Inclusion First

The least connected get the most attention

We expect to make changes and add more activities here. But our priority is what works best for the least connected older people — which is more than half of our drop-in users. Most of those activities won’t be listed here because they depend on personal contact by phone and SMS.

Weekly in our real world

Gifty (with calabash) and Sue (with guitar), making music in the garden - very obviously distanced

50+ Secret Garden Party

Wednesday, 2 to 3:30 pm
  • A creative safe zone for older people to escape isolation, make new friends, and stay actively involved in a changing world.
  • A social drop-in with a digital content creation bonus. We encourage podcasting, live radio, photography and music — options that everybody is free to take on or pass by.
  • Every Wednesday afternoon in the real world, at St Mary’s Secret Garden.
  • We follow up digital issues and questions at the Friday HelpSpace.
  • We follow up podcast topics at the Radio Together Hangout.
  • For more detail, please visit page 50-plus Digital at St Mary’s Secret Garden

Weekly online

Friday HelpSpace

Friday, 12 to 1 pm
  • This is a weekly drop-in for digital support (or anything else on your mind).
  • Intended for beginners, so please don’t expect rigorous meeting room etiquette.
  • More detail and link –

Radio Together Hangout

Friday, 2 to 3:30 pm
  • Older people talking to each other and to guests — about anything.
  • Designed for people who can listen as well as talk.
  • A Friday afternoon follow-up for the Wednesday afternoon podcast group at the Secret Garden.
  • We publish our micro-episodes on page 50+ Voices.
  • For more detail, please email

El Café de la Mente

Monday afternoons
  • For older people learning or re-learning Spanish under lockdown. No lessons — just practice and reinforcement. Los hablantes de lengua nativa son bienvenidos.
  • A small autonomous group, but ready to welcome new people.
  • For more detail, please email

How to contact us about this program

Send an email
  • 07761 887927

Wednesday in the Secret Garden

Fifty-Plus Secret Garden Party

The long-running sporadic podcast from St Mary’s Secret Garden has made way for this new social event that can involve far more people.

There is an overwhelming need for older people to get out of their flats, feel safe, and share the experience with others. That need is greater than the demand for digital support, but we will try to offer some form of digital help if we can.

This is now a regular Wednesday afternoon event (2 to 3:30 pm).

For the details, please visit page 50-plus Digital at St Mary’s Secret Garden

Friday HelpSpace

Online help for digital beginners

If you are new to this, perhaps uncertain about how anything works, but you have an Internet connection and you are reading this — you are probably a relative beginner, and our Friday HelpSpace is for you.

HelpSpace is our online meeting room that we set up mainly to provide help for people who have a problem they are able to describe. It’s open most of the time.

The regular Friday session is an experimental drop-in event for up to five people who would like to talk to an authorised helper (or to each other) without the rigmarole of making an appointment.

When, where, more info

  • Every Friday, 12 to 1 pm
  • HelpSpace online venue « »
  • There is more information on our Help page –
  • Previous experience of online meeting rooms is not necessary. We are here for beginners.
  • Do not try to log in or sign up for anything. You will never have to do that. Those links are for the meeting room host. not for you.

More about our meeting rooms

  • Our rooms are persistent — they don’t close when the meeting ends.
  • Our rooms might be locked for planned events, otherwise they are normally open and unlocked.
  • You don’t need an invitation to enter an unlocked room.
  • If a meeting room is locked, you will land in the waiting room and then tap on a button labelled Knock. The meeting host will let you in.

50-plus Digital at St Mary’s Secret Garden

A creative safe zone for older people

The Secret Garden is a Sanctuary Gerden

The 50+ Secret Garden Party is a weekly social meetup for older people in a well-known, safe, socially-distanced space — St Mary’s Secret Garden. It’s a sanctuary — a place where you can escape the isolation of lockdown, make new friends, stay informed and actively involved with your community.

This new instance of an old project is managed by charity MRS-Independent Living. It’s our first step towards a post-lockdown reality — always following safety guidelines and government regulations.

The previous project was the Hello Hackney podcast — which will continue as the Radio Together podcast, but the social activity will have priority.

The project location is accessible by bus and overground train. It is bicycle-friendly. It is open to all older people. It is not borough-specific.

Social distance in the Secret Garden

The Secret Garden is closed to the general public on Wednesday afternoons. So we meet outside the garden at 2 pm. Then a garden volunteer ushers us inside, where we can stay until 3:30 pm.

This is an outdoors event. We can use any part of the garden except the buildings. To keep ourselves safe, we follow social distancing guidelines meticulously …

  • Always at least 2 m distance from everybody else.
  • We form groups of up to six people. Everybody stays within their group, and the groups do not mingle.

