AT an age when most people are putting their feet up to settle into retirement, a group of East Lancashire pensioners are hitting the stage.

The 23-strong GOs started life three years ago as an over-50s exercise class attended by volunteers at Blackburn’s Thwaites Empire Theatre, run in partnership with Age Concern.

They may all have arthritis but within a matter of weeks together, the group had made its first public outing as backing dancers The Silver Stars during a volunteer show at the theatre.

After just a few months they had learned to tap dance, invested in their own portable PA system and gathered costumes — made by the group’s 81-year-old wardrobe mistress.

And now the pensioners take their unique brand of entertainment on the road to a whole host of groups across the county who cannot visit the theatre.

There are eight singers, 10 dancers, a sound man, roadie, a dresser and two newcomers set to start in the new year, all aged from 55 to 80-plus with a range of heart and chest complaints, and every member has arthritis.

But none of that holds them back, as Mandy Stableford, the group’s artistic director, explained: “Requests started to come in from sheltered housing and nursing homes, then in October last year the group branched out on its own, marking the change from an exercise group to a touring theatre troupe with a new name of GOs On Tour.”

With funding from Age Concern and Blackburn with Darwen Council to fund sound equipment and costumes, the troupe have toured with BBC Radio Lancashire on a Strictly Come Dancing promotion.

And they can be seen most weeks performing at sheltered accommodation, nursing homes, Women’s Institutes, birthday parties and senior citizens’ groups in Blackburn, Darwen, Accrington and Rishton.

And their name is spreading, with bookings in Chorley and Leyland.

Costumes range from the new red and white Christmassy cheerleaders with pompoms, to veiled belly dancers, gold-flared 1970s wear and sparkly waistcoats, bow ties and top hats for the men, all designed by the GOs and made by wardrobe mistress Joan Simpson.

Mandy said: “We love dressing up — even the male singers — but come on, what woman doesn’t?

“I would never have dreamed that at almost 60 I would be on a stage shaking pompoms or belly dancing with a face veil on. Mind you, it does cover up the wrinkles,” she laughed.

“We found a need that didn’t seem to be being fulfilled.

"Our show is very lively, full of colour, comedy and fun — just what is needed for the people we provide it for, people of our own age.”

Widower Frank Arkwright, 75, says becoming involved with the ‘wonderful, enthusiastic’ GOs after seeing them at King George’s Hall, Blackburn, had been a ‘life-changing experience’.

He said: “I had always loved to sing — performing at homes for the elderly and community centres — and felt right away that I would love to be a part of what they were doing.

“I was becoming increasingly tired of lugging my equipment to venues, so I was delighted to be accepted as a Golden Oldie.

“The dancers especially work really hard, rehearsing regularly — and as someone who is called upon to do the occasional song, I have been able to see just how polished they have become and it is a joy to witness this.”

Mandy added: “Frank loves it when we do the WIs; they nearly always have a home-baking stall and he always buys cake.”

Julie Turner, 60, joined in April 2009 after she was advised to take up exercise to help combat shoulder and hip problems.

“I just turned up one day to the classes and was made very welcome,” she said.

“I enjoyed the dancing and found that with practice the steps I learned as a child began to come back.

“I have got over my stage fright and improved my co-ordination and been promoted to the front row. I still have lapses of concentration in rehearsals but it always seems to go all right on the night.

“We enjoy each other’s company and spend too much time laughing. The movement is excellent for my poor old joints, while the co-ordination and concentration keeps my brain working.

“I am not sure that all of the costumes are flattering on ladies of a certain age but I fully intend to grow old disgracefully.

“They have a number of things in the pipeline for us: There are new dances to learn, more unsuitable costumes to be made and worn, and a list of shows and re-bookings that would make a professional jealous.”

Many of the GOs’ audience members are of a similar age to the performers and, while they may not be as active, they regularly sing long and copy the movements from their chairs.

Julie added: “They enjoy the company, the communication, the human touch and sense of fun we try to bring.”

Retired Ken Ford had been a member of a local musical theatre company for more than 30 years and joined the class to spend more time with his wife Jill.

“Before we knew it we found ourselves involved in a little more than a keep fit class,” he said.

“We are now both over 65 and I never imagined we would be able to do this sort of thing at this time of our lives.

"Not only does it provide physical and mental stimulation but it has opened up a whole new friendly social circle for us.”