Chatterboxes

Kettle’s Yard

Kettle’s Yard has been exploring ways to engage home-bound and isolated older people with creativity and culture in Cambridge. Chatterboxes utilises art as a stimulus for conversation, volunteers delivered activities devised by artists and inspired by objects found within the collections of the University of Cambridge Museums to home-bound older people in the city.

The project aimed to:

  • Support home-bound older people in North Cambridge to engage with creativity and culture in the city
  • Build confidence in home-bound older people
  • Celebrating the creativity and contribution older people continue to offer the community

Participants

Care Network Cambridgeshire is a charity supporting older people in the county. Their volunteer Community Navigators support older people who have been identified as at risk of isolation via referrals through the local NHS trust. Community Navigators make home visits and signpost people to services meeting their requirements, whatever they might be. Chatterboxes became a part of this offer for those people who were feeling alone, which could be temporary during recovery or long-term.

What was involved

An open call was distributed for artists to create a boxed activity for older people which responded to the artists favourite objects found within the collections of the University of Cambridge Museums.

Isabella Martin’s flag Chatterbox. Image courtesy of Kettle’s Yard.

The boxes contained:

  • A letter from the artist introducing themselves, their practice and their selected object
  • An image of the object
  • Instructions for the activity
  • The materials for the activity itself
Jo Miller’s oral history Chatterbox. Image courtesy of Kettle’s Yard.

The artists and a group of volunteers then attended a training session with Care Network and Kettle’s Yard. The training from Care Network included considerations when working with older people, safeguarding guidance and advice when working in someone’s home. Artists then introduced their activity prototype with the whole group and feedback was shared before the final Chatterbox was produced.

Hilary Moreton’s texture Chatterbox. Image courtesy of Kettle’s Yard.

As a new concept, referrals were slow to start and then began to gather pace. This slow start meant that we lost the initial momentum of interest from some of our volunteers, however re-recruitment and training resolved this quickly. Sessions were delivered to individuals as well as in group settings and the images of work were shared initially through social media.

After an initially slow start, Chatterboxes grew very popular, very quickly. A project coordinator was recruited to manage both the high frequency of referrals and the logistics of ensuring volunteers were in the right place with the correct Chatterbox.

Each Chatterbox session lasted an hour and it was important that this was made clear at the start of the session. After the initial session, the volunteers quickly ascertained the interests of the participant and would suggest which other Chatterboxes would work well for them.

Saaya Kamita’s Chatterbox. Image courtesy of Kettle’s Yard.

Five Chatterboxes were created by four artists:

  • Textile artist Saaya Kamita was inspired by Dutch and Flemish still life paintings at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the flowers at the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens
  • Hilary Moreton was inspired by a work by Max Ernst at Kettle’s Yard and encouraged participants to investigate the textures of their own home through mark-making
  • Isabella Martin introduced participants to objects in Polar Museum including expedition flags and writings from Polar explorers. She encouraged participants to share stories of their own travels and create a flag inspired by them
  • Artist Jo Miller created two Chatterboxes both inspired by Kettle’s Yard. The first uses an oral history collection of children’s responses to the House as a way of introducing Kettle’s Yard to participants
  • The second looks at Jim Ede’s arrangement of pebbles at Kettle’s Yard and Jo Miller invited participants to create their own arrangements with gifted pebbles she had collected for their own home.
Jo Miller’s pebble Chatterbox. Image courtesy of Kettle’s Yard.

The resulting work by participants is displayed at an exhibition at Brown’s Fields Community Centre in North Cambridge, which was launched with a celebration event with partners, volunteers, artists and participants. The artists relished seeing the work which had been created and to meet those who had made it and participants enjoyed meeting the artists themselves. The value of the opportunity for everyone to put faces to names cannot be understated and the significance of human contact runs throughout the Chatterboxes project.

Image courtesy of Kettle’s Yard.

Learning

This initial pilot project was funded by Cambridge City Council Community Grants for one year to Care Network Cambridgeshire. Working in partnership with Care Network Cambridgeshire was extremely positive. The organisation’s knowledge of working with older people as well as their own established systems, safeguards and training around sending volunteers into private homes was invaluable to this project. We are currently seeking funding to sustain the work long-term.

Image courtesy of Kettle’s Yard.

Some participants found a few of the activities a little childish. However, it is difficult to ascertain in a short pilot project whether this is the activity itself or perhaps a lack of confidence or experience of using creative processes in a playful and explorative way. When long-term funding is established, this is something we can investigate further.

As the project name suggests, chatter and conversation was the focus, and that continually proved correct throughout delivery. Ensuring time to allow conversation to flow naturally but having the artwork and activity to come back to worked well. Feedback from many participants suggested an appreciation for the time that the Chatterbox session gave them to discuss something non-clinical and bringing back a human element to daily life was highly valued.

Our dedicated team of volunteers ensured the success of this project. We had a number of students completing an MA in Arts Management and both the participants and the students enjoyed the intergenerational element this brought to the programme.

Inspiration

Chatterboxes was inspired by Kettle’s Yard creator, Jim Ede’s, value in art as a stimulus for conversation.

We are grateful to Kettle’s Yard Artist Facilitator, Janine Woods, who developed ‘Janine and Maxine’s Adventure in Art’, which enabled Maxine to participate in a creative dialogue with Janine, from home to home, who suggested this approach.

Karen Thomas
Community Officer
Kettle’s Yard and University of Cambridge Museums

Partner organisations: Care Network Cambridgeshire.

Funders: Cambridge City Council, Arts Council England, Paul Hamlyn Foundation.