‘People say: ‘How can you deal with teenagers?’ But try dealing with women in their 70s,” laughs Susan Langford. In an airy room in east London, a group of teenagers and older women are looking at piles of brightly coloured portraits in between giggling and chatting. But it’s not the young girls laughing and teasing their new friends; it’s the older women who are irrepressible.
Langford’s charity Magic Me was set up in 1989 to break down generational barriers through creative projects. It certainly seems to work: the all-female group I meet – ranging in age from 14 to 80 – collapse with mirth when they read back the teenagers’ comments about what they expected the older women to be like before they started a four-month art project together.
“Boring,” one wrote. “Bad tempered” was another favourite – oh, and “snoring when they sleep”. “But we do snore. I snore when I think I’m awake,” points out Roberta, plaintively. “It just seems to happen lately, just all of a sudden … zzzz” – she mimes falling asleep to more gales of laughter.
Brought together once a week for The Moving Lives project, the older women from the borough of Tower Hamlets and teenagers from the local Mulberry School for Girls created an audio-video installation inspired by the collections at the nearby Women’s Library, which, to their obvious pride, was then displayed there. But it’s the new friendships they formed that have proved transformational.