Last year I went to a 90th birthday party. Bob had sent invitations to nearly everyone in the family, and people came from far and wide to be there. It was held in the big hall of a local Rugby Club, with a barbecue style buffet. There were around 60 of us, of all ages, from little toddlers to Bob’s girlfriend Etty, aged 93, and their mutual friend, aged 100. Music played, the disco lights twinkled, and we sat around large round tables in no particular order. Bob and his party mostly stayed sitting comfortably at their table, while the rest of us went over to them and to one another. After the ‘happy birthday’ song and the little speeches, gentle waltz music drifted across the floor, and Bob and Ellie got up and led the dance. When the music became a bit more lively Bob returned to his table, but Etty stayed on for a while longer, dancing happily to the faster beat. We all gave them a round of applause. We also had quizzes of all sorts, and some materials were distributed to each table.
I thought about Bob’s party when I read Elaine’s post on our Facebook page. Elaine is planning a 70th birthday party in a church hall for people in their 70s and 80s (mostly churchgoers) who have previously celebrated occasions like this with a barn dance.
She said, ‘I’m hoping to find something that will encourage people to move around a little and mix so that they don’t end up just sitting at the one table with the same few people. Barn dances were a great way to do it in the past but they would be too energetic for these people now. Many guests will be people who have been friends for many years but who don’t meet very often because they have moved away from the area, so it would be good to help them to circulate and catch up at the tea party.’
Elaine wonders if others have ideas that would help. My colleague Janet Jacob was one of our care home managers, and is still involved in activities with older people. (She runs Brain and Soul Boosting for Seniors’ Sessions, for example.) So I asked her, and she said, ‘What about putting some printed quiz sheets on each table? People sitting around the table could do the quiz together and the answers could be given at the end of the meal. The subjects for the quiz are endless! It could be about anniversaries and birthdays, or something like having pictures of the Queen at various stages of her life and guessing their date order. These would get people talking around the table. (There could be small prizes for the winning table).
‘If it’s going to be an afternoon tea, there are lots of facts and figures about the etiquette of tea; how you should stir the tea for example. There could be some lovely cards with all these facts on placed on the tables to promote discussion. The other thing I have done at special functions is put a printed Scripture verse inside After Eight wrappers, or Elizabeth Shaw Chocolate Mints. This proved to be a delightful surprise and also encouraged conversation as people shared their verses with each other.
‘I also think they should be given the opportunity to dance, as some of them would manage and others would enjoy the music. Listening and watching is all part of the pleasure of attending a dance. Because of the musical side of dancing, maybe a music quiz would be appropriate- guessing this tune.’
Getting to people to circulate and mix at parties can be a challenge whatever their age! Perhaps Musical Chairs, to slow music?
Perhaps you have experience of organising an event like this? Or have ideas to contribute? Please post here, or on our Pilgrims’ Friend Society Facebook page!