They say “old dogs can’t learn new tricks”, but Jim Webster — one of the tutors at the Streetwise Community Circus, which holds activities for the elderly — insists age is no barrier to taking on fresh challenges. “Older people are more confident about what they like and don’t like. It’s harder to get them to step up and try some apparatus, but once they do it, they absolutely love it.”
Graham McFarlane, 64, joined the community circus four years ago. The benefits, he told The Irish Times, are both physical and mental. "There is the mental activity of focusing and, even if you are dropping things, you are getting physical activity. By the end of the class you are genuinely elated and ready for a nap.”
The Belfast-based Streetwise Community Circus has been running for more than two decades. It’s not just the elderly it caters for. It uses circus arts — such as juggling, plate-spinning, unicycling, and stilt-walking — to benefit disadvantaged groups and individuals throughout Northern Ireland. Its team includes some of Ireland's most experienced circus performers who deliver workshops tailored to individual needs, including under 18s, people with learning disabilities, people with mental health problems, the unemployed, and a group for older people (ages range from 55 to 95).
At 85, Ellie Taylor — who juggles — is one of the oldest circus performers in the group. She says the juggling helps keep her agile. “I have seen neighbours sit at home all day … at circus you make new friends and learn new things. It really makes you concentrate and think and, as the saying goes, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’."
ABOVE Learning to plate spin