We're working in partnership with Gallery Oldham to help rethink their reminiscence boxes as tools to stimulate art, writing and shared reflection.
We’ve recently started working in two care homes in Oldham, trying creative reminiscence ideas. Working with people with a dementia diagnosis, we're on the lookout for subtle breakthroughs, which mean an approach has worked and someone has changed their behavior for awhile. This is the story of one such moment.
The reminiscence box we are currently constructing is called High Days and Holidays. It’s a powerful memory jolt because it brings with it associations of family outings, religious festivals, days out of the day-to-day. One of the slightest and yet most affecting things in this box is a set of old handtinted photos of Blackpool, the Shangri La of the North West. People were invited to trace these images with a pencil, onto carbon paper, making a copy of their marks. The drawings that came from this session have a dreamy beauty.
To make such a piece requires much effort, especially if you happen to have a dementia diagnosis. You have to recognize the picture, enter it, select the most important details, physically inscribe it with your own human labour.
A lady in our group today sings almost constantly, it’s a circle of behavior she rarely breaks out of. We of course didn’t know this. We simply saw a woman who sang a lot when we first met her become engrossed in drawing.
It turns out this was the first time she’d picked up a pencil and signed her name in two years, when her carer didn’t know if she could even write. It turns out she was a professional singer, and often worked in Blackpool.
It’s very tempting to make this last fact a neat ending to this story, because it appeals to logic. She was a singer in Blackpool – aha!
I don't trust neat endings. Perhaps it was the rhythm of the physical activity, perhaps it was the particular colour of the picture, perhaps it was simply the daftness of our idea that appealed? But she stopped singing and we all kept smiling.