“Old is cool,” say organizers of seniors festival

An exhibition on the Vltava river bank in the centre of Prague has launched a series of events called Old’s Cool. Organised by the NGO Elpida, the annual event aims to present inspiring seniors as role models and change public opinion in favour of old age. The main theme of the festival’s fourth edition is ‘Slow Up’ and the main event, a fashion show of recycled and upcycled fashion pieces presented by senior fashion models, is set to take place in mid-September at the National Gallery’s Veletržní palác.

Jiří Hrabě, photo: Czech TelevisionJiří Hrabě, photo: Czech Television I met with the head of Elpida, Jiří Hrabě, to talk about the Old’s Cool festival, and first asked him to tell me more about the organisation behind the event:

“Elpida is an NGO founded in 2002 and our main goal is to help elderly people to become confident and respected members of the society. We have four main goals: a senior help-line, hotline and crisis intervention service for seniors, caretakers of the elderly and any individual in crisis. On average our senior line helps 30,000 people each year, which is quite a lot.

“The second project is our cultural and educational centre Elpida. The third part of our activities is the quarterly magazine called Vital, currently the most read senior magazine in the Czech Republic. And the fourth part are our cultural events, which also include the Old’s Cool Festival.”

The festival was established four years ago. What is its main aim? It is to attract the attention of the public to your activities?

“Not only to our activities, but also to our main goal, which is to popularise aging and to show people that to be old doesn’t mean to be uninteresting, that the elderly people have a lot we can admire and they have a lot to offer.”

One part of the upcoming Old’s Cool Festival is a fashion show, that will take place later in September, but the different models can already be seen at an exhibition at Náplavka, at the embankment of the Vltava River. Can you tell me a bit more about the exhibition, which is called Slow Up?

“The exhibition at the river bank is an invitation to the workshops and to the fashion show, which will take place at the National Gallery on September 24. It will be all day long, and it is all about old clothes and the possibility to use it in a new way.

Photo: official website of ElpidaPhoto: official website of Elpida “The title Slow Up refers to the fact that nowadays, everyone is in a hurry, and we believe it is good to slow down a little and to look at things from a different angle. Everything can be used once more and can find its new meaning.”

So the models that are going to be shown are recycled from old pieces…

“Yes, the project is about using old clothes in a new way.”

Who is going to present the models?

“The presenters will be women from our Elpida choir, and they are amazing and I think people will love it.”

You established the festival four years ago. What’s the reaction you get from the people at this event?

“The reaction is wow, because it is something not that common in the Czech Republic. We show the elderly in absolutely new context, so the reaction is a positive surprise, and that is the main goal of our festival.”

What else is on the programme of the Old’s Cool festival?

“There is a number of workshops, a lot of debates about the relationships between the old and the young, and there is also an exhibition in Klementinum. It is part of our exhibition cycle called Books are Difficult to Exhibit, about famous Czech designers who designed book covers. And this exhibition will be dedicated to Zdeněk Seydl.”

Please the Trees and Elpida choir, photo: official website of ElpidaPlease the Trees and Elpida choir, photo: official website of Elpida Would you say it is cool to be old these days? How would you describe the position of Czech seniors in today’s society?

“I think it will be, eventually. Every year, 60,000 people in the Czech Republic go into retirement and there are some 2,500,000 elderly people in the country, which is a substantial part of the society.

“I believe the situation is improving. The view on ageing and on the elderly is getting better not just thanks to us but also thanks to other organisations, which aim to improve the situation.”

Are we prepared for the growing number of elderly people in the society?

“I think we can’t really be prepared but the society is changing, it is growing up and getting older, but I think we can’t really get ready for that.”

The Old’s Cool l festival is not your only activity. You have already mentioned your choir established some time ago, which cooperates with some well-known musicians.

“Yes, for instance to Václav Havelka and his band Please the Trees. We have been cooperating for six years. We met Václav Havelka when we had a campaign called Leave My Granny Alone. That’s how we got the idea to put together some ladies and men and to create a choir.

“Originally, we wanted to have mixed choir, but in the end it is just women. None of them has any previous experience with standing on the podium or singing in English. They have attended a number of festivals all around the Czech Republic, such as Colours of Ostrava and Rock for People and I think they are getting younger and younger.”

Was it difficult to get them involved in such a project and are men perhaps more difficult to persuade?

Photo: official website of ElpidaPhoto: official website of Elpida “Yes, especially when they saw that there were so many women. But in general, it is not that difficult, because seniors want to spend their time in an active way, so I would say it is not difficult.”

Another project I would like to mention is called ‘Ponožky od babičky’ or ‘Socks from a Granny’, which has been around for some time and it has been very successful.

“Yes, it is also about recycling, in this case about recycling old wool. We have around 150 grannies all around the Czech Republic. We send them wool and they send us back socks that we subsequently sell on our website. It is a non-profit project.

“We pay the grannies one third of the price and use the second to buy the wool and the third part goes on supporting our projects in Elpida.”

As far as I know, this project also involved grannies teaching young people to knit.

“That’s right. We have several workshops, where older people teach the young ones how to knit, because knitting has recently become very hip. These workshops will also be available during this year’s festival. We recommend anyone interested in these workshops to visit our website, elpida.cz/oldscool to find all the details.”

And do you offer similar courses also throughout the year?

“Yes. For instance in Kavárna pod lipami, at the district of Letná, it is possible to come every Tuesday morning to learn knitting with two older ladies.”

Would you say that the life of Czech senior is very different from hat in Scandinavia or Western Europe?

“It is different from the point of view of money but I think it is getting more and more similar. Because the new generation of senior in the Czech Republic want to live in an active way; they travel, learn foreign languages and they want to stay in touch with the younger generation.”

Photo: official website of ElpidaPhoto: official website of Elpida And is the younger generation willing to stay in touch with seniors?

“I think it does, because if you have a close relationship with older people, you also have a closer relation to your history.”

What are your plans for the future? Are there any new projects you are working on?

“We don’t have any new projects but we want to improve our current projects because we think that they are successful and help people to stay in touch, to be active and they help us to fulfil our goals.”