Wiltshire is Celebrating Age through arts and heritage all the way through 2018/19, thanks to a Wiltshire Cultural Partnership being awarded a substantial grant from Arts Council England, along with financial support from 6 Area Boards.
The aim of the 3 year programme is to deliver high quality arts activity to the most isolated and vulnerable older people in our community, who struggle to access creative and social stimulation. Partners in this project, led by Wiltshire Music Centre, are Wiltshire Creative, Pound Arts, Age UK, Wiltshire Council Library Service and Community Engagement Services, the Building Better Opportunities programme led by Community First, Wiltshire and Salisbury Museums.
Six areas in Wiltshire: Trowbridge, Corsham, Royal Wootton Bassett, Calne, Salisbury and Amesbury are the focus of the activity and it is my job, as Project Development Worker, to ensure that the arts activity reaches those who most need it. I have had the most amazing meetings with many of the people who deliver the network of older people’s services across Wiltshire: from the Health and Well-being Groups, Older People’s Champions to Link Scheme Co-ordinators, those managing Sheltered Housing Schemes and Care Co-ordinators from GP surgeries. And then there are those wonderfully generous volunteers who deliver weekly activity to support lonely and vulnerable older people in their own communities, through coffee mornings, lunch clubs, friendship groups just down the road and the link drivers who give up their time to drive people to them. Everyone I meet is excited about this Celebrating Age project, telling me how much creative and stimulating activities are needed for the well -being of older people and the hope that this project will support many isolated people to begin to reconnect with their local communities.
Right from the start of this project, it was important to deliver the right creative and artistic programme, which is being delivered from a ‘bottom up’ approach- finding out from the people themselves what they would like from such a programme. We don’t want to put on high quality arts events that older people aren’t interested in, or they just won’t come! So the events are being planned in consultation with older people’s representatives and the people themselves who are going to benefit (perks of the job: many an afternoon spent in conversation with elders over tea and biscuits!) Wherever possible, links are being made with the partner organisations; outreach from artistic programming, associate artists delivering events and drawing on museum exhibitions and handling collections.
The events, which happen monthly in all 6 areas, often taking place in small local venues, even as close as a sheltered housing communal lounge, so that participants only need to venture a few metres out of their own homes to engage (a massive step for some).
Artist, James Aldridge, worked with Lanfear Close residents in Amesbury to explore memories of favourite places, creating personal collages from photos and memorabilia. These now take pride of place in the communal lounge, celebrating their very local community. Several residents, who rarely leave their homes, joined others in the lounge for fish and chips and talked all day to people they seldom see, whilst engaging with James on a creative level.
“You don’t know what’s going on until you come across this sort of thing. What you’re doing is marvellous!” (resident)
“Thank you for all your kindness. I’m looking forward to seeing all this on the wall. We can be proud of what we’ve done.” (resident)
In Calne, artist Stephanie Jalland, is leading a 4 month project in partnership with the Home library Service, with several older people’s groups and individuals who rarely leave their homes. Put Yourself on The Map! brings together people’s memories of significant places and events during their lives in Calne and celebrates them with their own blue plaque to pin in the map. The project will culminate in a gathering at Calne Community Hub bringing all participants together with the map and, of course, tea and cake!
After several ‘doorstep’ events, working with link schemes and volunteer transport networks, we will endeavour to encourage people to travel to their local community library hubs, village halls, community cafés, etc to experience more events and performances with others from nearby communities. There is evidence to show that one high quality arts event can have a significant impact on a person’s well- being for some time after the event. If people can share that event with others living nearby, it is hoped that they will then talk about it with their neighbours in the days following, to hold onto that well-being feeling for even longer.
The celebration of age doesn’t stop at the participants and we are working with many older musicians and artists, such as Trowbridge based Gypsy Folk band, Raggle Taggle and Salisbury Irish musicians, Clive Cunningham and John Wippell. I am also having discussions with artists, performers and organisations who make work specifically for the older community; tapping into their life experience and their responses to different themes, thus encouraging people to explore new avenues…. You’re never too old to try something new, it’s just making the ‘new’ accessible that makes the trying it become a reality. Through Celebrating Age Wiltshire, we are aiming to make ‘the new’ in vulnerable, isolated older people’s lives something to celebrate.
Rebecca Seymour, Project Development Worker, Celebrating Age
Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 07955 249288