In this blog, our Digital Communications Officer, Aymie Black, headed out to Dunkeld to visit National Lottery funded Caledonia Housing Association to take part in a gentle exercise class with a very special lady…
I am the opposite of a gym bunny, but when I was kindly invited to take part in a gentle exercise class with Scotland’s oldest woman – how could I possibly refuse? After recently celebrating my 24th birthday, I am in what millennials call a ‘quarter-life crisis’– so I was eager to hear tips from Jessie, 109, on how to thrive.
The gentle exercise classes are just one of the activities led by Caledonia Housing Association’s Volunteer and Befriending programme. The programme, which reduces isolation and loneliness amongst older people, received £149,788 of National Lottery funding to deliver activities such as bingo, exercise classes, and indoor bowls in their residences in Dundee, Fife, Perth, Kinross and Angus.
Volunteer Co-ordinator, Gary Flew, leads the gentle exercise class in Dunkeld every two weeks and told me it’s a terrific way to get the residents moving about and a prime opportunity for them to have a natter with familiar faces they may not see often. The first resident I met was Eileen, 80, – who burst onto the scene with a drama.
“I can’t seem to find my cat anywhere!”
It appears her pesky feline had done a runner, but from her nonchalant tone of voice – it was clear that said cat had been perfecting his Harry Houdini act for a while.
“I didn’t see your cat anywhere Eileen, thought I would’ve seen the wee thing”, exclaimed Ann, 86, as she wandered into the sunroom from the outside door.
Closely following Ann was Morag, who luckily for me took the seat next to me so I could copy her during the session.
Finally, we were all in place, waiting for Jessie to arrive. Jessie Sinclair is Scotland’s joint oldest woman at 109 years old. Before meeting her, I drew up a million pictures in my mind about what she might be like – a bit fragile, limited mobility, not-so-chatty… I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Jessie arrived with the help of her daughter, Iris, who herself is over 70 years old. Jessie looked fantastic – very mobile, very witty and she possessed the skill of making a whole room laugh without trying at all.
The session began with what Gary described as ‘gentle’ stretches and considering I was the bairn of the class – I was embarrassed at how difficult I found them. The ladies were complete naturals at the stretches, ‘clearly they had been practicing’, I conspired. We completed the session with some light cardio. The room vibrated with disruptive noises of cracking, creaking, snapping and popping – all of which were coming from me. Jessie was an expert at the session! She formerly worked in a canteen but with those skills – the idea of her being a gymnast wouldn’t have been implausible.
After the class, I had a chat with Jessie and I asked the question that everyone wants to ask Scotland’s oldest woman: What is your secret?
“Loads and loads of walking”, she purred.
“Oh and great cooking – Jessie is a fantastic cook!”, added Morag, the friend that every squad needs.
I thanked Gary and the ladies for having me. As a ‘fitness-phobe’ I was surprised to find that something so good for your body could be advantageous for the mind too – not to mention the copious benefits of the socialisation aspect, especially for those who are most at risk of isolation.
As I embarked on the lengthy journey home, I reflected on how wonderful the project was, how fantastic Gary and the volunteers were and how special it was to meet such remarkable ladies – but I can’t help but feel I had left on a cliffhanger… Where on earth was Eileen’s cat?
[Update: Jessie passed away peacefully at the age of 110 in September 2020. It was a pleasure to meet Jessie, and her story inspired us all. Our thoughts are with her loved ones].