Using the arts to connect better with Western Isles’ older generation

Blar Buidhe resident, Murdo Afrin, takes part in the Curious Shoes performance.
Blar Buidhe resident, Murdo Afrin, takes part in the Curious Shoes performance.

Using the arts to engage with people and support their health was the focus at Blar Buidhe Care Home in Steinish during the recent ‘Care Home Open Day’, an initiative to connect care homes, their residents and staff with the wider community.

This year’s theme for the open day was ‘Celebrating Arts in Care’ and at the Lewis care home residents were treated to a performance of ‘Curious Shoes’ a bespoke piece of theatre specially created for people living with dementia.

The cast of Curious Shoes production.

The cast of Curious Shoes production.

Director Magdalena Schamberger, described: “I have had the pleasure of working with people living with dementia for over 18 years and have noticed that people in advanced stages often sit looking down at the floor. So the first thing they see when meeting someone is a pair of shoes. For a long time, I have wanted to explore this viewpoint by combining art forms - dance, music and song.

“Curious Shoes is a mixture of structured scenes and there is an invitation to engage, with room for improvisation and participation.

“There is no obvious pressure to follow a storyline, but the scenes are loosely linked to create a thread if you wish to find one.

“With the small audience and intimate performance space, we aim to connect with each and every audience member.”

Resident Etta MacIver enjoyed taking part in the arts session.

Resident Etta MacIver enjoyed taking part in the arts session.

As well as the Curious Shoes performance residents were also able to take part in an arts day, when artist Margaret Ferguson - the creator of the Iolaire 100 portraits - visited the care home to guide residents with their art works.

Talking about the activities Care Home manager, Donald McIntosh, said: “Care Home Open Day is an important annual event which allows us to interact and engage with our local community.

This year we were delighted to welcome Curious Shoes and Margaret Ferguson to be a part of this.

“The residents all thoroughly enjoyed the theatre show and it was heart-warming to see so many engaging with painting and reminiscing of days gone by.

“We would like to convey our sincere thanks to all who made this day such a success for our island’s elderly residents.”

The arts activities had been organised via the education project Cianalas (a Gaelic word describing a feeling of Belonging or Connection).

Research has indicated that loneliness and isolation can hasten the onset of dementia and in the Islands, where an ageing population in rural areas may have little social interaction, there is a drive to ensure that the older population is not left out.

The Cianalas project aims to share the arts with people, wherever they are, and who can’t get to exhibition spaces, or performances.

Cianalas project coordinator, Paula Brown, explained: “I used to work at Blar Buidhe a few years ago as the Activities Co-ordinator, before I took on this post. This is how I know people so well and I have kept in touch through the regular work of this project.

“I have been working with residents over the years through An Lanntair, sharing festivals, events and evening class teaching through freelance artists and academic partners.

“The care home open day was a wonderful opportunity to work with artist Margaret Ferguson - she brought along some of her original Iolaire paintings for bedside mini exhibitions recently.”

Paula added: “We work with all the homes and community groups throughout the area and often arrange for artists to visit, we also take touring plays out to different centres.”

She described how the project is currently working with writer, Ron Coleman, who has cognitive impairment/early dementia, but is creating a play centred around living with the condition.

Paula added: “One of the dancers we work with, Louise Davidson, is also choreographing a piece for the play.”

The play is due to be performed at An Lanntair in Stornoway on September 10th.

To find out more about the work of the Cianalas project and upcoming events visit An Lanntair’s website at: http://lanntair.com/education/education-projects/