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Art in Care Homes; Thomas's Story

"Art can make a difference for people with dementia – like a call to the brain, a connection, helping people come alive again.” Baroness Sally Greengross, Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia.

We run two Craft Café workshops for older people in Edinburgh within Viewpoint care homes. Open to both Viewpoint tenants and care home residents.

Craft Café is a creative and supportive social space open to residents of Viewpoint Housing Association. These workshops are available throughout the week on a drop-in basis and offer a wide variety of arts and crafts activities to those who attend. The space is open to everyone, and it is not necessary to have a particular interest in art – only a desire to spend time with others, to enjoy a nice cup of tea or coffee, and maybe to explore some new activities or ideas in a creative and peaceful space. Our members are aged 58 to 104 and they inspire us everyday with their enthusiasm, stories, and talent! We have themed activities and special events to offer inspiration to our members, and there is always a team of artists on hand to assist and encourage members with their creative endeavors. Every year we also hold an exhibition of work created by Craft Café members at an arts venue in Edinburgh to celebrate their enormous achievements.

We have had many residents join in our Craft Cafe work shops over the years, some come along to every session and others drop in when they want. The workshop is a very relaxed atmosphere and the sessions have been successful in making residents happier and healthier, even helping to enhance their quality of life and increase well-being and motivation.

One member who has been coming along to Craft Cafe at St Raphel's House for about 6 months now, is Thomas*. Thomas is 84 years old and is living with dementia.

When Thomas first started to visit our sessions he seemed very disoriented and unable to engage in any artistic project/ experience. Even though he has an artistic background (he worked as an Illustrator), Thomas gave the impression of not recognizing the materials and seemed incapable of drawing or painting.

However, he always appreciated spending a few hours with us, reading a book, listening to music and having a nice cup of tea.

With time, Thomas started to feel more confident and slowly began to do some colouring. Later, he was introduced to working with pigment powder paint, which he really liked and helped him to flourish. Rapidly he showed amazing artistic skills, a keen eye for composition and colour, as well as the ability to develop beautiful art work using different techniques and materials. He is extremely creative and always ready to experiment with something new. He takes his time during the creative process, showing reflection in his work.

He has a marvellous nature, very friendly and polite and happy to interact with the other members and staff. Thomas also has a great sense of humour.

Even though Thomas is dealing with memory problems, he recognises our workshop, the staff, and some of the Craft Cafe members. He also likes to always sit in the same place (“his place”, as he says) and he is always ready to join in.

We would like to see Thomas becoming even more self- assured, as time goes on and expanding his ideas and working on his own initiative.

In just six months working with us, Thomas has shown such an incredible development in different fields; he seems more comfortable socialising with members and staff, he shows a sense of achievement in his work, and he clearly demonstrates a sense of belonging. We believe that his regular attendance at Craft Cafe helps him to keep his mind active and gives him a purpose.

Craft Cafe is important for so many reasons. It is an encouraging, social space that helps tackle the problem of isolation and loneliness amongst older people. It promotes creative activity and self-expression, which is so important at any age. It celebrates everyone’s journey and contributions with an understanding that each person’s story is unique and invaluable. It provides a chance to learn something new and to step outside of the daily routine into a place where one can explore and dream. Additionally, as part of its core values, Craft Cafe provides and encourages choice and freedom for its members, many of whom are living with increased dependence on others and a feeling of reduced autonomy as a result. All of these qualities make Craft Café important, because what we are trying to express to everyone who attends, both in actions and words, is that they matter. Their lives, their stories, their artistic expressions, their wisdom – it all matters and deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. This is at the core of the social change that needs to happen to alleviate some of the challenges facing older people. Through creativity and the arts, through enablement and celebration, Craft Café is doing what it can one day at a time.

*Please note, the name has been changed for confidentiality reasons.

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