In 2009–10, Engage Cymru worked in partnership with local authorities across Wales on a number of action research projects focusing on engaging socially isolated older people. Engage Cymru mapping report in 2009 revealed that only 3% of galleries in Wales were proactively working with older people. In response to this and the Wales Strategy for Older People, Engage Cymru delivered a series of professional development events focusing on older people engaging with galleries and six far-reaching action research projects in partnership with the following local authorities:

  • Gwynedd — Bangor Museum & Art Gallery, artist Eleri Jones and residents of Plas Maesincla Care Home, Caernarfon
  • Carmarthenshire — Oriel Myrddin, writer/poet John Bilsborough and residents of two care homes
  • Ceredigion — Aberystywth Arts Centre, artist Becky Knight and residents of Blondeb care home
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf — Cynon Valley Museum & Art Gallery, artist Louise Carey and Cwmni Dda Day Unit for Older People
  • Swansea — Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, artist Maureen O’Kane and a group of 50+ individuals
  • Newport — Newport Museum & Art Gallery, artist Helen Clifford and an Alternative Learning Group of young people, and a BME group of older women

Projects were funded by the Millenium Stadium Charitable Trust, Arts Council of Wales (Lottery funding) plus partnership funding from the local authorities.

Carers, artists and other stakeholders participated on these research projects as ‘co-researchers’. Each local authority had their own specific aims, but for Engage the overall broad aims were to:

  • Increase knowledge and understanding of visual arts across Wales for an older audience who may have limited experience of art
  • Encourage and develop creativity in the participants
  • Promote lifelong learning opportunities
  • Enhance self-esteem, confidence and increased social interaction
  • Help combat social isolation, loneliness and boredom

All of the above aims have been achieved, and particular benefits to participants have included:

  • Increased social interaction
  • Increased confidence
  • Developing interests in creativity
  • Discovering their local gallery as a valuable resource
  • Improved motor skills/dexterity (particularly with people with mobility issues)
  • Increase in decision making and choice-making abilities, particularly with people with dementia (three of the six projects worked with participants with dementia).

Unexpected outcomes

Carers: in many instances carers became fully engaged in the projects, and in particular the Gwynedd project which led to one carer developing an ‘art cart’ following the project, which which is now used on a regular basis with residents in their rooms. This is proving popular. The carer was delighted with the project as it allowed her to ‘communicate with residents on a non-medical or need basis’.

Families: the family members of care home residents were delighted to see their relatives engaged in creative activity and were ‘blown away’ by the quality of the work they had achieved in response to gallery exhibitions.