Lavinia featured in Channel 4’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds in 2018. Here, she tells us her story.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the late 90s. I remember I was sat in the car and I noticed my thumb twitch and ‘flick’ upwards on its own. I knew I needed to see someone about it. My late husband, Len, had private healthcare insurance through his work at the time, so I was lucky to get seen by a doctor quickly.
Len and I were married for 56 years. Because of my Parkinson’s getting worse, our children thought it would be best if we moved into a retirement facility where we’d have more support and be closer to family.
Together we found Lark Hill in Nottingham. Moving into Lark Hill was also a sad time, as Len passed away at the age of 86 shortly after. My children and grandchildren visit often and make sure I’m supported.
TV crew in town
There was some excitement in 2018 as Channel 4 visited, asking if they could do some filming in the home for a programme. They’d already done one series and this would be the second.
The idea behind the programme is that young children move into the retirement home for a short time and chat, do activities and spend time with the older residents. Apparently they’ve been doing this in America for some time, and it seems to have been beneficial for both age groups.
I found it fascinating how they filmed everything and stitched it all together. I watched some bits back and really laughed.
Not all of the residents were keen on the idea, but I found it all quite exciting. I was asked by one of the staff if I wanted to get involved, and someone came and chatted to me for a while and did some filming. They also sent us DVDs of the first series to watch. They then wrote to me asking if I’d like to take part. I think I’m quite a chatty person – I’d much rather have a political debate than go to the bingo – so this seemed perfect for me, and I jumped at the chance.
Although younger than I’m used to, the kids were lovely and very inquisitive, and I developed some great friendships with them. I found it fascinating how they filmed everything and stitched it all together. I watched some bits back and really laughed.
The highlight for me was winning on ‘sports day’. Parkinson’s mostly affects my movement and I have a mobility scooter. I’m a bit of a rebel on it at times – I tear around the grounds on it. So I thought I would compete on my mobility scooter, holding hands of one of the children. It was great fun and felt like the old days when I used to win at hockey.
I used to love going dancing with Len. For the Christmas special there was a dance class arranged ahead of the Christmas party. I couldn’t bear to miss out. I was having one of my good days, so I put my walker to one side and with the help of one of the care workers, I took to the floor.
It was absolutely exhilarating. It was the first time I’d danced for at least 10 years. Mostly it was nice to be part of the group, rather than watching and wishing that I could still do it.
Getting used to fame
Since being on the programme, my speech has really improved. I definitely think that having the children around helped – they had so much energy and spark. I don’t sound as quiet anymore, and people don’t ask me to repeat myself as much. My walking is much better too, although I do like to keep active, and I try to get out most days.
People have been so nice – saying how inspiring I was.
I’ve also been getting a lot of lovely fan mail from people of all ages. I was even recognised by somebody at our local shop. I had around 50 cards for my birthday, and 100 cards at Christmas – I didn’t even know who they were all from! People have been so nice – saying how inspiring I was. I keep all the letters in a hamper basket that the production team gave to me.
One of the funniest things I noticed watching it back was how I sounded. I always thought I spoke with a strong cockney accent, since I grew up in London. But I didn’t sound like that at all. I mentioned this to my daughter who just laughed, saying I’d always been ‘posh’.
If you have Parkinson’s, then don’t give into it. I paint, write poetry, do crafts, and teach people to knit. Try and keep both your mind and body active.
Since being on the programme I’m really keen to start going to a regular dance class, and go back to the gym, so I can carry on dancing like I used to.