Music story

Sue (voice, guitar) and Gifty (voice, calabash) improvise a song from Gifty’s repertoire. Also heard: Ken (guitar) and Stephen (guitar).

Then Gifty tells us why she wrote the song.

We are getting closer to the live music project concept, based on our 2012-2013 ‘Music Stories’ workshops — music as a catalyst for personal and shared memories.

Recorded 29 July 2020 in St Mary’s Secret Garden, Hackney.

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

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

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.

Lydia’s Yam Soup (May 2012)

Original Talking Food 2012 description – “Hackney food guru Lydia Bachelor leads a discussion about healthy eating, nutrition, shopping, markets, cooking, recipes – and any other food experience and knowledge that we would like to share”.

It was not a radio production. It was a live event, streaming what would have happened anyway – and considerably longer than this edited version.

Budget: zero.

Production values: everything must be done by older people (even if the result is below BBC standard), use only the most basic equipment (available to everyone), the background hubbub is just as important as the voices close to the microphone (the social context is vital).

Message: “If you are listening to this – STOP. Turn off your computer NOW. Please accept this invitation to join us in the real world – we have food for your body, mind and soul – and none of it is digital. Real World First!”

Recorded 10 May 2012 at ‘The Lawns’, Matthias Rd, Hackney. Remixed June 2019.

The Lawns was a lively (but acoustically-challenged) digital and social inclusion centre for older Hackney residents.

The League of Meals was a fun project that did not survive contact with reality.

(A Blast from the Past)