Thursday, 30 August 2012

Making Memories - Oldham Day 1

The Grange, Oldham Day 1

We've just started our new project Making Memories which is funded by the Barings Foundation and is a partnership with Gallery Oldham. We're experimenting with new approaches to reminiscence boxes, whilst devising a series of boxes for the Gallery. We're planning to stretch the boundaries of this kind of artefact, taking in broad notions of what stimulates memories and how we understand our collective past.

Ideas that we're playing with include the juxtaposition of old and new objects, creating productive clashes. Bringing in parallel sense experiences like taste. Exploring the emotional value of particular objects and the memories attached. Opening possibilities for reminiscence by using objects that are ambiguous or unexplainable – using the imagination as an investigative tool.

We also want to bring art practice into this playing with the form of the box. The beautiful work of Susan Hiller is particularly in mind. Her cabinets of bottled essences - of people and ideas - are a cunning alchemical brew. They're tangibly real and yet unreachable, like the past itself.

This first morning session was spent meeting with Dorothy, who manages The Grange - sheltered housing in Oldham - discussing the programme of activities and people who'd be interested, saying hellos to residents and familiarising ourselves with the venue - and then in the afternoon looking through the reminiscence materials available at  Gallery Oldham.

This two year project will be run as a close partnership with Gallery Oldham, from whom we hope to learn much. We are delighted to be funded by the Barings Foundation, their support for Making Memories is a welcome endorsement of our continued work in the arts and health field.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Little mountains

Spaghetti Maze: Pinfold Lane Day Centre, Day 4

We are running reminiscence workshops at the Pinfold Centre in Bury, working with people who have a dementia diagnosis to build up life-stories, for use as their disease progresses and memories erode. We've been invited by Bury Text Festival to experiment with new approaches to building life-stories. This blog covers a little of our thinking behind the bigger project.

One of the keys is simply the documentation of conversations, making life stories from people's own words. We're hoping that using something that moves toward a personal language will generate phrases that are more powerfully evocative for participants than the summarised paragraphs that are usually the standby of documents like this. Everybody's mode of spoken expression is different, a kind of language fingerprint and we've tried to keep the veracity of that. We'll also play with different narrative and organising structures, including family trees. We'll incorporate art and poetic work alongside the reminiscence, again widening the expressive range. Finally, our progress or hiccups are noted in these blogs and other evaluations, so that there's a virtual paper trail leading through it all, for others to follow if they wish.


There is a tendency – as we all get older – to shut out the new and retread the past. Memory Lane can become the corridor of a prison. This is exacerbated by dementia which makes the present particularly scary, with it's worries about washing, dressing, eating, shopping, travelling, all of which 'little' tasks require a fully-functioning memory or they become mountainous. Anything that seems to break the bubble of solitude and self-absorption in these circumstances is potentially useful.

That's the theory, in practice we're finding that the dynamic of our two groups at Pinfold is subtly changing. The first two sessions gathered a group of individuals into reminiscing. Now they're becoming a group with many individual facets. People are listening to one another more closely and therefore are stimulated to respond outside of their usual patterns and preconceptions.


In the group itself, attention spans are lengthening and folk are involved in a joined-up conversation, rather than interjecting non-sequiturs. One of the groups was dominated by a particular individual who is now having to gear down her contributions because the others are no longer happy to let her have all the say. Another individual has started talking on the bus home, rather than staying silent as she'd previously done. They are tiny shifts to a superficial glance, but they indicate a change in attitude. And altitude.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Blackpool Launch

arthur+martha artist Lois Blackburn is celebrating the climax of the Project Object today:

detail from Lois Blackburn's apron design

Project Object Product Launch Invitation:
Tuesday 28th August, 5.30-6.30pm at the Grundy Art Gallery, Queen Street, Blackpool, FY1 1PU

Project Object is pleased to invite you to our exclusive product launch!
We are offering all invitees a 10% discount on all Project Object purchases during the evening.

There will be an opportunity to chat to the artists involved and view some of the prototypes and work which came out of the community workshops.
Blackpool has a wealth of historic collections and heritage buildings which have inspired commissioned artists/designers Tim Denton, Lois Blackburn and Bonker*s Clutterbucks to produce a range of contemporary and innovative items to be sold in the Grundy Art Gallery Shop and the Tourist Information Centre Shop. These artists/designers also led four weekly design sessions with the community, taking them on a design journey from researching the collections to developing a product for sale.

