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It shouldn’t be ‘just about the numbers’

Ageism affects the lives of both young and older people and means that many lose out in the labour market. That needs to change, writes Sue Bromley

Lifelong hotel housekeeper Rebecca Danigelis is the unlikely star of a poignant and heart-warming documentary film, Duty Free, at the centre of Ageism through the Ages, a series of events run by the Global Campaign to Combat Ageism from 1 October (International Day of Older Persons) to 20 November (World Children’s Day).

Rebecca Danigelis and son Sian-Pierre Regis

The film’s international premiere was opened by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. It tells the story of Danigelis, a 75-year-old who was fired without cause, but also highlight ageism against older people and the economic insecurity that shapes the future of many worldwide.

It was directed by Danigelis’s son, Sian-Pierre Regis, who reveals: “My mom grew up in Liverpool. When she immigrated to the US in her early 20s, she landed in Detroit where she began her career working in hotels. Then she had an opportunity to move to Boston, and that’s where she met my dad and had me and my brother.”

They lived a few floors up from the hotel where she worked, so she was available to be called on ‘24-7’, raising the boys mostly as a single parent. Even so, she came up with cash and loans so that Sian-Pierre could go to college.

The journey to achieving some of her dreams began
with a film trailer which went viral and was viewed
over 38 million times

At the age of 75 Danigelis was fired with two weeks’ pay and told she would also have to leave the apartment within a year. New York-based Sian-Pierre helped with signing his mother up to LinkedIn and creating a CV but soon realised how losing the job and her ‘work family’ was taking its toll – so decided to lift her spirits by telling her story.

This began with asking his mother to write a bucket list of all the things she had never been able to do because of her tough working life. The journey to achieving some of her dreams began with a film trailer which went viral and was viewed over 38 million times on Facebook, with Dangelis becoming a social media sensation even before the film was completed. You can see the trailer at vimeo.com/ondemand/DUTYFREEFILM.

As hospitality struggles to fill roles and people like Lisa Williams, executive housekeeper at The Grand in York, develop ingenious ways to tackle this by supporting potential staff, ageism and some other often unwitting discriminations may be tackled by sheer circumstance. After all, if someone wants to do a terrific job but can only manage a few hours at a time, they could be a vital asset. And what’s wrong with two – or more – older people sharing what was a full-time role, covering for each other to suit?

At the other end of the age scale this could work well with younger people studying and those who have a part-time carer role in their own family but would welcome the chance to be valued outside their own home. If they are paid a fair rate, rather than feeling they are in a scrap for ‘a begging bowl’ while being pulled in all directions, we can help develop a fairer society – and reap the benefits of their confident and first-class work within hospitality.

With the loss of some young EU workers, older staff are now an important source of potential labour for the industry. We’ve seen it happen in retail. It will also be important to retain and develop employees of all ages and openly confront the barriers to their well-being at work. James Timpson, boss of high street locksmith and footwear repair chain Timpson, has always tackled such social issues head on, most recently announcing the business would pay for HRT prescriptions for staff going through the menopause.

Like unexpected film star Rebecca Danigelis, the most supportive employers will have their own bucket lists of ways to reap the benefits of having a confident and proud workforce. Let’s hear it for the young stars of the future, the ‘golden oldies’ and everyone in between.

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