Spirit funds Creative Arts East to deliver Our Day Out, a unique dementia-friendly programme of creative arts for rurally-isolated older people across Norfolk. Our Grants and Learning Manager, Helen Killingley talks about her day out visiting Creative Arts East Cley-next-the-sea celebration event.
The sun lay low over the Wash on the north Norfolk coastline as we arrived in Cley-next-the-Sea for Creative Arts East’s latest celebration event.
The afternoon was for participants of CAE’s Our Day Out project, brought to life with Spirit funding (£230,000 since September 2016) and offering regular creative space to rurally-isolated older people in Norfolk. The Big Sing event was the culmination of three months of fortnightly gatherings to celebrate and perform poetry, music and dance, fused together and inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words.
Taking part were a real mix of people. Some were in the early stages of dementia, some were their carers and some were volunteers. All came together in a really welcoming, friendly – and noisy! – environment, where there was no need to differentiate between different groups.
There was time for a lot of chatter, and some delicious cakes, before the music began. We enjoyed three beautiful and unique arrangements, as well as the friendly rivalry and mutual support between Attleborough, Dereham and Thetford, performing Wren, Fern and Bramble respectively.
Each used the space and full complement of musical instruments – drums, milk bottle top rattles, polystyrene and bells – as well as different inclusive dance pieces to engage every member of their group.
Watching the joy light up on the participants’ faces was heart-warming. They were in their element, connecting and encouraging each other through eye contact, speech and dance.
One enjoyed an impromptu solo dance during their performance, and told me ‘it had been a wonderful day’. Another couple, who had moved home so they could be closer to the Our Day Out sessions in Thetford and the friends they’d made through the project, explained that song and dance was a lifeline for them. Their connection to the project and the people had become increasingly vital as one of them became more ill with dementia.
At the end of the session there was applause, thanks and some fond farewells. The joyous afternoon had not only provided a vital dose of fun, it had clearly left participants – whether dementia sufferers, their carers or volunteers – feeling happy and held. Real friendships were evident right across the room.
The Our Day Out project has already demonstrated a statistically significant positive impact on participants’ wellbeing, as well as a positive shift in feelings around lack of companionship and being part of a community. It was evident from this celebration event that its benefits also extend to the arts practitioners running the workshops. Laura McGill and Sarah Lewis from Glasshouse Dance, and professional musician Les Chappell, had worked together to develop the performances.
Their initial visit to Cley with project participants in July had captured the local environment, its wildlife and peacefulness, which they brought back to the fortnightly sessions through sound recordings and other media. Each of them had attended specific artist training and had increased their skills and confidence in working with older disabled and non-disabled people.
As with everyone else in the room, they told me the whole experience had been incredible. It was truly amazing to see the power that movement and song can have.
To find out more about the fortnightly sessions delivered by Creative Arts East and how to get involved as a participant or volunteer contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 01953 713398.