In May 2018, peeoplespeakup (PSU) started our Carmarthenshire Voices project. The project was inspired by my visits to Ty Golau (a health and well being facility for people aged 50 and over, many of whom are suffering with memory problems, dementia and Alzheimer’s type illnesses). I started telling stories to the group, and I could really witness a moment in time where all the participants were totally ‘with me’ on a journey of discovery and imagination. But this was not enough for me – I thought to myself; ‘What would happen if I could share time with small groups and not only share my stories, but ask the individuals to tell theirs?’ So I met up with the motivated and energetic activity co-ordinators at Towy Castle, Bryn Illtyd and Cilymaenllwyd to discuss the projects. I was welcomed with open arms. Sadie, Dianne and Irene listened to my needs, we created an open dialogue and the project became a reality.
Our core aims were to connect with older people in Carmarthenshire (some of whom were living with dementia) through storytelling and story gathering in order to relieve anxiety, celebrate a moment, give people a voice, give people silence and allow their stories to be heard.
Even though I have been facilitating for over 20 years, this was as much a new experience for me as it was for the care home staff and residents. Each group had very different needs, but all had the commonality of wanting to share time and be listened to. I would tell a traditional story, create a silence and then invite responses. We worked with traditional stories, touch, smells, reminiscence, story dice and music to create a moment in time of connection and relaxation.
I have been totally mesmerised by the results of this project. the stories that I have been told have humbled me and I understand that all humans, whatever age they are or whatever illness they are living or not living with, we all have stories to tell, share and listen to.
What we learned
It was important that the project participants attended the private view of the exhibition – it was an emotional and empowering event for them and their families, care workers and the project artists. Even though some of the participants living with dementia were unable to remember the story gathering sessions, their faces were full of excitement, pride and happiness when they saw themselves in the exhibition and they listened to their stories with pure concentration. They all appeared to be very present in the moment and showed no anxiety, stress or sadness.
Planning and training was essential to securing strong relationships with care home workers and management. This took place in the planning stages of the project; Eleanor Shaw had sessions with care home teams to discuss needs and expectations of care and support staff. We worked with The Fwrnes Theatre, who are a dementia friendly venue; it was great to be working with a venue that understands the needs of a dementia friendly event.
Project director, storyteller and story gatherer
Photographer/ Poster design/ Curator: Michele Laugharne Perrott
Digital Artist and Project Storyteller – David Pitt
Partner organisations: Ffwrnes Theatre, Llanelli Town Council, Alzheimers Society.
Funders: Arts Council of Wales, Big Lottery.