Too old to care? From ageism to activism

Poster image for Grandad and the pier film. A film that challenges ageism in activism

Older people get a bad rap when it comes to activism. And, you know, creative thinking, technological capability, progressive action, fashion choices, driving (and on it goes). While most organisations now have diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies and programmes to tackle discrimination based on gender and race, ageism is so ingrained in our culture that we often don’t even notice it. It’s one of the last socially acceptable prejudices.

But if you start to scratch the surface a little, the assumptions based on ageist stereotypes start to crumble. Been to a protest lately? If you took a good look around, I bet your bottom dollar you’d spot quite a few faces many media outlets would say are too old to care about ‘future issues’ like climate change.

Ok boomer

In Switzerland, more than 2,000 women, their ages averaging in the low 70s, recently sued their country’s government. They’re arguing that Switzerland has violated their basic human rights by not doing enough to respond to climate change. And in Finland, Activist Mummot – a group of 5000 activist grandmothers are sharing their granny wisdom to tackle climate anxiety and fight for a more sustainable future for their grandchildren.

There is no shortage of big name global activists with more than a few decades under their belt. And the same is true in our immediate communities.

Friends of Leap Reuben + Jamie recently released a film telling the amazing story of Reuben’s grandad and community champion Tom Durrant – aka Grandad Biff. Tom took it upon himself to save and restore a derelict 680m pier jutting out into the sea off a small town on the Isle of Man. Why? For the people that come after. For the future – it’s a people’s pier.

Grandad Biff smiling panoramic shot of the pier with grandad Biff on the beach in front of an easel aging hand painting the pier in watercolours

“How can an 87 year old have anything to do with how it’s going to be in the future?! You can’t. But you can have enough imagination to see what they could do! It’s for the next generation.” – Tom Durrant

The film is described as a wind-swept, tea-soaked, heart-warming story about community, hope and leaving a legacy beyond our years. And the Cornwall screening at the Poly will be hosted by another long time friend of Leap and force of nature – Pat Smith aka Action Nan.

Pat and Tom both prove that age doesn’t define you and can be an asset rather than a limitation. Underestimate them at your peril. Their ambitions and dreams reach way beyond their own lifetime, providing a refreshing contrast to the short-sightedness of our decision makers.

Action Nan fighting both ageism and plastic pollution. Pictured on the beach with her collected plastic litter

Image: Harry Borden

Speaking to Pat, she raised the question – “What does it take to make an individual leave their comfort zone and take action about something that they feel strongly about? It could be an injustice or a threat, to right a wrong or simply because they care enough to want to challenge the status quo.”

“Take me and Tom – two unlikely law abiding pensioners who have made a bit of a fuss over something close to their hearts. For me, plastic and litter for Grandad, rebuilding the pier. 

Both of us have brought about change by stepping out of line – hopefully an army of grey haired rebels will follow in our wake!!”

Film, art, writing etc. can be that spark that sets something in motion.

The storytelling power of film & design

It’s on us as filmmakers, designers, photographers, artists and writers to make sure that these types of stories are told. Storytellers have always shaped culture and sharing these stories of power and hope gives us all something to believe in and rally behind. Pat spoke about watching the Netflix film ‘A Plastic Ocean’ as the spark for her own activism. The creative industry may not be developing lifesaving medicines but what we do is important, all collective movements start with spreading the word.

All collective movements start with spreading the word.

We also have a key role to play when it comes to fair representation of people of all ages. Some small strides have been made in recent years with showing a wider range of ethnicity, gender, body type, sexual orientation, physical abilities and so on but when it comes to age, we’re still falling frequently into the stereotype traps.

  • First things first – are they there?
  • Is there variety in how older people are being portrayed to show the full human experience?
  • Are they being portrayed as capable and aspirational but not unrealistic?
Poster from New Balance campaign showing well dressed older lady in sneakers holding a shopping bag and umbrella

A few resources

  • Yo, is this ageist? Is a site where you can submit questions about ageism and read other’s queries and responses.
  • The Centre for Ageing Better has a free to use age positive image library as well as a guide on challenging ageism in comms.
  • This Chair Rocks has loads of resources for unveiling and fighting ageism. And a book on the topic.
  • RCA report on designing for a population that isn’t getting any younger

Community spirit

Grandad and the Pier will screen at the Poly in Falmouth on November 11th followed by a Q&A with director Reuben Armstrong, hosted by Action Nan. More about the film and tickets available here.

“We have been taking this film to independent cinemas across the country, many have a key place in local people’s hearts. There’s a wide range of repeating issues that coastal communities face in this country, from polluted beaches to overlooked cultural institutions.

To hear the audience’s response watching a film together, it’s something quite special. Cinema as an event – a collection of people gathered together all reacting live to the story simultaneously – that shared experience is something we lost during COVID and it’s important to continue to fight for.” – Director Reuben Armstrong

Contrary to popular belief, life doesn’t stop after 40. The more we facilitate intergenerational conversation, opportunities to meet and friendship, the more understanding, acceptance and joint action will follow. We have a lot of built heritage and beautiful natural environments in this world that we need to be looking after and care for. For now and for future generations.