Orleans House Gallery, Richmond
The education department at the gallery has built a strong reputation over the years for working with vulnerable audiences, sourcing gaps in provision and listening and responding to the needs in the community. It was this ethos that encouraged us to look at the local provision for people with dementia in the borough and to see what we could provide.
We were shocked by our discovery – 1,800 people in Richmond were living with dementia and this number was set to rise (the prediction being that there will be 1.7 million people in the UK by 2023).
In addition to this we found out that local groups were travelling to central London to access provision that was tailored for their needs as there was nothing locally they could access.
Determined to act, and eager to learn more, we investigated and found evidence about the positive health benefits art can make to people’s lives and memories.
Arts 4 Dementia’s Reawakening the Mind report demonstrated creating art could help to stimulate memory and in some occasions can slow down the process of memory loss. With these factors combined we felt we were in the perfect position to develop an artist-led programme to fill this gap and so Imagine was born.
Partnerships and funding were key to establishing a sustainable offer that was tailored to people’s needs. We developed a strong working relationship with the Alzheimer’s Society who not only advised us on how to programme for people with dementia, but put us in touch with participants, advised us on training and encouraged us to join different networks; Dementia Action Alliance, Dementia Friendly Community network and Arts4Dementia.
Internal support was equally important and this was a project that people expressed passion and enthusiasm for across departments. As a result of this all staff were trained and became “dementia-friendly” allowing Imagine to be embedded in to the organisation as a whole.
The aim was to create something which was inspiring, challenging, interactive and easy to access. We wanted to avoid activity-based or one-off sessions that didn’t involve the learner, that we were told were traditionally put on for older audiences (usually in the form of entertainment, so performance, music, bingo, etc).
Imagine took the aspects of what we do best. Artists ran creative sessions taking inspiration from our collection or exhibitions and teach different skills and techniques.
Working with a team of trained artists we designed a programme to run in 5 session blocks at the gallery and outreach in different care homes and community centres.
An important aspect was that people with dementia attended with their carers and we worked with them all on an individual basis, allowing them to step out of their carer/cared-for roles for a couple of hours and spend time together making art away from the stresses and worries of every day life.
Each block of programmes followed a similar structure, but was then individually tailored to learners’ skills, interests and abilities. Sessions would start with a theme, subject or different medium (painting, sculpture, drawing), but then develop organically allowing learners to create things that were unique to their interests and lives.
Imagine continues to grow as does the growing need for people to access this kind of service in the borough.
The enthusiasm and feedback from participants and staff has been positive and encouraging, attracting interest from other stakeholders and hopefully potential funders.
As an organisation we are continuing to learn what works and doesn’t, how we can sustain both an art course and a lighter touch offer and how we can embed participants in to other parts of our service, such as volunteering and arts events.
One thing is for certain, Imagine is here to stay and we hope to reach more people helping to improve health and wellbeing through art.