Please RSVP to Catherine at Grundy Art Gallery on or 01253 478170.
Project Object is managed by Blackpool Arts Service and supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

detail from Lois Blackburn's apron design

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Spaghetti Maze - participants' quotes

Participants’ quotes

Pinfold Centre – Day 5

We are running reminiscence and art/writing workshops at the Pinfold Centre in Bury, working with people who have a dementia diagnosis to build up life-stories. These will be used as their disease progresses and memories erode.

We've run five sessions in the Pinfold Centre and are starting to develop some delightful work. Because reminiscence can be a challenge for someone with dementia, we tread as carefully as we can. However, the very process of remembering can engender upset, as can the content of memories. We've had a wonderful response to the workshops, but this week wanted to check with people about how they felt about the project and our plans for it. This week we started to introduce artwork and next week we'll try some poems, which Gladys is looking forward to, as you'll see below.

We've been very fortunate in working at this particular centre because the care and dedication of the staff is remarkable. This makes the participants relax and impacts in a hugely positive way on our work. Because people feel happy and safe, they'll take risks and plunge into trying out new things. Staff member Tracy gives a summing-up at the end of these comments.

Ivy holding her printed postcards


Some memories I like, some yes some no. It's surprising how it comes back. I like remembering back.

Jackie and her print


Yes, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not. Mum was so strict...


Surprising what you can find as you go remembering. It comes to mind sometimes what we went through, fascinates me. Wonder how you manage to get through. It's one of them things you have to get over and build your muscles up. I've lived a serious life. A serious life, but I'd still do it again.

Mary and her print


I enjoyed everything, so I enjoy remembering. We all remember when we get together.


The happy, happy times, from when you were young many moons ago. It's brought the memories again, the happiness. I think of it when I go to sleep at night. It's had me laughing.

Kathleen and her print


My son will love this. This will bring it back, make the point. It’s concrete, as I told it. I can show that to anybody. Thank you, this has been very good.


Age, you accept. It depends on what you expect as you get older, whether you can do what you used to do. You might be an artist and not know it. Everything starts in a little way. For me, life's just going on as usual, the fact that I'm older seems to be a minor thing. I'd like to get going again with writing, it's rewarding if you can get something down in print. When I was at school I'd write stories – ridiculous of course, but a step on the way. You've got to get a nice sharp ending to make it readable.

Tracy (staff)

I love it, the reminiscing – and they love it too. It's really good for them. They get a lot out of it, getting their own time and space. Because we're pushed for time and because some people stay very quiet in big groups, we don't really get to know some of the service-users very well. But here, they can come out of themselves and be themselves.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The legend of Bellevue

We're currently working in Bury, doing life story work with people who have a dementia diagnosis.

Our morning in the Pinfold Centre was a memory-visit to the legendary Bellevue of long-gone childhood: once a zoo, park, dancehall, boating lake (complete with steamboat) teashop and general entertainment Mecca.


The parrots would call 'Shut up, we're closed!' when it was shut. They'd say 'Morning' in the morning and 'Brush your teeth' at night. There was a lake, you could go on the steamboat. Come off and you'd be sick as a dog. Take a ride around on a giraffe.


I've never ridden a giraffe. Imagine it'd be difficult.


I never went to Bellevue. Can't remember it. Probably playing football...

The afternoon session was centred around memories of mothers: the whole edifice of care and love and discipline and the person who built it. For some these sessions were a rosy-tinged stroll, for others it was a more ambivalent recollection.

Mothers tend to be publicly remembered in a cotton wool wrap of sentimentality. But under the cotton wool is control, giving and withdrawal, protection, punishment... All of these things may be done with love and care, but they're part of everyone's upbringing and in some cases they can be very brutal.

“No family allowance – if you had nothing, you had nothing. We lived a few doors away from the pawnshop. Some people would be in and out of there to survive.” (Kathleen)

Perhaps it's impossible to imagine now the pressures that these women were under, the toughness of their lives. It's certainly impossible to deliver a soft-centre confection of childhood when you're working all the hours to keep a family clean and fed.

