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The UK’s First Gay Old People’s Home To Open Within Three Years

“There won’t be any net curtains.” The organisation behind plans to build a care facility for LGBT elderly people speaks exclusively to BuzzFeed News.

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Within three years, Britain could have its first elderly care home for LGBT people.

Within three years, Britain could have its first elderly care home for LGBT people.

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In plans shown exclusively to BuzzFeed News, an “unashamedly ambitious” project with an “iconic architectural design” for up to 150 residents is already in the development stages.

Tonic Housing, the organisation behind the venture, is currently seeking to secure a site, either in London or Brighton, to begin catering for the more-than-a-million LGBT people over the age of 50 in Britain.

Similar homes have already opened in Germany, Sweden, and the USA, and facilities in France and Spain are imminent, but there are as yet no residential provisions in the UK aimed at the LGBT market.

James Greenshields, one of the four directors of Tonic Housing, tells BuzzFeed News that the idea came to them as they began to consider their own futures.

“If you don’t have your own children, and if you have fractured family relationships, which is a possibility, then you would not have the support networks that many older people count on,” he says. “So I thought, ‘What would happen to me?’ And then, ‘Well, what is there in the UK?’ I was really taken aback that although there are organisations for older LGBT people, in terms of care homes there is nothing at all. It was a shock. The need and the demand is out there.”

Tonic Housing’s plans are “unashamedly ambitious”, Greenshields says, and the building itself, a specially designed new structure catering for LGBT residents inspired by the plans for the LGBT care home in Spain, is intended to be an “iconic, statement piece of architecture”.

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“The Madrid one had a very large glass frontage,” Greenshields says, “and what’s appealing about that is that so often you can identify older people’s housing because it looks a bit dismal and frumpy. But the one in Madrid felt like they wanted the outside world to come in, and that’s important.” There will be no net curtains, he adds, unless residents want them in their own rooms.

As well as single or two-bedroom apartments (the latter providing space for for additional nursing care), there will be dining options, gardens, a fitness and business centre, and a range of entertainment spaces.

“We want there to be a sense of it being an LGBT community hub, regardless of age,” Greenshields says, “so it would be a space where people would come because there might be a film club, exhibitions, or activities that would appeal to the LGBT community.” Drag queens may also be on hand.

“In the Berlin one, they had a restaurant and bar with a cabaret corner and a stage, so we’d hope to engage residents while also making it of interest to the wider LGBT community, so people would come to see a good show.”

Publica, an urban design and public realm consultancy, has been working alongside Tonic Housing to develop their ideas. Publica / Via publica.co.uk

As a result, Greenshields says, people of different ages would visit, enabling residents to stay connected with younger people. To avoid the home being a “ghetto”, heterosexual older people would also be able to live there, but the balance would always be at least 51% LGBT.

Greenshields and his co-directors have visited some of the existing facilities for LGBT seniors around the world. But it was “the Berlin one”, Lebensort Vielfalt, which consists of 25 flats for LGBT people of all ages, that cemented their determination to turn their architectural and business plans into reality.

“There was one guy we spoke to called Peter Sibley, who was British,” says Greenshields. “His background was in the theatre; he was quite a flamboyant character, with painted nails, elaborate stories, and a stage name: Rita the Ruin.

“He was in his early seventies and with failing health. He also identified in himself a wider vulnerability, a fear of going into a mainstream home. The fear had driven him, I think, to some ill health because he was so nervous of what might happen. That was really revealing. He said if there was an equivalent in the UK he would come back. This was someone who was almost in exile.”

This is Peter Sibley talking about his experiences in Lebensort Vielfalt:

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But most elderly LGBT people are not able to go to Berlin or Stockholm to live somewhere they feel comfortable. Many, instead, are in mainstream care homes where attitudes from not only other residents but staff can prove intolerable.

A recent study by Stonewall, the LGBT rights organisation, and YouGov found that a quarter of staff in health and social care have heard colleagues make offensive remarks about LGBT people in the last five years, while 10% (and in London, 22%) have heard colleagues say that gay people can be “cured”. Almost three-quarters of staff say they have received no training in how to respond to the specific needs of gay patients.

A study by Stonewall and YouGov from 2011 found that half of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people over the age of 55 would feel uncomfortable coming out in a mainstream care home, and 60% didn’t feel GPs, social services, and housing providers could meet their needs.

“When we’ve asked the management in many of the mainstream care homes we’ve visited how many LGBT residents they have, in several, the answer has come back, ‘None,’” says Greenshields. “Statistically, that’s just very, very unlikely, so what that indicates is people are going back in the closet. There’s something utterly tragic about individuals who may have been involved in winning greater freedoms then finding themselves having to hide who they are.”

Having secured initial funding for research and development, Greenshields hopes to have found by Christmas a joint venture partner, which could be an organisation that currently provides mainstream elderly care provision. Tonic Housing also plans to secure land for the project within nine months, and within a year to apply for planning permission for the building work to begin.

Publica / Via publica.co.uk

Design sketches for Britain’s first LGBT elderly care home.

