The National Creative Ageing Project 2002 – 2005
Creative Ageing was a landmark project for the charity. It gave Age Exchange the opportunity to grow the geographical influence of its work and mission, and specifically the opportunity to develop the innovative practice of person centred reminiscence arts created with frail older people in residential care, day care and living in rural communities. At the heart of Creative Ageing was the partnership with regional organisations, as well as the training and employment of local arts professionals, who worked alongside Age Exchange on projects in three counties. Along with a wide range of visual arts and reminiscence projects, Creative Ageing gave Age Exchange the opportunity to develop its unique methodology of creating reminiscence theatre, facilitating the performance of older people through improvisational play inspired by personal and group thematic reminiscence. The model had first been piloted in day care in Bournemouth in 1998 and on a series of partnership productions with Theatre Museum and Age Concern Westminster in 2000-2002.
This project consisted of direct work with older people and their carers using a combination of reminiscence and arts skills to enable the older people to develop new forms of expression, and share their learning and life-experiences. The work was based on the development of good relationships built on trust, understanding and respect, between the project workers, older disabled people, care staff, volunteers and managers of services.
Components of the Project
The project was made up of a nationwide package of reminiscence projects, training workshops, open days and performances, focusing on three English regions – West Yorkshire, Norfolk and the West Country. “Creative Ageing” aimed to establish a wide-ranging programme of sustainable reminiscence arts activities in a variety of health and social care settings for older people around England. From consultation with local coordinators and practitioners, we knew that different areas were at different stages of development, and had different targets and ways of moving forward. Some were at the very beginning of their reminiscence developments, some wished to move on to new special interest groups (such as dementia care or schools work), and some wished to move into new creative fields (such as visual arts or theatre).
We concentrated the project work in West Yorkshire, Norfolk and the West Country because of good links with coordinators who were experienced reminiscence practitioners, and who had good networking foundations. In one focus region a year we developed a new locally trained team of reminiscence project workers, ran a series of reminiscence arts projects in care settings, and raised awareness amongst local funders and managers of services about the value of such services. In another focus region we ran a creative arts residency.
The Department of Health – Project Grant
The Department of Health recognised the value of the project for older people in health and social care settings, and gave Age Exchange three-year project funding in order to initiate and nurture further national developments. The Department believed that we met their Section 64 Project Grant criteria in a number of ways. Many ‘buzz words’ were talked and written about in relation to services for older people: for example, ‘Active Ageing and Lifelong Learning’, ‘Person Centred Care’, ‘Holistic Care’, ‘Social Inclusion’, and the ‘Social Model of Disability’. Reminiscence arts projects, properly conducted with trained and experienced workers, bring these ‘buzz words’ to life with demonstrably enjoyable and productive activities for older people.
The Arts and Health
‘Creative Ageing’ was an Arts and Health Project that explored the links between reminiscence, creativity, health and well-being. Older people in care settings remain relatively excluded. This project recognised their ability to produce art based on their life-stories that is both entertaining and educational. The rest of society will benefit from learning from these too often neglected talents. We must give them equal opportunities to be creative and to be valued as being creative. Expectations of older disabled people are unrealistically and damagingly negative. They are capable of far more than mere passive acceptance of whatever entertainment is put on offer for them. They are capable of active involvement in and direction of the creative process and creative outcomes. They are at a stage in life that provides the opportunity for a reflective and late perspective on the life they have lived – an opportunity for the distillation of life-experience and the fine honing of shared life-stories. Involvement in projects like this gives older disabled people the opportunity to change attitudes by reversing the conventionally perceived gift relationship of carer giving to older person, with the older person being represented as merely a receiver of care. There are two-way mutual benefits for all concerned in successful reminiscence projects. Our memories are potentially inspirational for ourselves and for others.
Project reports are available of Creative Ageing and both the projects in Bournemouth and with Theatre Museum and Age Concern.