Kirriemuir, birthplace of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, is home to Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre which is based in the centre of the town. Kirrie Connections is a dementia friendly community hub which is open five days a week and has been operating as a Meeting Centre on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays since May 2019.
For the ‘Bring Your Own Lunch’ seminar on 28th February Graham Galloway, manager at Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre, told us about some of the arts-based projects that have taken place there. (Many thanks to Graham for sharing the photographs with us, and any mistakes in the following are ours and not Graham’s!)
The idea of this project was to create a 10 metre long mural out of mosaic tiles. The design for the mural was based on discussions with members, using their life stories to influence the patterns and images. The project also involved the local community such as the Scouts, encouraging young people to come to Kirrie Connections and work alongside people with dementia. During the project many amazing stories emerged and were shared between generations. The finished mosaic is on display in a public square for everyone to see, and is still generates conversation and reminiscence amongst members when they see it.
An offshoot of the project was that leftover materials were used to make tiles which could then be sold to generate some additional financial income.
On Fridays Kirrie Connections hosts Kirrie’s Singing, an inclusive community choir. Many of the Meeting Centre members attend, even though it is held on a non-Meeting Centre day of the week. The choir is run by a professional musician, but other members of staff who do not necessarily consider themselves to be musical are also able to facilitate the sessions.
To provide structure the same songs are used to start each session and to end each session. While many old familiar songs are included, the group is also challenged to learn new songs and given the opportunity to write their own songs. This challenge is important as there can be a tendency to assume that people with dementia are not able to do some things. The choir is an uplifting experience for all involved.
The Orlang project was supported with funding from The RS Macdonald Charitable Trust. It combines arts, music and stories to enable people with dementia to express themselves. Each month has a seasonal theme which incorporates related poetry and songs when producing artwork. The seasonal theme is found to work well as it helps members to tap into their rural backgrounds and connect them with the project. Good relationships have developed between the artists and the members, helping to build confidence and encourage members to read aloud.
Two exhibitions have been held to showcase the artwork produced during this project, with extra funds being generated through many pieces being sold.
A short video about the project is available using the following link.
‘Stained glass’ window
The most recent arts-based activity that Kirrie Connections took on was an ad-hoc project to create a fake ‘stained glass’ window to help protect members against bright sunshine. The idea came from one of the members, and Meeting Centre staff got them involved in cutting out the shapes and enabling them to help direct it.
The final project we heard about was a camera-based project working with a documentary photographer and a composer. This involved setting up a camera club and teaching members how to use cameras to take their own photos, as well as encouraging them to bring along and share old photos. This project proved to be a great experience for the members, helping to give them their voice back by putting them in charge of the photos they took. This gave them a boost in confidence as well as mood elevation. During the project the photographer also took portraits of the members and the composer audio recorded interviews with members about their experiences and stories. The Reframing Dementia project was made possible by funding from the Dementia Services Development Trust ‘Disruption Awards’.
An exhibition combining the portraits, photos and audio recordings has recently been held to share the project with the wider community.
A short video clip about the project can be found using the following link.
Wider discussions – encouraging engagement
Discussions and questions followed Graham’s main talk, raising some interesting points about the work being done at Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre.
While the choir is an ongoing activity with regular fundraising taking place to support it, lots of other activities also take place on an informal basis such as inclusive arts and craft sessions run by volunteers. Creating connections with the local community was felt to be an important factor for a Meeting Centre as it enables them to reach out and discover what talents people have and may be willing to share. Some activities can start out being run informally by volunteers and evolve over time.
One of the challenges with arts-based activities can be finding ways to engage people who don’t think that they are artistic. The trick is to find out about the skills that they do have and see how the arts can be used to tap into them. The Meeting Centre is also looking to develop ways to share what they are doing, beyond the exhibitions that have been held. Videos such as those with links given above are good examples of how this could be done, and Kirrie Connections is exploring options for getting members involved in taking and editing video footage to create their own short films.
Kirrie Connections have seen the benefit of operating as a community asset on days when they are not open as a Meeting Centre. By running inclusive arts and crafts sessions on Mondays and the choir on Fridays, people are encouraged to come to the centre and find out more about it. This can be particularly helpful if people are pre-diagnosis or newly-diagnosed with dementia and don’t feel ready to come to the Meeting Centre. They are able to become familiar and comfortable with Kirrie Connections more generally, which can in turn make them more willing to become part of the Meeting Centre when they feel that they need more support in relation to their dementia.
Some of the projects that Graham talked about were funded by small grants, and he found that it was useful to include a management element where the funds help to support the Meeting Centre.
If you would like to find out more about Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre or any of the projects mentioned here, please contact Graham Galloway at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.kirrieconnections.com or connect on twitter @kirrieconnect
To hear a recording of the ‘Bring Your Own Lunch’ session where Graham’s words will bring the projects to life, please use the following link.