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