Holburne Museum, Bath
The idea came from Paula Tew and Gillian McFarland, who were freelance artist-educators with the Holburne. They saw the potential for an art project based on the British culture of tea-drinking and the loss of the ceremonial aspect of this tradition.
A chance meeting with Rose Pickett, psychotherapist in Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust’s dementia care wards, suggested that the project might be suitable for people with dementia and their carers.
Rose was particularly interested in the opportunity for people to access creative, therapeutic activities in non-clinical environments. Gillian and Paula believed that the Holburne would be the perfect setting, with its collection of tea-related objects, beautiful building and surroundings, and the possibility that some participants might have memories of visiting.
The partnership received £6,000 from the Medlock Charitable Trust and the V Callis Charitable Trust to run a 10-week pilot project.
The sessions were available to a maximum of six people in the early stages of dementia plus their carers; participants were referred by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust as part of their treatment plan.
Each week, participants arrived to find a large table beautifully set with damask cloths and vintage china in the Holburne’s Clore Learning Space. They went in to the galleries to explore the collections with Paula, Gillian and Rose followed by a cup of tea, plus home-made scones and cakes.
They then learned or re-learned different art skills and created objects in response to the collections. They decorated plates with transfers and these were fired at Bath Artists’ Studios so that they can be used; they screen-printed and embroidered napkins, and made plaster-casts in response to a contemporary art installation.
Carers took part in all of the activities and were encouraged to consider how they could continue the activities and talk about them back at home.
One carer stated: “It’s re-introduced him to his love of art. It’s great to realise that you’re not alone.”
A celebration of the project was held in June and was attended by the participants and their families, members of relevant local health and community organisations and the mayor.
The participants’ work was displayed in a small exhibition that ran for ten days. We had the first public showing of a film of the project made by the Bath-based Therapeutic Media Company to be used to record the project and support future funding bids.
Participants were also given a memory book of photographs to remind them of the experience.
The partnership work was crucial to the success of the project and the Holburne is currently exploring funding opportunities and partnership work with other museums to enable this work to continue.