Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Our artistic director Ben Spiller and participation facilitator Debbie Varley look back on the Creative Dementia Arts Network Conference, which took place recently at Sheffield Hallam University.

Ben writes: 

LEAR/CORDELIA post-show discussion chaired by Maria Parsons from Creative Dementia Arts Network © Pilot Theatre"As you might know, 1623 previewed Lear/Cordelia and accompanying workshops with dementia communities last autumn in Leicester and Derby.

The opening night at Leicester concluded with a post-show discussion chaired by Maria Parsons, chief executive of CDAN (Creative Dementia Arts Network)

Maria, the creative team, cast and audience came together to share stories about experiences of dementia, making the show and facilitating the workshops.

Click here or on the photo above to watch a video of the discussion, which has optional subtitles that you can switch on by clicking the CC button. 

Maria then invited my colleague Debbie Varley and me to the CDAN conference, which took place at Sheffield Hallam University last month. She asked us to run one of our workshops with delegates, who included artists, carers, researchers, students, local-authority leaders and people who are living with dementia.

Conference schedule full of talks and workshopsI attended the whole conference, before Debbie joined me towards the end of the day to run our workshop based on a memory box of sensory objects that features in Lear/Cordelia

Maria welcomed everyone in the morning, before two children from local primary schools shared their experiences of having taken part in 'Art to Heart', a series of creative workshops alongside people living with dementia. They said that they learnt a lot about the world by listening carefully to the older people's stories, which were sometimes sad but often fun as well. It was great to discover how projects such 'Art to Heart' stimulate the hearts and minds of people from different generations, who learn from each other and enrich each other's lives.

Next up was the keynote speaker: Ming Hung Hsu, head of music therapy at MHA (Methodist Housing Association). His presentation was about the ways in which he uses music as intervention to alleviate neuro-psychiatric symptoms associated with dementia such as depression, anxiety, agitation and apathy.

Ming Hung Hsu facilitates a one-to-one music workshop © MHAMing explained that familiarity, fun, safety and easiness are key ingredients to engaging individual participants in arts activities. He went on to signpost delegates to his research paper on individual music therapy, which you can access by clicking here.

Then there was a difficult choice to make, as five concurrent workshops were on offer including music, movement and visual art. I opted for a cross-artform session called Weaving the Threads Together, facilitated by Dr Richard Coaten, dance movement psychotherapist, and Matt Laurie, musical interaction consultant. We started by sitting in a circle, stretching, warming up our voices and moving our feet to a beat before mirroring people sitting opposite as live music weaved around the beat.

In smaller groups, we explored the possibilities of dancing individually and together in a supportive and friendly environment, made so by Dr Richard's expert and seamless facilitation and Matt's music that responded to what people were doing in the room.

Reflections on the workshop with Dr Richard Coaten and Matt LaurieWe moved on to play with elastic cords together by holding and moving them to create shapes and patterns. This was a totally absorbing and collaborative activity that supported the creativity of all participants.

After lunch and a chat with a brilliant group of professional carers, I looked round the bookstall where I made two purchases for the 1623 library: Can I Tell You About Dementia? by Jude Welton and Playfulness and Dementia by John Killick. Then Maria rang a bell and we all returned to the lecture hall where we had all gathered in the morning.

What followed was the keynote forum in which social prescription and commissioning the arts for dementia was the topic of conversation. Alex Coulter, director of Arts and Health South West, stressed the importance of the arts to ensure that our lives are not only longer, but "better lived." She made the revelatory point that everyone in the room was "part of an international movement for change." She was joined by Janet Wheatley from Rotherham Social Prescription Service and Nicci Gerrard, author and founder of John's Campaign.

After an intense and important discussion facilitated by Sheffield film-maker Lee Pearse on the ethics of filming people with dementia, my colleague Debbie arrived and we were joined by about 20 delegates for our workshop.

I gave an overview of how Lear/Cordelia came about, as well as the workshops that Debbie has been running in care homes and on dementia wards. Then Debbie guided the participants through some of the workshop activities before asking for feedback. I'll hand over to Debbie now, after saying thank you to Maria, her colleagues at Creative Dementia Arts Network, the facilitators, speakers and delegates for a truly inspirational day when we all learned so much from each other."

Debbie writes:

"I was delighted to be asked to work with Ben in facilitating a workshop at the conference – it was a pleasure to work with him and the delegates. [Note from Ben: I didn't tell Debbie to say this; honest!]

Party hats evoke a memory in LEAR/CORDELIA © Robert DayAfter running Lear's Memory Box workshops recently in care homes and dementia wards, the conference gave me the opportunity to share my experiences with delegates, discuss our plans for future activities and find out how to develop the workshops further by learning from the artists, facilitators and care staff in the room. So far, I have run 14 workshops, each adapted to the specific needs of the group. 

In the conference workshop, Ben’s interpretation and delivery of the story of Lear and his daughters was electric, setting the scene for the workshop activities that followed. The participants were very quickly involved in sharing their memories and stories in response to objects in Lear’s memory box, which I had used in the nursing homes (this box also appears in the Lear/Cordelia show). Sensory objects such as brightly coloured feathers, fresh flowers and party hats were a highlight!

The session concluded with a singing activity, with vocal warmup, movement and song. We explored Lear's song about the wind and the rain from Lear/Cordelia (music composed by Christopher Lydon) and other songs popular with people in the room.

I look forward to working with Ben in the development of the workshops and continuing to use sensory objects to evoke memories and shape stories with people in care homes and dementia wards."


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