Circus and Older People

Storybox Circus and Homemade Circus

Upswing continually push the boundaries of the spaces that circus can occupy. In taking part in the groundbreaking project Meet Me at the Albany they were able to creatively engage with older adults in care through an all-day, stereotype-smashing arts club for over 60s.

an older woman and a younger woman clap hands and smile in a care home. In 2015, Upswing worked with the intergenerational arts charity Magic Me, and Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit housing and care provider, to deliver a creative residency in care homes called Storybox Circus. They were joined in this innovative project by artists Duckie, Lois Weaver and Punchdrunk.

Upswing worked extensively in Silk Court care home over a three month period, where circus artists, residents, their families and staff worked together to create site responsive performances.

Commissioned by Hull UK City of Culture in 2017, Upswing created Homemade Circus, a multi-sensory experience which brought a spirit of adventure to six care homes in the city. Staff were trained to assist with a colourful circus installation which hosted a performance and participatory workshop. Residents and carers got the fulfilling opportunity be challenged and take controlled risks, as well as having a lot of fun together.

The outcome of this project was the Homemade Circus Handbook, an activity guide for carers that is designed for use by care homes and staff even without previous circus training.

Upswing adapted exercises from our Homemade Circus project into an activity booklet in 2020. This was a response to the COVID-19 situation and included simple activities for isolated older people to try whilst in lockdown. The booklets activities can still be enjoyed by older people at home or living in care-homes and you can access it by clicking the button below. 

In 2021 Upswing received funding from The Arts Council’s England’s Culture Recovery Fund Round 3, which will contribute to the development of the next stage of our Homemade Circus project.

Read the Homemade Circus Handbook For Carers Here

More on Homemade Circus and our activity booklet For older people Here 

See below for background and development of these projects.

Background and development

Upswing have been working creatively with older people since 2011. Beginning by exploring the careers of female circus performers as they matured and working with groups of older people in partnership with Entelechy Arts. This collaboration developed the unique and extraordinary show What Happens in the Winter, which premiered in 2013.

Committed to continuing this journey, Upswing was then commissioned by Big Dance Shorts for Channel 4 Random Acts to create Falling/Flying, a film in collaboration with visual artist Edwin Mingard, Entelechy Arts and Satellite Films. Drawing a whimsical parallel between the experience of isolated older people and people in outer space, Falling/Flying allowed Upswing to explore how people with different abilities could engage with circus.

An older woman is held up on silk ropes upside down.


“This project demonstrates to the arts sector that performing for care home audiences doesn’t mean diluting your work. The companies who have taken part have found it to be a joyful experience and a creative catalyst in making their work even more accessible.”
Susan Langford MBE, Director of Magic Me

“I realise I have been underestimating my customers”
Marcia Forsythe, Manager, Silk Court Care Home

“I feel like a child again!”
Participant, 2016

“I want to run away with the circus.”
Participant, 2016