Summer baking at Solas

This week we welcome guest blogger Paula Brown, Dementia Friendly Communities Project Co-Ordinator at an Lanntair.  an Lanntair run dementia friendly projects in the Western Isles that are funded by the Life Changes Trust.  That means we get a free scone!

Summer Baking at Solas 2

We did a spot of summer baking at Solas Day Centre today.  Strawberries and clotted cream over fresh, warm scones.

I was quite surprised at how dementia strips confidence – I heard so many worries about feeling incapable. ‘Oh no, I can’t.’ ‘I used to but not now.’ ‘Oh no, you do it.’ ‘My hands can’t do it.’

But gently making a start, asking about how to do it – ‘do we add salt?’ ‘Should we mix the butter and sugar together first or rub the butter into the flour?’ – I found myself taking a step back as everyone joined in with quips ‘There’s a cow out back for the milk!’ and I played along with ‘I couldn’t catch the cow so I had to buy a pint of milk’.

Three ladies joined in with me weighing, measuring, discussing recipes, rolling, cutting, brushing with egg and the scones baked up perfectly so everyone could enjoy eating them. The conversation went into baking and fruit growing and it was a natural collaborative effort to clean up and wash up.

The recipe was (we made 17)

Summer Baking at Solas

  • 1lb (450g) SR flour
  • 4oz (125g) butter, a pinch of salt
  • 2pz (50g) caster sugar
  • we measured 350ml of milk but only used about 320ml of it
  • You need a soft dough that isn’t too sticky
  • 1 beaten egg to glaze

We rubbed the butter into the flour, stirred in the sugar and salt and mixed in the milk. We dusted the table with a little flour and gently flattened the dough to around an inch deep and then cut out rounds with a cookie cutter. A quick brush with beaten egg and they were in the oven for about 15 minutes.

They were not even cold before they were all gone!

Summer Baking at Solas 3

Language and Dementia: what’s the problem?


Today we have a guest blog by Kate Swaffer (@KateSwaffer) on (in)appropriate language use in dementia. Right in time for our #demphd chat today at 11 am British time! Your #demphd team ( Grant, Julie, Paul, Clarissa) 🙂

Dementia is heavily covered in the media. From Dementia Awareness Weeks to national guidelines and documentaries, dementia becomes ever more present in everyday life. With such a heavy media coverage of, it is likely that there are some issues that we people with dementia feel are inappropriate.

The problem is that too often, the rights of many people with dementia are not being respected when it comes to the way we are talked about, or referred to publicly, by people without dementia, such as journalists, health care professionals and care partners.

Yet again, during another two recent Dementia Awareness Weeks, we have been blitzed by articles and stories in the print, radio, television…

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MCR Pathways and Young Glasgow Talent

This blog is courtesy of Donna Cunningham, Project Director at MCR Pathways.  Here she talks about their pioneering programme ‘Young Glasgow Talent’.

Young Glasgow Talent – What is it?

Young Glasgow Talent by MCR Pathways is a schools based mentoring and talent development programme. We match top quality mentors with care experienced young people. MCR Pathways vision is simple; we want care experienced and disadvantaged young people to have the same educational outcomes, career opportunities and life chances as any other young person.

To achieve this, mentors guide their young person through their education so that they get the very best out of it. To be there, listen to and support them. To help them find, grow and use their talents. This enables our young people to discover, and proceed confidently, along their chosen pathway. To employment, further education or higher education.

Young Glasgow Talent also provides Talent Tasters. These provide a taste of jobs, careers and all that Glasgow has to offer in arts, culture and sport. Job Tasters are a radical new take on work experience in a way that works for our young people. Sports, Arts and Cultural experiences are a key part of our support to enrich and ensure our young people have every opportunity to experience, participate, learn new skills and perhaps even go on to a successful career in the field. The Taster feedback from our young people has been excellent, reflecting the invaluable opportunities these experiences guarantee. They return to school with fresh inspiration and aspirations!


MCR Pathways picture

What’s it like to work for MCR Pathways?

I am so proud to hold the position of Project Director for the MCR Pathways Young Glasgow Talent Programme in Glasgow.  Working with young people has always been the most rewarding part of my 32 years in education.   So when we discussed me moving to MCR from St Andrew’s Secondary School, (after 12 years!) I was apprehensive. Not of the new job, but of not working directly with the young people. However, 3 years on, being part of something transformational that is supporting ALL of our city’s most disadvantaged has more than compensated! I’m glad to say I still see and communicate with many of the young people I supported. It’s an honour to be a part of their lives and stories. I blag invites to other events that our youngsters are involved in just to see them!

Our Young Glasgow Talent mentoring programme was trialled at St Andrew’s Secondary School. It was a great success! It was all due to the fantastic staff, families, young people and many quality partners we worked with. We quickly found that what made the biggest impact on our young people was the introduction of one to one mentoring.  We knew we had something special from early on in the programme and it was just about nurturing and developing this with every other ‘additionality’ we could secure from partners. For four years we worked directly with youngsters and built the foundations of the programme.  The programme has gone from strength to strength since, as we’ve brought on an additional 9 schools and 250 mentors. We don’t for a moment think we are anywhere near where we will finally take this programme as we scale it over the next 3 years….it’s so motivating!  Everyone has something to bring and our diversity of mentors is even more significant than our diversity of each of our individual young people….all of them are amazing!

