A Lifetime in London: Panayiota’s Story
By Sandra Evans
Panayiota is a 91-year-old Greek-Cypriot who has lived in her beloved flat in Camberwell for 47 years. She and her flat have seen the ups and downs of a big family life but becoming an older adult has been her greatest hurdle to date.
Panayiota grew up in a farming village in Cyprus. A place of strong sun, spirituality, magic and hard work. She came to London following her husband a few years after he moved, in 1963 she voyaged across the Mediterranean Sea with everything she had on her and 4 young boys in tow. Panayiota and her sons entered London in the swinging sixties, the world of Beatles, the Profumo Affair and a growing feminist movement.
The relationship with her husband soon turned sour and after a restraining order, Panayiota and her 5 sons (the youngest recently born in London) were rehoused. In 1972 they entered their flat in Camberwell that some of them would still call home decades later. At this point Panayiota found herself in a difficult situation, a far cry from the hopes and dreams she had on leaving Cyprus all those years ago, she now found herself a single mother in inner London with limited English. When Panayiota talks about this time in her life she talks about the hard work of cooking, cleaning and tending to her young family, yes, and how she made sure they did everything together. But she never mentions the hardship, the constant worry and the frustrations that she must have experienced.
Despite of her hardships she lived a full life, she took her family on holidays, celebrated all the orthodox festivals, had her son’s friends over to stay, had family over, hosted engagement parties and dinners. She crossed seas, learnt English, divorced a controlling husband, raised 5 children, learnt how to drive, she did so much. But now at 91, and for the past 5 years or so, this woman with such life in her heart has not been able overcome the encroaching dependencies and lack of provision that ageing means for many older adults in this country.
A story that has stuck with me when sat at Panayiota’s table drinking chai and eating Turkish biscuits, is when she bought herself her first car. It transformed her life. She could now go to see more people and visit more places, she fondly talks of packing all of her family into her little car and speeding off to Dover, Deal, Southend-on-Sea, Margate, anywhere really. She could be completely independent, after an arranged marriage, a controlling husband and the other responsibilities of a family, she now had a way to be free.
‘Everywhere we went, we went together, we would get in my car and go all over England.’
I hope I have managed to convey how fiercely independent and life-loving Panayiota is so you can understand how monumental what happens next was for her.
In 2016 she had her driving licence taken away on health grounds, each year since then has brought a new loss of independence and, like the other 2 million older adults in the UK, Panayiota often feels lonely. With doctors she doesn’t trust, her family living across Europe and no ramp, only stairs, outside her council block, she has limited access to the world, and the people she loves in it. I know she often gets sad, angry and frustrated, alone in her flat not being able to fight her way through the system and totally at a loss of what to do to improve her situation. As her friend, I feel angry and frustrated, I can’t even navigate the social care/charity/state provision, I at 28, someone who works in health and in the community, does not know how to get her the support she needs, how is she or others like her supposed to be able to?
‘When they took my licence, I lost my life’.
We live in a society that is different, where communities are online and neighbours do not know each other, a tough situation if you are not tech-savvy or mobile. I know that the single most important thing to Pat, and probably many like her, is having someone to have a cup of tea and talk about her life with. That is something we can all help with pretty easily, here is something you can change, by visiting an isolated person for a cup of tea and a chat for just an hour a week. And think, wouldn’t it be nice in the hustle and bustle of London to force yourself to stop and have a cup of tea with someone new, who has experienced probably everything you are experiencing and some. Just to talk and learn and at the end of it have helped a vulnerable person feel a little less alone.
If you are interested in helping an older person then these local organisations can help:
Link Age Southwark: 020 8299 2623 www.linkagesouthwark.org
South London Cares: 020 7118 0404 www.southlondoncares.org.uk
Age UK Lewisham and Southwark: 020 7358 4077 www.ageuk.org.uk/lewishamandsouthwark
Good Gym: 0203 432 3920 www.goodgym.org