“I didn't see much of my mum, she was busy all the time. 'If you don't behave you'll get a smack.' She was always busy, always in the kitchen. That was the only time we'd see her, if we went into the kitchen to get a cup of water. I never seen me dad either, he was working.” (Jackie)

And and another perhaps: mothering in that soft-soap way would've made the children too vulnerable for their environment.

“My dad, he worked in a foundry., he was a planer. Many a time he'd come home with his eye patched. 'A bit of steel in me eye that's all.' No time to be soft, no one could be soft back then, not any of us. A good hiding does you no harm.” (Ivy)

Remembering parents once they've died is at least partially an act of grief, along with all the other mani-foldings of reminiscence. It can bring great sadness, as well as joy, although in these sessions there seemed mostly pleasure.

In the subtext of these transcriptions is always dementia and it too brings grief, of another sort. But alongside that is the relief that remembering can still be a pleasure. As in the snippet of conversation I started with, between Kathleen, Paula and Gordon:



Bellevue was our patch. All Salford people knew Bellevue; it was famous through Manchester but we knew it best. I lived on 35 the Crescent, Salford. I remember boys playing football on the meadows.”


Ah football, there's a subject...

Tarnowskie Gory

(Lois writes) As part of my project working memories I attended the Buxton Memory Cafe, run by the Alzheimer's Society Derbyshire. It's a welcoming group of people, health staff, representatives from the Alzheimer's Society, Carers and people with dementia. Over cups of tea and plates of biscuits I catch snatches of conversation; people sharing their troubles and grief, mixed with laughter and empathy. 

One of the joys of our work is not knowing who you are going to meet, and what you are going to uncover. This week two of the participants included Edmund and his daughter Margaret. Edmund was among a previous wave of Polish people who came to Britain:

Came over after the war, went to Stirling the Barracks a long time ago. National Service, sent to Germany, France then Britain, no English when I came here. Tarnowskie Gory, been back to Poland quite a lot, would take sheep skin coats, boots, woollen garments, anything warm. The family was very poor, would send coal money and presents for everyone when we visited.

He seemed delighted to look at photos of Tarnowskie Gory via Google Earth, the ipad comes into its own in these sessions, with instant visuals. Another picture was formed of his home town when his daughter explained: 

My mother lost all her family in the war, the Jewish people in the village were hung up by their tongues on wooden lampposts. My mum ended up in Belsen. After the war (she wasn’t Jewish) she chose to go to Brazil, but ended up with friends going to England. She worked in a Mill in Stockport, she wouldn’t speak about the war.

It was lovely to see Cyril again, his wonderful sense of humour bringing a lightness to the group, cut through at times with the grief of recently loosing his wife. Our theme for the session was money, and it just happened that Cyril was a retired Bank Manager- a very different description to that of current banks...

Girls had to work hard on the farms, and in those days the farms were passed to the boys, women didn’t have their names on the deeds- always the men. My wife didn’t have her name on.

I was a bank manager, most of my customers where considered friends, would visit them all over the country.

Not a lot of people had people had bank accounts when I started, had a customer who had his money in a tin box under a slab, in the farm barn. Would bring the notes into change them every now and again when the notes were discontinued. Started in 1942 used pen and ink, we were one of the last branches that changed to machines, so cold in our office. Very poor money to start with, 27 Shillings week when I started 1942 got married at £400 a year. The manager said the sweepers at Ferodo with over time had more money than him. You never expected to leave the bank, you’d have to run off with the chairman’s wife to get sacked.

Gave my wife £10 a month into her private account to spend as she wanted, that went on till 6 months before she died. She hardly spent any of it, so easy -going.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Of moths and mothers

We are running reminiscence workshops at the Pinfold Centre in Bury, working with people who have a dementia diagnosis to build up life-stories, for use as their disease progresses and memories are 'eaten' by the disease.

The sessions are often based around remembering childhood, because childhood memories tend to be the most vivid and remain so throughout life. They also bring a big quota of affection and playfulness, which help these particular sessions to counter the upset of the dementia.

