Saturday, 2 March 2013

Our house, in the middle of our street

Pinfold Lane Centre, Whitefield 1 March 2013

Kath with drawing of childhood home

Philip writes:

We're coming toward the end of Spaghetti Maze, our project making life stories with people who have a dementia diagnosis. We've had a break from the project to assess the material and on returning to the Pinfold Lane Centre in Whitefield, we were made very welcome by the staff. Interestingly, although our participant groups have memory loss problems they all remembered us too – despite a 3 month break – which suggests that we've impacted on them quite deeply. Hopefully, it also suggests that we are doing something right and the bonds we've formed are strong.

Both sessions were very heavily planned because we're tying up loose ends, bringing our work with this particular set of people to a close. We wanted to fill in any gaps that we might have left in the life stories and so had very focussed and time-aware sessions.

Mary designing picture frame

We're also thinking about taking this work forward - how we can develop this further into a large-scale life story book that we will publish. We have spent over a decade working with many, many groups but the connecting thread has always been the telling of lives. Now we're turning these skills and techniques into a how-to guide for others to use, particularly people with a dementia diagnosis and those around them – carers, relatives.

Today, Lois brought two drawing exercises; a particular success was the suggestion that people draw the home of their childhood. Often people are reluctant to pick up a pen and draw. It's a big leap of faith to trust that they won't be mocked, by us, their peers, or (most devastatingly themselves, seeing oneself produce drawings that appear child-like can lead to a sense of being diminished). Actually, today there were no complaints. Drawing a house is one of the very first things we learn to do at school; it is iconic and because of that people didn't seem to mind having a go. Perhaps because the point of a drawing like this is that it's not technically perfect. Like a picture of a smiley face, it's the spirit of the thing that counts.

Doreen drawing childhood home

We're also building a repertoire of new writing exercises. These have to tread a line between being informative and something more wayward, which allows room for the eccentricity and tangential thinking that makes an individual. We tried making little charts of family members, name, rank, and other details and putting them into a grid. Dependent on how this is filled in and read out, this can be a 'straight' information chart, or a more elusive, poetic piece.

The Pinfold Lane Centre is a dementia daycare centre, but it is also a remarkably happy, safe gathering place for people people who sometimes struggle with the world. It's a haven, a house of memories, a place of forgetting. Every time we make our goodbyes, I realise that I've been uplinfted by my day there. It's the biggest compliment that I can think of, to the staff there, that from much misery and confusion they bring something joyful.

For more about the project please visit

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