As It Happens

Seniors' home residents riff on classic album covers in viral photo series

At the long-term care home in Edgware, U.K., elderly residents there have been posing for photos that recreate classic album covers.

At Sydmar Lodge in U.K., activities director started project to lift residents' spirits during pandemic

In this tribute to David Bowie's classic album Aladdin Sane, Roma Cohen, a resident at long-term care home Sydmar Lodge in Edgware, England, poses in iconic lightning bolt makeup. The image is part of a photo series created by the home's activities director, Robert Speker, who wanted to lift residents' spirits during lockdown. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

The residents of Sydmar Lodge are not letting the coronavirus keep them from rocking out.

At the long-term care home in Edgware, U.K., the elderly people who live there have been posing for photos that recreate classic album covers.

There's Roma Cohen with a lightning bolt on her face, just like David Bowie on Aladdin Sane.

Sheila Solomon posed for a reboot of The Clash's iconic London Calling, featuring Paul Simonon smashing his bass guitar. On Solomon's cover, she holds a cane aloft in place of the bass.

Sheila Solomons holds a cane aloft in this remake of the classic punk album London Calling by The Clash. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

And in a take on Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., resident Martin Steinberg wears jeans and a white T-shirt and poses in front of an English flag for his Born in England version.

The project is the brainchild of Robert Speker, the home's activities director. He told As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal that he's using the time in lockdown for pursuits he believes will lift residents' spirits — and that he might not normally have time for.

Martin Steinberg poses in this remake of Bruce Springsteen's album Born in the U.S.A. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

"We went into lockdown on the 12th of March," Speker said. "I deal with the activities here, and there was a lot of time to occupy. We didn't have the families coming in, and they used to take up a lot of the time; the families would visit often and also the external entertainers as well. So I had to rethink activities."

"We still did a lot of music. But I wanted to do some more fun things, and one of the things that I'd wanted to do was this album cover idea."

A resident helps recreate a Johnny Cash album. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

Once he started tweeting side-by-side images of the original albums with the Sydmar Lodge versions, the project went viral — but Speker said that was never the intent. 

"Well, it was just to have a laugh. Often, I do things just so the residents will smile. And this was another of those ideas. And when I showed them the final piece, they were in fits of hysterics." 

To get the project started, Speker said he approached Solomon first because "she's fair game."

"So we started off doing her first, actually, because I've got a very good relationship with her.… She gets me. She gets my sense of humour and my madcap ideas."

Solomons also poses in this tribute to Elvis Presley's eponymous album. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

She's also a huge music fan.

They started with Elvis Presley's eponymous album, on which The Clash's London Calling is based.

Solomons is a huge music fan who saw Rag'N'Bone Man at a music festival in a special outing with Speker. (Robert Speker)

Solomon has such a range of contemporary music tastes and love of live music that Speker once took her to a music festival to see Rag'N'Bone Man.

"We got VIP tickets. And as a surprise, I organized for him to meet her beforehand, where he gave her a signed album, which appears next to the actual recreation of her."

A resident poses in this recreation of Taylor Swift's album 1989. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

Speker recreated the tattoos on Rag'N'Bone Man's arms in great detail using paint.

In a tribute to Adele's wildly popular album 21, Vera, 93, mimicks the singer's pensive pose.

In another, a woman named Lily poses as Madonna.

Caregivers joined the fun by helping to recreate the Queen album Queen II. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

The caregivers at the residence got in on the fun, too, helping to recreate a Queen album.

Capturing the images took about two weeks, and the effort pushed up against a pretty firm deadline.

A resident named Vera strikes a pensive pose in tribute to Adele's album 21. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

"Then the last person I photographed — which was Hilda, who is Blink 182 — that was less than an hour before my wife gave birth. So she was already in labour. And in the back of my mind, I knew I needed to get this photograph.

"So I returned to work and got the photograph I needed, packed up my stuff. By that time, an ambulance had already been called for her. And within less than an hour, she'd given birth, thank God, to a lovely baby girl all well, safe and sound."

Hilda helps recreate a Blink 182 album. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

With a newborn in the house, it took Speker a couple of weeks to edit the images and complete the graphic design.

"And then I sent it out to all the family members, as I do with every single activity, especially now, so that they can see their family member participating in activities and actually looking usually happy."

A resident named Lily poses in this image that recreates a Madonna album. (Robert Speker/Sydmar Lodge)

Sydmar Lodge residents find it hard to believe that their images have travelled around the world, said Speker.

Robert Speker, Sydmar Lodge's activities director, started a photo series recreating classic album covers featuring the residents of the home. The series, launched to lift spirits during the pandemic, has since gone viral. (Submitted by Sydmar Lodge)

"Even if I tell them, they call me a liar. They say, 'You're making it up. Don't be daft.'"

Speker, who has won awards for his innovative work, said he hopes the increased attention on the plight of people in long-term care homes gets people thinking about adding value to the lives of the elderly.

"They've lived full lives for 80, 90 years before they come to a care setting sometimes. And that life has to be learned about. You have to learn about each individual to know how best to help them and serve them for their latter days.

"And that is something that's very important to me, to make sure that it isn't about giving up. It's about what can we do? What can I do to make their life fulfilling?

Written by Brandie Weikle and Kevin Robertson. Interview produced by Kevin Robertston.

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