“Sink or dolly tub, posset going hell for leather, the wash-house was our kitchen. Rinse under the tap, hang the washing indoors on a rack, pull it up on a rope. Snap it and your washing was down. I broke so many washing lines, always in trouble. But they made very good skipping ropes.” (Margaret)

The memories are also tough in themselves: “Sometimes mum never went to bed til early morning. She'd be washing til then. My mum took washing in – one person was a school teacher and others were mums who went out to work. They'd pay her, just a little bit. They were hard days but we got through it.” (Ivy)

The word remembering is a combination of re- and -membering, ie. to give body to something that previously has become dis-embodied, or dismembered. Often this is a joyful recovery, but sometimes it is deeply distressing and this Friday's session was a mix of the two emotions. I want particularly to write about the experience of K.

K's delight in finding memory was coupled with horror in realising what was lost. The disease forced acceptance of what was happening to him, there was no way open, other than reluctant good grace. He talked about 'crawling' to find recollection that had toppled away 'off the edge'.

'Memory, it's dropped off the edge. I'll just have to wait til it crawls back. I was a designer and that kind of atmosphere. Started work at 14. All things change, you're always an apprentice.' (K)

Even at the end of life you're still learning to live with the situation you're in. Dementia causes erosion of language and the necessity for its re-invention. The poetic qualities of K's speech were a wonderful find in the midst of misery, but came highly-priced. I walked away from that session sad beyond my own words.

Including K in the session had been both my judgement and that of staff; it's not possible to know the right decision in such a situation. Being over-cautious means excluding people and deeper discussion, but inclusion brings risk too. It is possible that K will ask to come into the workshops again, but the signs of overload will need to be watched for very carefully.

Writing up these session notes, full of battered recollections and hand-me-downs, I'm reminded of the old-fashioned habit of keeping clothes in mothballs. But these memories aren't protected – and sometimes when they are held up to the light, the holes are only too apparent. K's attempt to find the pattern of his life from half-gone memory was a little like seeing a moth fluttering at the window.

In the late summer evening as I write up these notes, the moths are at our windows again. They flutter in the light, their wings bright and amazing as they beat themselves half to death against the glass.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Pleased as a punch

Our new project Spaghetti Maze began last Friday at the Pinfold Centre in Whitefield, working with people who have a dementia diagnosis. We're helping them to develop written life stories, which they'll take with them on the 'dementia journey'. The conversation below is given as a whole here, but it'll also be atomised into parts for each participant's collection. These words written so easily below don't do justice to the effort made in reaching for them by the tellers, nor the kindness and gentleness of the staff who sat in on the conversation.

The memories were punctuated by laughter, though they contained much toughness and a good few punches. The Whit Walks that are mentioned were the great social event of the year ('Bigger than Christmas') when churches and youth organisations marched with banners through the city. 

This project has been funded by Bury MBC and Arts Council England, it is an outreach element of the international Text Festival at Bury.

Pinfold Centre. Day 1, 27 July 2012. Morning

Kathleen, Paula, Doreen, Gordon, Gladys


I went to St John’s Cathedral, on Chapel Street in Salford. Sister Winifred, Sister Augustin, Miss Whittle – we called her Miss Pickle, Miss Pimpernel. I hated her. She got on the tram in the morning from Irlam of th Heights – “Morning Miss!” Posh but poor, I was taught by nuns. We all had uniforms, silly buggers. Smart for Whit Walks. The C of E walked on Monday, Roman Catholics like me walked on Friday.


On the Whit Week Walks you’re showing your religion off. I was at St Joseph’s. Then there was Proddie-Dogs to give them their right name. I remember the teachers, but not their names. Rap across the knuckles with a short ruler.


You only held the banner if you were a goodun. The uniforms were chosen by nuns. New pair of shoes and your feet were killing you by the time you got home. Walk from Salford Cathedral to Albert Square.


I’m from Oldham, went with all the Oldham lot. Freehold School, Hollingwood. A Protestant school. Wearing their best. D’you know what, they’d be pleased as punch. It were bigger than Christmas.


A boy’s jersey, green with navy stripes and a grey kilt. The uniform was picked by the nuns. On the Whit Walks, jumper, tie, kilt - the heat! When I got back I said: ‘I’m very hot!’ My mum said: ‘I’m not surprised.’


We had to stick to the uniform in summer, it was unbearable sometimes. Hot as hot. Thick and heavy, it were more jumper-ified. Navy blue with a white shirt, skirt navy with pleats. Put your white socks on. Knickers? They’d bury you, they were that big. Passed on from child to child in a family. Hold up your socks with a piece of elastic tied round the top.