When and where

  • Every Wednesday afternoon, from 2 pm until 3:30 pm.
  • St Mary’s Secret Garden — on the corner of Pearson St and Appleby Rd, E2 8EL
  • Map:
  • It’s a short walk from Hoxton station. Nearest bus stops are in Kingsland Rd (Pearson St or St Leonard’s Hospital).
  • Please note that because we must form groups of not more than six people in the garden, it might be difficult to fit in anyone who arrives after 2 pm.

How to contact us about the Secret Garden project

  • Email to
  • Phone or text to 07423 162019

Gifty (with calabash) and Sue (with guitar), making music in the garden - very obviously distanced

Digital inclusion and digital participation

We can’t help directly with digital problems. We can’t handle your phone or tablet. We can’t get close enough to see your screen. But we can talk about your digital and other support needs, and then follow up online or by phone.

If you have a device that requires wifi, bring it. You can connect to our portable Wifi network.

Radio Together sub-projects

Radio Together is a package name for a bunch of closely-related concepts that exist as working projects now, or are based on successful projects in the past. They all combine social and digital participation, and they all have the potential of continuing outside the Secret Garden.

The podcast sub-project

This was already a Secret Garden fixture. Our podcast micro-episodes are on the Voices page of this site.

Live music sub-project

The precedent for this is our 2012-2013 ‘Music Stories’ workshop series — music as a catalyst for personal and shared memories. This is more ambitious. It’s specifically about live music, and we are building it around an idea proposed by Gifty Naa Dk, who is assembling a Wednesday afternoon band for the Secret Garden. Main challenge right now — unpredictable weather.

Learning Internet Radio Together sub-project

This is a course for people who want to learn how to create an Internet Radio station, as a personal or community group platform. It’s surprisingly easy and cheap. We had most of the course content ready before lockdown, and we have had an online prototype running since 2011. Now we have to work out how to deliver the course remotely.

Following up online

  • We will help with digital issues at the existing Friday HelpSpace.
  • We are developing ideas for online courses and workshops for people who have involved themselves in The Secret Garden project, and for people who can’t go to the Garden because they are shielding.
  • We are revising the Friday afternoon online podcast to make it more inclusive.

More about the Secret Garden

Help for digital beginners

Helping older people to understand and use digital technology is what we do

We have been doing it very successfully for many years — and it has always been in a community context and a community space, because that is what works best.

But while we are under threat from COVID-9, that is impossible. There are no indoor places to meet. We cannot offer classes, run workshops, handle your phone, tablet or laptop, and we cannot get close enough to see your screen.

1. Offline digital help — phone or text

We are doing our best to help beginners 1:1 by phone or text – but it’s not a solution to any of the difficulties we are facing, and does not work at all for absolute beginners. Offline help is effective for some people who are not beginners, but find themselves stuck with a problem they don’t quite understand. Our phone number for digital help and enquiries is 07423 162019.

2. Online digital help — by email

  • Our email address for digital help and enquiries is

3. Online digital help — in our HelpSpace meeting room

HelpSpace is a place where we can talk through your problem, either 1:1 or in small groups of up to six people.

Individual support in HelpSpace
  • This would normally be arranged by phone or email.
Small group support in HelpSpace
  • This is effective because it can be more like a social event, and less like a clinic.
  • At the moment, we have one regular weekly session — every Friday from 12 to 1 pm. You do not make an appointment for this. It’s a drop-in.
The HelpSpace address
  1. Tap or click on this link « »
  2. That link will take you straight to the room, where you will meet an authorised helper (and perhaps other people that you know).
  3. Type in your name, then on a button labelled Continue (if you see it, it’s not always needed).
  4. If the room is busy, you might have to tap on a button labelled Knock. Otherwise, tap on a button labelled Join the meeting.
Your privacy is important
  • You do not need an account for this. The Log in buttons are for the room owner, not for you.
  • Our online meeting rooms never require you to provide any identity information, enter a password or meeting code, create an account, or log in to anything.
Online meeting etiquette

If you are new to this, you will definitely be confused by the jargon of video, microphones, speakers, muting and sharing. Don’t worry about it. One of the objectives of the weekly HelpSpace is to allow you to understand these things gradually. We don’t expect you to get it right first time, and we don’t think it matters very much.

Tablets and wifi for disconnected older people

While the drop-in centres are closed, we have been moving the drop-in tablets (and some laptops) to where you live.

Typically, a DBS-checked volunteer delivers to your doorstep …

  • an Android tablet
  • a portable Wifi with a 3G data SIM card, prepaid for 2 or 3 months.

You look after the tablet until we start our drop-in meetings again.

The 3G connection is not fast, but it is reliable — and definitely adequate for email and normal web use. It is not suitable for watching films, or online meetings with video.

If you have basic Internet skills, but no connection that you can use, please contact us about this (details are on our Contact page).

At last I could be proud

Ruth looks back on her journey from apartheid South Africa.