Tonic Housing is focusing its hunt for a location principally in London and the Brighton area – it has identified a possible plot just outside Brighton but is “open” to other regions. Greenshields hopes the home will be the first of many, a blueprint for similar schemes around the country that also influences “current mainstream provision”.

Tonic Housing also plans to provide domiciliary care specifically for the older LGBT demographic. This would allow LGBT-trained care workers to come to people’s homes, rather than having to move into a residential facility.

But initially, Tonic Housing’s prime focus is the care home. Greenshields sums up the spirit of the project in a slogan, perhaps, for both the elderly and for LGBT people: “We’re not going to hide away in a corner.”

Book Review: The Journey Home

The Journey Home

 

By Dermot Bolger

Penguin

 

 

 

The Journey Home by Dermot Bolger is an exceptional novel from one of Ireland’s leading contemporary writers.  The author, with the release of this title, has been recently nominated for the Irish literature prize in the Irish Times/Aer Lingus awards.

One can immediately see why.

Mr Bolger, to coin a phrase, is a master of modern-day grotesquery in that he portrays a horribly vivid picture of Dublin life as seen through the eyes of his principal characters: Hano, Shay and Katie.

The former enjoys too much lavish drunken debauchery with is soulmate Shay; whilst the latter has a sordid past of solvent abuse and robbery.

Briefly, Hano meets Shay whilst working in an electoral office; the two begin drinking heavily together and become best friends. Hano gradually places Shay on a pedestal. The latter moves to the continent, returns, and is eventually murdered by Hano’s ex-boss: the shady (homosexual) Patrick Plunkett (extortionist extraordinaire).  In revenge, Hano murders Plunkett and goes on the run with the outcast and social victim Katie.

Behind all this marvellous maundering is a background of drug abuse, homelessness, prostitution, alcoholism, corruption rape, destruction of innocence, death, and street-fighting (PHEW!).  The whole structure of the novel would make Dickens envious.

Bolger is incontrovertibly a craftsman. Structurally The Journey Home is a delight to behold; for the author incorporates flashback/memory with the present; and manages to restrict the story’s time-span to four days (Sunday to Wednesday).  Further to this his seemingly “out-of-place” passages (in italics) give his work a strong cinematic quality.

Moreover, the characters portrayed in the book are extremely lifelike.  It seems that very few authors around today could mould such moral deviants; such villainous, putrescent scum; as does Dermot Bolger.  I actually sat down after reading this little gem of skulduggery and imagined what type of life, and what kind of people the writer in question has had the misfortune to have known.  The Plunkett brothers are nasty pieces of work.  Patrick is a high-powered sexual deviant; Pascal is a corruptible junior minister. The two, in my opinion, would have battled well against the Kray twins.

The whole tone of the book is one of no hope as the narrator (Hano) struggles with his guilt.  Indeed, this novel could be very easily compared to Jean-Paul Sartre.  It has an essentially existentialist outlook and moves often from one morose setting to the next:

…”But always the fun was jolted out of the night by the interruption of the journey.  We’d sit on the floor around an electric fire, opening six-packs and trying to get back into the happy ambience of the pub.  But slowly the conversation froze back into the endless dissection of work and promotion, character assassination and grudges”…

The book carries on in this vein incessantly.  It can make reading somewhat arduous at times; sometimes strangely interesting at others.

One essential point to note about the Journey Home is that it can shock quite easily.  I issue this very serious warning:  DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PURCHASE THIS NOVEL IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED.  For within this work there are numerous passages of gratuitous violence; bad language; and explicit sex scenes (including a homosexual rape scene).  On the other hand, if you are open-minded these passages are a riveting read:  for they practically drip realism onto the page.  They are also arguably essential to the plot in that they aid the reader to visualise the harsh realities that the author is trying to convey.  Indeed, the author attains his goals in this respect with consummate ease.

The Journey Home, surprisingly, is a refreshing, rather than a depressing work.  It can serve as a lesson to us all on how to avoid the evils of modern society.  The book’s greatest attribute is it’s commentary on the destruction of innocence, and collapse of society (Hano’s family being the prime example of this).

One really wonders if the author leaves us with any hope of salvation from the sordid state that Dublin, and, more importantly, the characters within this novel have got themselves into.  Is It is really their fault thought?……we can only speculate.

Overall, this is a book that will no doubt have you completely enthralled from the moment you pick it up until you put it down.  I strongly recommend its purchase, despite the fact that I previously thought that I disliked this genre.

The Journey Home is worthwhile: not only is it thoroughly entertaining, but it will no doubt stand the test of time as a social commentary.  Just like Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier it is vastly ahead of its time.  The novel has something in it for everyone; and the discerning reader will find it hard not to see it for it’s true worth.

Granted, I didn’t come away from reading it with a sense of catharsis – but I was pleased to discover that my initial perceptions of the book were wholly unfounded.

At its current price it is at least worth considerable consideration.

 

JOURNEY INTO its PAGES IF YOU DARE TO STARE REALITY IN THE FACE.

Me? …..well, I’m going to buy another one of Bolger’s books!

 

Mark McCormack