Played football, that’s all I did. I was a good player. They said to me: “A good little player, but you’re not big enough.” It was everything to me. Streets, fields, we played everywhere. Took the bag off your back and used it for goals.


Tied skipping ropes to people’s doors, knocked and ran away, they couldn’t open them. Knock and run like hell! Playing hopscotch, jumping. Cleaning the street of all the chalk numbers. I must have cleaned a hundred paving stones.


Come on outside and we’ll have a game of skipping. The things we got up to...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

I've been me

Caring for someone with dementia can be a huge task and the carer is in danger of becoming swamped. Their life and needs are often subsumed. Many accept this task willingly, because of love, though the price comes high. Margaret started the conversation below with reluctance to talk about her life, because she'd become used to putting herself second. But then, as we chatted, the pleasure of remembering overtook her and - as she described it - 'I've been me.'

Salford Buddy Cafe, 26 Jan 2012

D'you know St John's the cathedral? Chapel Street, The Crescent? There was my school Delta House, then Salford Royal, then St John's which was our church. If you go to Betsy Square, you'll see the old Town Hall and the courts; the gates where they took in the prisoners. Buildings around there were made of stone, it was hundreds of years old – Olde England. My dad had a grocers on the corner. Salford 3, Rosamund Street.

We were the first set who were taken for 'regeneration' as they now call it. To my mind that was the ruination of families and communities. They moved families miles, put them in places they didn't know with people they'd never met. My dad got a new shop with a maisonette; it was the modern world.

I was May Queen in 1951, at the cathedral. I was on the Pathe news, in the procession. Used to nearly live at the cathedral. I'd go in first thing in the morning with my mum, then back with my aunty at 11 for benediction. It was a way of life, everybody knew everybody.

We moved near Ladywell Sanatorium. That brings a memory. I went into that Sanatorium. I had polio when I was eight. (My arthritis was bad this morning and I wondered if it was a throwback.) They said mum and dad had to put me in the bath four times a day and massage me. Hated it.

How I got it in the first place. It was the first time after the war they put on the Blackpool lights. They put on a coach trip to Blackpool. I went there with a cold and picked up polio on the coach. Couldn't walk by the time we got to Blackpool.

I remember that night when they got me in, they had a gas fire going, warming me in blankets. My mum stayed up all night warming the blankets and wrapping me in them. Then I was in Ladywell Sanatorium with the polio.

And then another coach trip - we went to Saint Winifred's Well, a healing place. D'you know it? Blood on the steps. They didn't usually let people get close to the well, but for some reason they let me go to it. At the well, they let me stand on the steps freezing, shivering. When I got off the coach, I ran to my dad. It was a miracle. They should've written to Rome, people often do to report a miracle.

My family we moved to Fairhope, then to Little Hulton. Why they had to keep moving us I don't know. Why they couldn't just upgrade the building. I was there ‘til I was 19 then we moved here, to Swinton.

Salford as it was – a community. Manchester was all about shops and business, Manchester was money. Salford was different. It was considered the other side. Industry. Coal-mining. My husband is from a coal-mining family. Underground there's a warren of tunnels.

My grandad had a bungalow in Pickmere. There's a bottomless lake and my dad and grandad built a bungalow by the lake. I went every school holiday. Beautiful, I loved it. Go down the lane with my little milk-churn to get the milk. I was pampered. Grandpa built a boat – I could row really young. Went over a stile to pick the mushrooms.

Growing up in a war, I think my childhood made me stronger. We used to play on bombsites - they wouldn't let you do that now. If you're too protected you don't strive. One of my friends, a carer, is two years older than me and we have the same mentality. Another friend who's younger says, 'I need a counsellor.' In fact the doctors wanted me to see a counsellor. I saw this girl and she sat open mouthed at what I told her. She couldn't believe it. I don't need to speak to someone younger than my daughters to get advice. She didn't have the life experience to help me. So I didn't go again. I think people generally today are too soft. They EXPECT - rather than fighting.

It feels strange talking about myself instead of the dementia. It’s a bit uncomfortable, at first, feels selfish. Me, me, me, talking memories. I’ve been to the past, my past. I’ve been me, not a carer.