anyone who has ever nodded off on the top deck of a Routemaster will
tell you, sleeping on public transport is not to be recommended. But
for 82 year old MARY PARTRIDGE, it's a way of life.
She lives in a tram, facing the beach at West Wittering, in Sussex.
"It has been my home for 25 years" she says. "When I
was a child, I used to come here for my holidays. They were such happy
times. I bought the tram in 1982 so I could live out my retirement in
a place I love".
double decker once plied the streets of London. At the end of its working
life, for some unknown reason, it was dumped on a beach in Selsey. In
1921, the vehicle was hauled to West Wittering by horse, to serve as
a hut in a boatyard on its present site. Over the years it has lost
and gained a few features but still remains, recognisably, a tram.
Nevertheless, it has not aged as gracefully as Miss Partridge. Father
Time and the great storms of the 80s, 90s and noughties have done their
Last year, AFTAID was approached by a charitable social worker who was
concerned about Miss Partridge's welfare. She is diabetic and partially
sighted. Her home was at risk of being condemned and she could not afford
the most essential repairs, which ran to two or three thousand pounds.
She faced being rehoused in an old people's home run by her local authority.
In collaboration with other charities, AFTAID raised enough money to
repair the roof, walls and joists of the tram. "The joists were
so rotten, you could put your hands through them" says Miss Partridge.
"The west wall was even worse. There were holes in it big enough
for visitors to reach in and turn off the television set.
"I don't want to leave here. First thing in the morning, the racehorses
come down, to exercise on the beach. I hear their hooves as they gallop
along the sand. From my window I have an unbroken view of the ocean,
from Portsmouth in the west to Selsey Bill in the east. Directly opposite
is the Isle of Wight.
"I take photographs of the sea and of the clouds. They are amazing.
You never get the same formation two days running. They change their
mood all the time. I went to Art School after I retired. I enjoy being
creative. I had a little pottery outside once, but then I found heaving
about clay a bit too much. I make my own candles.
"The rest of my time is taken up with looking after the tram and
keeping everything going. I can't walk far anymore, but the local shops
are very kind. They deliver everything to me, even if it's just a jar
of coffee. So you can understand why I don't want to move. The pain
of leaving my home would be greater than carrying on, with all its discomforts.
It's part of me".
The tram is now habitable once more. "Miss Partridge sent us a
thankyou letter the other day" says LEWIS GREEN of AFTAID. "With
a photo she has taken, of a sunset, across the sea outside her window.
She has written on the back "This is why I wanted to stay in my
"Almost every penny we receive is translated directly into helping
people like Miss Partridge. We don't pay ourselves a wage. So letters
like hers mean a lot to us. They reassure us we are doing something
in the sunset
years ago, when many of today's pensioners believed old age was too
distant to worry about, an advertisement for the Sun Life Assurance
Company appeared in the hallowed pages of the Reader's Digest.
It was headlined '£3,000 for YOU at age 65'. Beneath this tantalising
promise was displayed a scene of breathtaking contentment. A healthy,
bronzed, retired couple, with white teeth and expensive watches, sailing
their gleaming yacht towards a sun-kissed beach in the Caribbean.
killed the dreams of millions of working people who prudently saved
for their old age. It also devalued the resources of the State, which
might otherwise have been able to sustain them in their dotage. The
process continues. The national rate of inflation for pensioner households
has averaged 9% a year for the last four years. Charities like AFTAID,
which have helped elderly people in distress for generations, have never
"It's not just that we are receiving more appeals for help"
says LEWIS GREEN, AFTAID's managing trustee.
"We are encountering more people trapped in truly harrowing situations.
Where most of the necessities of life are unattainable luxuries. Where
you can't imagine how they managed to survive.
"A few weeks ago, we were contacted by a social worker, from a
local charity for older people in Leeds. She had come across a 72 year
old lady, who had been sleeping in an old bed, designed for an infant.
"It was far too small for her and decidedly uncomfortable. She
had fallen out of the thing on numerous occasions. She couldn't afford
a proper bed. Not even second hand. She lives alone, in sheltered accommodation,
on the basic state pension.
"She has cancer of the mouth, throat and breast, COPD, bronchitis,
asthma, diabetes, enlarged liver and arthritis of the spine, shoulders
and neck. We immediately invited her to choose a proper bed from the
Argos catalogue. Within a couple of days, it was delivered and assembled.
For the first time in years, she tells us, night time is now a blessed
"We paid 160 pounds for the bed she chose. Not a great deal of
money, but a fortune for her. Most requests for assistance, that we
receive, are relatively modest".
AFTAID was founded in 1982, as Aid for the Aged. Later, it merged with
Aged in Distress, a charity with similar aims, to become Aid for the
Aged in Distress. Requests for help to AFTAID are generally submitted
by social workers, or by field staff at other charities which do not
themselves make welfare grants.
The charity is run entirely by unpaid volunteers. Donations and legacies
are not diluted by staffing costs.
Over the years, AFTAID has built a commendably efficient, yet almost
zero cost, welfare distribution network, embracing the good offices
of retailers, like Argos and Curry's, which are able to deliver to every
household in the land.
Recently, with their assistance, AFTAID was able to provide a washing
machine for a destitute couple ravaged by incontinence. It was able
to send a cooker, to an elderly woman without the means to prepare hot
meals. In collaboration with other charities, AFTAID made a grant for
an all-terrain mobility scooter, releasing from 'house arrest' a crippled
pensioner, whose home is not served by public roads.
The charity's work is limited only by its income. Until recently, thanks
to an unusually loyal body of donors, it could comfortably respond to
all bona fide requests for help. This may not prove possible in the
years ahead. The Sun Life generation is plunging into an economic maelstrom.
Consumer data from British Gas and Tesco suggest that since September
2007, when the recession began, pensioners overall have cut back their
consumption, in real terms, by 8% in fuel and 6% in food. It would be
a delusion to assume this is because old people are passionate about
climate change and obesity.