From Alastair McIver, this story of a ground-breaking initiative was originally posted at Jubilee+
Just before Covid19 struck, our creatives – professional actors, dancers and sound technicians, not to mention specialist arts practitioners, were in a care home in west London, debuting a specially written dementia friendly play – written by acclaimed playwright Nick Warburton – to residents. This is a pioneering initiative and one which we hope to repeat in other care homes next year.
Pioneering new ways of supporting and helping those who reside in Dementia Care Homes is a challenge for all who work in these situations, particularly in these days of COVID-19. The Alzheimer’s Society website suggests that any activities that take place in care homes should aim to ‘Encourage self-expression; foster emotional connections with others; lessen anxiety and irritability; make people feel more engagedand stir memories.’A tall order.
It’s hard enough to meet those requirements when life seems relatively normal, let alone when lockdown occurs. Everyone is having to adapt their lifestyles according to their situations, and yet, how many of those suffering with dementia can really understand the implications of this virus? For care home management and staff, as well as for those who live within them, the absence of regular family visitors, friends, hairdressers, entertainers, and church visitors must have a huge impact on the former and be heart-breaking for the latter.
When we all come out of this isolation, we need to be innovative and proactive in the way that we try to meet the aforementioned Alzheimer’s Society advice. During lockdown, the best that we – supportive churches and charities alike – can do, I would suggest, is to plan and prepare well, using innovative and even pioneering techniques for a post-COVID-19 era, when normal visiting hours are restored. What might that look like, I wonder?
Just before lockdown, one charity, Talitha Arts, whose therapeutically trained arts practitioners regularly visit care homes as part of its mission to bring the arts to dementia sufferers, boldly took theatre where it has rarely gone before – into a dementia Care Home.
The Other Pond, a 25-minute-long audience participation comedy, written by acclaimed television writer Nick Warburton, was performed by professional actors and dancers and supported by a full sound and effects team. Even better, it met all of the recommendations set out by the Alzheimer’s Society.
But don’t take my word for it; listen to those who performed this masterpiece.
Kate Chambers, who has appeared in The Mousetrap in London’s West End and Stepping Out at the Frinton Festival last year, commented,
“We engaged the residents all the way, inviting them to make fake flowers for use as scenery in the play. Along with some singing and seated movement, the residents were able to actively participate as we performed the play. Some residents were able to follow the narrative and involve themselves in the story. It’s often hard to know what is going on in the mind of someone experiencing dementia, but the kindness and effort the team put in to engage with the residents clearly left its mark and we left the Care Home with smiles and hand clasps all round.”The idea for this pioneering initiative came from actress Amanda Root, who has enjoyed a long career in films, television and stage, and who runs Talitha Arts. She had the contacts, the skills and the determination to deliver something new and fresh into the lives of dementia sufferers. And it worked.
The director of the care home, who invited the charity in, said,
“The incredibly clever script was bought to life by the fabulous team who have worked so hard on this project. It was a great opportunity for residents to enjoy a live performance of a play, which many of them haven’t been able to do for some years. It made us really excited for what they will come up with next!”
I wonder if any churches or drama groups reading this have ever thought of doing something similar?
Churches are full of creatives and I am sure that, once the virus has been contained and we move back into community engagement, we might think about what we might write, create or perform, and where in our communities we might do it.
Alastair McIver is Head of Fundraising and Advocacy at Talitha Arts.