New book tells incredible stories of elders from Hackney’s diverse communities

Gubsie Agolia-Aspinall. Picture: Jeremy Abrahams

Gubsie Agolia-Aspinall. Picture: Jeremy Abrahams - Credit: Archant

The incredible life stories of elders from Hackney’s diverse communities have been documented through a commemorative booklet and a series of short films.

Harold Rubin.

Harold Rubin. - Credit: Archant

Over the last six months, staff from Connect Hackney, a six-year programme tackling social isolation and loneliness, have been speaking to people about topics such as love, work, change, prejudice, loneliness and pride.

The subjects include disabled people, those from the LGBTQ+ community, and people originally from Africa, North America and Asia.

The booklet, which will be launched at an event on Thursday, is a follow-up to last year's successful debut project Windrush: Stories of a Hackney Generation.

Harold Rubin, 92 and originally from New York, has been in Hackney since 1970.

Four Aces founder Newton Dunbar in Fox in a Box escape room in the old Four Aces venue.

Four Aces founder Newton Dunbar in Fox in a Box escape room in the old Four Aces venue. - Credit: Archant

Reflecting on a life lived to the full including a career as an interior and architectural designer, art gallery owner and part time journalist, he said: "You can do quite a lot if you start at 17 and reach 92."

Remembering his childhood in the Bronx he continued: "I experienced some pretty awful things as a child which is unfortunately what one is seeing here now - with attacking people and being abusive and insulting."

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Anita Ceesay from Senegal, a midwife at Homerton Hospital for 26 years said: "Hackney is a wonderful place to grow old. I've grown old here and I'm still growing old. I'm British now, I'm a Hackney girl… and here is home."

Connect Hackney is a £5.8million scheme funded by the Big Lottery fund's Ageing Better programme and run by Hackney Council for Voluntary Service. It hosts a range of activities helping people over 50 to meet people, socialise and have fun.

John Nolan from The Glory.

John Nolan from The Glory. - Credit: Archant

After a career in broadcasting in Nigeria, Gubsie Agolia-Aspinall came to Hackney. She said: "The more you sit in the house, either feeling sorry for yourself or feeling hesitant thinking: 'Oh, will I fit in? What will they think of me?', the worse it will get. Just go out, meet people, be yourself, it doesn't matter what people think of you, you know who you are.

"In London they seem to think that once you're old, that's it - you're finished, they push you to the back. Whereas in Nigeria, as in most African countries, as you get older you are respected more."

Also featured in the project is Newton Dunbar, who arrived from Jamaica in 1956 and went on to launch Dalston's legendary Four Aces nightclub, which attracted the likes of Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan.

He said: "London was completely different to what it is today, unemployment was rife - there was still some of the past ravages of the war.

"My first job was on the railway - I started at King's Cross. It was all adventure time, because I was exploring my own capabilities. It was completely different to what I was used to."

Newton and his friends began exploring the nightlife on offer, but with the West End far away and expensive, it usually meant suburban basement clubs with nothing but a jukebox.

Then they spotted a basement up for rent in Highbury Grove and decided to turn it into their own club, named after their favourite cigarette brand back in Jamaica. Soon Newton was left running it on his own, and it was so successful he was able to move it to a bigger venue in Dalston Lane.

Talking about the LGBTQ+ community in Hackney, John Nolan from LGBTQ+ pub and performance venue 'The Glory' said: "Suddenly venues started opening up in Dalston. All the fun was around here, all the parties, all the kids, all the energy, all the fashion, all the music, it was all going on."

Tony Wong, of Connect Hackney, said: "The more we understand about each other, the more opportunities we create for barriers to be broken down and for new social connections to be formed, reducing levels of isolation and loneliness amongst our older population, one of the most at risk groups.

"I hope by sharing these stories, people living and working in Hackney are inspired to continue to celebrate the diversity the borough holds amongst its older population."

The launch takes place at Frampton Park Baptist Church from midday to 5pm. Book your place here.

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