Every day over eight million people wake up to a new day in London. For some it is the beginning of another choiceless, silent battle with loneliness. Age UK states that more than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, more than a million of whom say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. The NHS website states that “it’s shockingly easy to be left feeling alone and vulnerable, which can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing”.
Barry (not his real name) is one of the thousands of older frail people who have participated in Create’s multi-artform projects designed to tackle loneliness among older people. “I live alone in a bungalow and rather than spending all day watching television and reading newspapers, I like to get out for a change of scenery and also for the opportunity to socialise. The art course gives me a chance to do something that is of interest to me. My wife was quite a talented amateur artist. I personally never ever painted at all, but when she passed away she left quite a bit of bone china that she hasn’t got round to painting, and obviously painting materials. So I thought if I can come on this group, and learn how to paint, and then hopefully I can try to utilise the ceramics that she has left behind. So this is my first attempt, and I hope it’s doesn’t look to horrendous.”
In Create’s projects for older frail people, participants work with professional artists to explore a range of art forms – from ceramics and photography to poetry and jewellery-making. This range of art forms enables the participants to develop a variety of connected artistic and technical skills, boosting their self-esteem and creative thinking.
Musician and Create artist Graham Rix reflects on one of his Create workshops with older people – “We explored many ideas that came directly from the group, both from their actual life experiences and from their imagined song narratives to see if there were themes and specific content we could work into our songs. To get the ideas flowing we’d sing songs they already knew and then talk about the story of that song as a stepping stone to going on and talking about our own experiences and ideas for a song. We wrote any of our ideas down so we could see them, use them and remember them. We also considered looking at photos of “Magic Moments” in life (like a new born baby, V.E day parade, calf being bottle fed etc) and gathering responses to these.
“There was so much visible pride and confidence on display come the final performance. From full throttle singing to impromptu dancing, it was clear that for many this was a chance to enjoy the occasion and what we had created. I liked that there was space, given that we were singing as a group, for those that were sometimes confused – I saw them sitting back sometimes but then there were also times when they would take part whole heartedly.”