By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
Take a bow, Ageing Well Torbay – you nailed it and pulled off a festival that was both celebratory and commiseratory at the same time.
When the sad news of Her Majesty’s passing reached us nearly two weeks ago, our first instinct was to consider calling off the Ageing Well Festival at the Riviera Centre in Torquay.
But that would have meant that months of planning would have been for nought, and it would have also meant that we would have been letting down an expected audience of around 2,000 people.
Instead, we set about delivering a festival that would be a fitting ending to the seven-year lottery-funded Ageing Well Torbay programme as well as a united community response to the Queen’s passing.
As noted in this column last week what better way to celebrate a life well lived than with an Ageing Well festival?
We pitched it just right, and when the doors opened at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning there was already a queue stretching away from the main entrance, and smiling faces were alive with excited chatter.
For many, it was the first big event that they had attended in more than two years, since COVID had closed everyone’s doors across the Bay, and it was clear from the outset that people were determined to put the misery of those times behind them and enjoy themselves.
Almost everywhere you looked there were animated conversations as old friends were reunited amid a flurry of embraces, handshakes, waving hands raised aloft across crowded rooms and joyous looks.
All the hard work, the difficult decisions and the determination of the organising committee to deliver, were worth it, just for that.
The last time this many people came together to be entertained and informed was way back in October 2019, and as this was potentially the last hurrah of AWT, nothing was going to get in the way.
The halls were positively buzzing. In the arena, the Community Builders had laid out their stalls around a giant map of the Bay to ensure everyone could celebrate their work over seven years, during which they had helped set up more than 600 community groups.
Not only were people given a flavour of what is already available, but they were also left with no doubt that there is much more to come as the Community Builders continue their work and reach out to other age groups in addition to the over 50-year-olds they already work alongside.
Sandy Sparkle, a favourite and mainstay of numerous festivals down the years, brought the forum alive, singing old favourites herself and introducing various musical acts who encouraged others to join in and some to dance.
We even managed a flashmob, despite the best efforts of COVID and injuries to put a stop to it, and the forum erupted as the audience got out of their seats to strut their own funky stuff, as they did again when the combined Rock Choirs from around the region put 100 voices on the stage and shook the rafters.
And then, as if it were the most natural thing to do in these difficult times, the festival morphed into a service of commiseration and celebration of the life of The Queen in words and music led by Torbay churches.
Elsewhere there were talks and demonstrations and numerous information stalls on everything from disabled sailing to friendship groups and local project, many of which have been set up with the help of Community Builders.
It was a busy old day, not least for the numerous volunteers who are currently at full stretch staffing, as well as the festival, the vaccination centre which has now reopened for Winter and some of the books of condolence that have been available around the Bay.
Without doubt, it was all worth it. As people filed out at the end of the day, they were all expressing the same sentiments – ‘well done’, ‘brilliant’, ‘first class’, ‘thank you’, ‘haven’t had so much fun for a long time and perhaps most pointedly – ‘please don’t let this be the last one’.
Watch this space. We are working on it.