November 11, 2014

At one point in the last week’s visit to Lavenders care home, I stopped facilitating and simply looked around: I was in a room full of 80, 90 & 100 year-old residents chatting, laughing, holding hands, playing with 12 primary school pupils, three artists, a filmmaker, a 2nd Year Classroom Assistant and an Arts Company Director. Everywhere was hubbub, chatter, laughter, flow.

Gitika Partington, the community choir leader had come to Lunsford School the previous week and lead two gymnasium school assemblies teaching the pupils songs from a list of care home residents’ favourites: Moon River, A Long Way to Tipperary & Streets of London. On the day of the visit the pupils performed the songs they learned for them, inviting the residents to sing along.

After the concert, the pupils spread out in small groups of two and three, sharing boxes they’d decorated at school containing photos and objects from people they treasured, and asking questions from the set of conversation cards. The atmosphere relaxed much more quickly on this second visit – the residents knew what to expect, and were looking forward to it: when we’d entered St Martin’s home I heard Joyce in the lounge turn and say to the room, ‘They’re here everybody! They’ve arrived!’

One of the things I enjoy about this project is the fact that it’s spread out over months, and includes several visits. It’s not an event or a performance that happens once and then simply ends. In a care home activities can occur and then that’s it, until the next unconnected activity happens, and then that one finishes, and so on. This can be difficult for people who struggle making connections in the first place. But these repeated visits, with preparation and consultation, help to create a sense of anticipation, which builds excitement and participation. Afterwards, the results are shared and talked about, with photos, films, conversations, and more visits. It helps reinforce positive feelings of wellbeing.

And with the amount of stimuli available to young people today, the repetition of the visits and variety of the activities allow a number of different access points for them. You never know how an activity will strike someone, what will connect with them. Kian, year 3 pupil, was wonderfully kind and patient while walking around Lavenders pointing out the photos on his box to everyone in the room, one person after the other, describing each image. Year 6 Molly was terrific at singing “Moon River”, and really enjoyed listening to Joyce talk about her own school days, while Year 1 Reese had a blast marching to ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’.

In that moment of hubbub when I looked around the room, I could feel the residents loving the children being there, and I could feel the children loving being loved. It was a beautiful moment of controlled happy chaos, and it bodes well for the next sharing, the most complex and interactive yet: the pupils of Lunsford school are going to recreate scenes from the lives of the residents, scenes where they have been helped by others both past and present, helped by people they admire, look up to, and love.

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