Win Robertson – housekeeper

Win Robertson – housekeeper

"I worked for the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall. I was in charge of the banqueting hall. I had 48 waiters and waitresses, God knows how many cleaners. I got to meet Maggie Thatcher, if that’s such an honour, Prince Phillip, Pam Ayres. "I met lots of people - but it’s awful to be born with a brain and never be able to use it. I wanted to be a nurse but my parents wouldn’t let me do the training. "I use my brain now, funnily enough. My body is worn out - with all the complaints I’ve got, I need taking to Battersea Dog’s Home and being shot. But my brain is far more active now than it has been in years."
Edward Elverton – dustman

Edward Elverton – dustman

"I worked as a dustman for 30 years. When I started, they had a horse and cart and a Jacob – a ladder – on the side. The horses would take you everywhere, they knew where to go. "You look at all the machines they’ve got now - when we were at it, you had to go under the ground, pull the rubbish over, then put it on your nut. Then you’d get up on the wagon and stamp it down. "You had all kinds of stuff, you can just imagine. At the Blackfriars Road Salvation Army, the lids would sometimes move from the lice."
Iris Wheeler – dressmaker

Iris Wheeler – dressmaker

“I was a ladies’ tailoress at John Cavanaugh’s and Hartnell’s. About once a fortnight, we used to have all the well-known ladies come in to look at the dresses. We would get all the chairs ready on each side and then the models would walk up and down, showing off.“It took a little time to get used to not working. It did change indoors, and since I’ve had this operation it’s even got worse, because I have to have a carer in to look after me in the morning. I’m not allowed to do any cooking, which annoys me. My husband does it all – and some of it is a load of old tripe!”
Delcene Clarke – council worker

Delcene Clarke – council worker

"We had a laundry where we took the older people’s clothes to wash and press them, bag them up and label them for collection. It wasn’t a very pleasant job but I liked helping people, doing things for the elderly - I got joy from that. "I stopped working in ‘86 or ‘87 because I suffer from arthritis. You lose most of your friends when you’re not working. The people you live next to go to work and you only see them sometimes. They might knock and say hello, but apart from that, nothing."
Jim Slaughter – factory worker

Jim Slaughter – factory worker

"They wanted to close down the engine plant at Ford in Dagenham, so they were looking for voluntary redundancies. I was 60 then. I admit, we did get a good handshake. But what I didn’t know then was I’d get a very low pension. I should have invested it.” “My life’s been full of flaming mistakes. I sit down and think what I could have done. I could have stayed in the army, got made up to sergeant. I regret it all, now. Anyway, not much I can do about it - I’m just muddling along."
Richard Smith - postman

Richard Smith - postman

"Being a local boy, I would see the people on my delivery round even after I’d finished work. Sometimes we’d have a social evening together and that was them saying I was all right, I was doing a good job. "When I finally stopped work altogether and retired properly, it was a bit boring at first. I started coming here because I’d come as far as I could go by myself, being 89 years old – it’s a contest to reach that age. I feel I should try and be there for people that need my advice.”
Iris Bould – legal secretary

Iris Bould – legal secretary

"Once I retired I was able to spend more time with my husband. We were very, very close – we got engaged six days after we met. We moved on to the Aylesbury estate. I had a nervous breakdown there. "You were shut in, you felt so isolated once you shut your front door. If the window was closed you didn’t hear a sound from outside. You felt as if it was closing in on you. "If I can knit, crochet, anything, it’s therapeutic. I feel lost without a pair of knitting needles - I feel as if I’m wasting time just sitting there and doing nothing."

When I was working

In Elephant and Castle as elsewhere, people’s lives are defined by the work that they do. A new job is a life-changing event - and the end of a working life all the more so.These portraits are from a project documenting older residents’ memories of working and not working: the changes in their workplaces and careers over 30 or 40 years, and the changes that happened in their own lives when they retired.The participants, who I met at two day centres for older people in Elephant and Castle, told me about their working lives, starting from the first job they held after school, their transition from work to retirement, and what ‘working’ means to them now.In many cases, the way these jobs are carried out has changed quite radically. However, the jobs themselves – such as postman, housekeeper, factory worker - are still typical of the working-class area of Elephant and Castle.None were particularly well paid, but the people I spoke to gained more than money in the workplace: they found self-respect, a role within society, friendships and mental stimulation.For the participants, retirement has involved searching for ways to replace these attendant benefits, at the same time as marshalling the limited resources of a meager pension.