Launch of the study in the North East 

Halfway through the first art intervention workshops at the Oakdale care home and we all feel part of the home’s warm community.  

We have been welcomed by staff and family members and they have been very patient helping us to fill in all our data forms. We recognise that taking on a research project can mean more work and we are truly grateful. We could not do this without their help. However, we hope the positive outcomes we’re already seeing means this is proving a good investment of their time. 

When someone’s daughter tells you that her dad has had a change in medication which might explain a difference in alertness, or when a volunteer kindly calms a participant down by taking her outside for a break, you realise the importance of an accepting community.  The Manager of the care home has been instrumental in embracing the project and she has continued to play an active, mobilising and warm supportive role. 

The inspiration behind some of the workshops was Matisse’s cut-outs exhibition at the Tate. I’ve been bowled over by the inventive stimuli the artists produce – balloons that resemble the shapes in his cut-outs, fitness mighty bands that the group stretch between each other, florist gel pellets that resemble frogspawn, miniature light projectors. These rich and varied materials are far from gimmicks. Each multisensory tool is used to help draw out the different abilities and preferences of participants. I have also been impressed by the ipads. The art programmes are so immediately responsive to participants’ touch and seem to absorb them for sustained periods of time.
 
We’ve had some interesting developments in terms of participant behaviour.  One of our participants continually swears.  One of the care home staff noted how he swore much less frequently during the art workshops.  Now, six weeks in and he is starting to swear again. Is this because he now feels more comfortable?  How is such behaviour moderated when it disturbs other members of the group? These are questions we’d like to explore further.
 
In consultation with the Manager, our artists decided to split our participants into two groups – a verbal and a non-verbal group.  This seems to have worked very effectively in terms of making sure tasks can be suitably differentiated. The different tone and tempo of each workshop is carefully crafted.  The artists have responded to participants’ individual needs.  For example, one participant now sits aside on a table of his own with some music playing as he seems much more comfortable away from the other participants.  They have noticed how one participant can read so have produced A4 sheets with words relevant to the workshop written on them.  These are just left out in an unobtrusive way and we occasionally hear a ‘marvellous’ from the corner.
 
Anna Goulding   
 
August 2014