From September to November 2014 we took our art:links project to the Dementia Resource Centre at Chamberlain House (previously the Miranda Barry Centre), where we worked with vulnerable older people aged over 65.
Our artist and designer Helena Roden enabled them to decorate their centre with flowers, butterflies and cocoons to evoke a sense of new life. Brendan, an actor who also works at The Breakfast Club, volunteered on the project:
“Coming from quite a rough part of the country where boys did ‘boys’ things and girls did ‘girls’ things, I can honestly say I never thought I’d find myself enjoying knitting! However, here I am, sat at a desk making pom poms, or bobbles off bobble hats as I knew them. They’re going to be the central part of a flower we’re making. We’ve already fashioned the petals from coat hangers and tissue paper fused together with PVC, the more of which we use, the better the end result will be and messier the process! Once finished, this giant flower will be the focal point on a wall that will house all the butterflies and moths we’ve been making. I say ‘we’ but what I really mean is ‘they’ and they are the reason I have been enjoying myself.
“It has been incredibly rewarding helping out people, some of whom are three times my age. Funny, intelligent, often mischievous, friendly people and whether we’ve been chatting about what we’re doing or the fact that Betty’s dad hated Irish men and distrusted the Welsh (leaving me marked on both fronts), time has been flying by as we sit side by side. I can tell you about Celia, incredibly talented as an artist who goes through war stories with me or Maria who has just come back from seeing her family in Syria or Janine who, although flying through everything we do, would equally love a quick cigarette. Then there’s Tia who, as the oldest member, isn’t afraid to speak loudly and crack a joke. She wants to make everyone smile. It’s been great to spend time with them and discover what dementia means to them and their day to day lives.
“These folk have moved from the Miranda Berry Centre to Chamberlain House, somewhere new where the routine is different and the risk is that it could cause a step back for many people. Anything I can do to make the transition a little easier is such an honour.
“I think what Create is offering is so important. The project – focusing on butterflies, new life, coming out of the cocoon, adapting – is vital for learning to live in this new environment. They’re making this themselves and through that they are physically building something that represents their journey, helping them to acclimatise.
“And it works.
“For weeks I’ve seen another lady, Vivien, sit quietly and have passing moments of interest in what we’re doing but never quite wanting to get involved, often hardening and switching off. Today, as I was leaving I said bye to her only to be greeted with a huge smile and her telling me she looks forward to chatting more next week. Yes, I’m definitely seeing the difference.”