These sessions began a year ago, and have just received funding for a further year. Sharon Marsden is the project lead; the sessions are called ‘Creative Dementia’.
The sessions are held in an anonymous room, with seating for about twenty to thirty people. A lot of work goes into laying out chairs into a large circle in the middle of the room. At one end there is a long table with chairs around it and art materials upon it. At the other end is another long table with refreshments upon it. This makes the best use of the space available. The art table has a large welcoming frieze mounted on the wall; this was obviously created on previous occasions and has to be re-mounted each week.
Sharon and the volunteers greeted everyone as they arrived. When they were all assembled there were 16 people present: 7 people with dementia, 4 carers, 3 volunteers, Sharon and myself.
The first hour is devoted to poetry and songs, and the last half-hour to art.
The session began and ended with a ritual involving words, music and movement signifying greeting and closure. There was no dance involved in the session, but some of the other songs involved expressive movement. Recorded music was used occasionally and sensitively throughout the session.
Poetry, song and art
Many good poems were used — the authors included Thomas Hardy, Walter De La Mare, Christina Rossetti and Pablo Neruda. Sharon read some of these complete, and some were given out in sliced-up form to the five of the seven PWD who could read and project their voices; these sections made up the complete poem when read in order. The readings were uniformly good. There was some discussion of the poemsafter they had been read. One of the poems delivered was by a participant living with a dementia. Sharon, the project lead, chose all of the poems and songs in the workshop.
A variety of songs of the folk variety were used, mostly simple and straightforward, and all of good quality. One song in particular, ‘Walk the Road’ was an inspired choice, and seemed to have been adopted by the group as a kind of anthem. Emphasis was placed on the lyrics, which were read out, line by line, and then repeated by the group. Then the song was sung. Some of the songs were a capella, and others had an instrumental or vocal accompaniment from a tape. All the songs were sung in unison.
The last half-hour was spent on art. Usually, a new work is completed every week. This week the time was spent completing a piece on Valentine’s begun in the previous session. Everybody participated, and the hearts drawn before with wax crayons were painted over in red watercolour, making them stand out.
Much chatting went on during this process, and tea and biscuits were consumed.
The afternoon was clearly much enjoyed by all, and there was a rich mix of words, music and art that kept people’s attention. Sharon is a brilliant poetry-reader and singer. She is also a charismatic leader and holds the group together at all times. One lady had brought a book “in case I get bored” she said; however there was no chance of it.
There was some difficulty with distributing cards and comics associated with Mark Making due to a need to be hyper sensitive about the designation of the group (as providing participative arts activities for people living with a dementia). Two peopleliving with a dementia agreed to be interviewed on a future occasion, and Sharon suggested two carers who would have much to contribute.