Recorded 24 June 2020 in St Mary’s Secret Garden, Hackney.


The killing of George Floyd in Minnesota has shocked the world over. Once again a black person is brutalised by the police in America. This racist attitude of police happens in the UK as well – by the people who are meant to be there to protect us as citizens.

The anti-racist protests of young people today reminded me of the Soweto riots in South Africa in 1976, when the young people rioted against the apartheid regime for its brutal inhumane racist policies inflicted on the black population.

Lockdown through COVID-19 has given us the time to reflect. I was born and lived under the apartheid government of South Africa until I was 21. They were white supremacists that governed and segregated the population according to their colour. 50 million black people – the indigenous population – lived in shanty towns. 4 million coloureds were further segregated by ethnicity. My Indian friend at school had to be registered and accounted for annually. Indians were regarded as the merchant class, so their wealth was monitored by the government. The white and non-white population lived on opposite sides of the railway line to segregate us under the Group Areas Act. We travelled at the back of the bus, or on second and third class coaches of the trains.

I am the fifth generation of my family, born out of the slave trading that came from the east through the Dutch East India Company. My ancestry is African, Indonesian, Dutch and German

Apartheid was dehumanising and brutal. My father and grandfather’s generation suffered the most. They went out to work where they were further humiliated on a daily basis. I was lucky to come from a very supportive family.

I hated the country I came from. I was politicised at an early age thankfully by the teachers at my school. I saw that there were better places to live in, outside of South Africa. We had political activists murdered like Steve Biko, or imprisoned like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. We had the Sharpeville and Langa riots. Our next door neighbour was imprisoned on Robben Island for being politically active.

We wanted a better society to live in. I couldn’t see myself living under apartheid for the rest of my life. So the energy and sense of adventure that comes with youth, I planned to work for my flight and pocket money after getting my school education to leave the country for London.

My parents could not have afforded to send me abroad. At that time Barclays Bank started employing young coloured girls to improve their bad reputation on race relations in South Africa. So I worked there for 18 months.

I came to London and found freedom of choice. I fell in love with the city. In the UK, sport organisations were boycotting playing in South Africa.

People in the UK were persuaded to boycott wine and the Outspan oranges from South Africa. There was political and economic upheaval, and over time the racist government couldn’t afford apartheid any more, so they had to engage with the jailed political leaders.

When Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, I was living in London then. I sat at the edge of my bed and wept. I could now be proud of the place of my birth.

“History was never white. White is a metaphor for power” – James Baldwin, from the documentary film I am not your Negro.

50-plus Digital at

Four older people, laughing in a snowstorm at the Whitmore Community Centre garden

Social and digital inclusion in the time of coronavirus

Our real-world inclusion projects for older people are closed until the lockdown is over, and we are no longer at risk. Our lockdown program, this website, and this web page are all under construction.

Inclusion in the Real World

We have had a web presence for many years — and we are still here, with a different kind of presence — temporarily, because there is no way we can replicate online the social inclusion of our real-world activities, and we won’t pretend that it is possible.

The closed projects

Here is a description of one of the closed projects —

The Community Drop-in is the latest instance of a model that has been evolving naturally since 2006 — continuously, in different locations, with and without funding. What we do looks like digital inclusion, but the outcomes are all about social inclusion and community cohesion in the world we actually inhabit. That is why we do it, and why it works.

What we have named the IT Drop-in is loosely-knit real-world social network with a physical base. It’s a place where everyone is welcome — and valued for who they have been, as well as who they are now. It is consciously the opposite of the virtual bubbles of Internet social media.

It’s all about the real world. So if we use the word ‘virtual’, we mean something that can be entertaining and educational — but is also ephemeral and artificial.

Online tools

Our criteria for using online tools has not changed — “Does this thing enhance our real world, our real lives and our real relationships?”. If it does, let’s carry on doing it. If not, it has little value — so let’s move on to something else”.

We have lost our physical hubs, and our resources are limited. But we have time, energy and experience that we can deploy for the benefit of other older people who have become disconnected, marginalised or disregarded — starting with our extended network of about 600. Many of them have no way of getting online independently, and have more immediate difficulties to rise above.

Who is this for?

Everyone aged 50 or better, wherever you are. We are in London, UK. Our Finsbury Park base is on the Hackney side of the border with Haringey and a short stroll from Islington. Our drop-in centres were in Hoxton and Finsbury Park, where three boroughs meet.

We have many participants from the neighbouring boroughs and beyond. We are not borough-exclusive. All older people are welcome.

If you are not yet older, and you would like a helper role, we would like to hear from you too — please visit our Contact page.

Who set this up?

Two busy real-world IT drop-in projects — both shut down — but even busier — until this is all over.

Social distance is still 2m!

Please don’t share an umbrella in the rain.