I am humbled and inspired on a daily basis. Especially listening to our Pathways Coordinators talking about the challenges our mentors are supporting our young people through and the fantastic outcomes they are subsequently achieving.  Nicole, one of our Ambassadors quoted “A mentor 100% changed my life, 100%!”  I absolutely believe that and have felt and witnessed it many times over.

At this stage of the academic year, approximately 61 of our mentored young people will be leaving our 10 schools. Of those almost 50% are leaving from S6 which means they’ll have much more confidence and the solid foundations to start their adult life.  This is testament to our schools and our mentors who have supported and encouraged them to return to school for a fifth and sixth year.  Lot’s of great stories are emerging regarding employment, college and university and we are really excited to be introducing our YGT Next Steps programme that will support our leavers in their transition and beyond.  This has been designed by our young people for our young people and mentors and will launch in June 2016.

I would urge anyone who even just ‘thinks’ they may be able to commit to our programme to come along to an Info Session and get on board. It’s such a rewarding experience!

You Can Get Involved & Make the Difference!


Can you help a young person realise their full potential and be defined by their talent not their circumstances?

One hour a week and a willingness to put a young person first are all you need.

You’ll make and experience a life-changing difference in helping a young person to find, grow and use their talents.

MCR Pathways will provide all the training and support you need.

For more information or to register, please go to, email or call us on 0141 221 6642. We can’t wait to hear from you.

MCR Pathways is a pioneering partnership of the MCR Foundation and Glasgow City Council and actively supported by an increasing number of Glasgow’s leading organisations including Wheatley Group, Glasgow Life, University of Strathclyde, Santander, The Herald, Glasgow Kelvin College, SECC and Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.  MCR is also supported with funding from the Life Changes Trust.



Living well with dementia: diagnosis is key

Magnifying glass

Today kicks off Dementia Awareness Week in Scotland. Richard Baker, Team Leader of the Age Scotland Early Stage Dementia Project, which is funded by the Life Changes Trust, talks about tackling the stigma and how early diagnosis is key to living well with dementia.

This week Age Scotland will be joining Alzheimer Scotland and other organisations working for better support for people with dementia to promote the need for better support and early diagnosis.

This is a key concern for Age Scotland through the work of our Early Stage Dementia Project, supported by the Life Changes Trust. Early diagnosis for someone with dementia can make a huge difference to their ability to live well with the condition. The Scottish Government has made dementia a national priority, and as part of this has introduced a commitment to provide one year’s support for everybody who has been diagnosed with dementia for a year after their diagnosis. This support is provided by link workers who help people with dementia understand the illness, manage symptoms, maintain their connections with their local community and help them make plans for their future.

However, while there is a huge amount of work going on to raise dementia awareness and tackle stigma around the illness, there is still a huge amount to do. Depending on the measure used, either a third or a half of people who have dementia in Scotland have not yet received a diagnosis. A UK survey by the Alzheimer Society found that more than half of people seeking a diagnosis for dementia have delayed going to their GP by at least a year and nearly two-thirds of people fear a diagnosis would mean that their life is over.

But people can and do live well with dementia, and support in the early stages is crucial to ensuring this can happen. That is why it is so important to tackle myths and stigma around dementia and make more people aware of the benefits of early diagnosis. At Age Scotland we meet people with dementia who are still contributing to their communities and are the leading voices campaigning for improved dementia services. Their example shows that if people take early action if they are worried about their memory or struggling with other activities, they can still have a rewarding life even if they do receive a dementia diagnosis. Dementia Awareness Week is a great opportunity to highlight this message, and it is vital the work to make all our communities dementia friendly and dementia aware continues all year round.


Age Scotland’s Early Stage Dementia Team

To find out more about Age Scotland’s work around Early Stage Dementia visit their website or contact Richard Baker at

Age Scotland


Peer support and care experienced young people

Circle lying down medium

Earlier this year, we held the first gathering of our six Trust funded Peer Mentoring projects for care experienced young people.

At the Trust we believe that positive relationships are vital for all of us, supporting our emotional and mental well-being. They are also key to developing our own identity and self-worth.

The power of human connection is often underestimated and I think if we are all honest, at some point in our lives we have been guilty of taking our relationships for granted, whether that be with our friends, colleagues, or family members. I have been fortunate that, throughout my life, I have had support, unconditional love, advice, and encouragement at my fingertips. Since being with the Trust I have become more and more aware of how this has shaped my life. I have always known that it helped me but I don’t think I ever appreciated to what extent. Now, I cannot begin to imagine where I would be without it.

The Trust’s investment in mentoring is recognition that not everyone has had access to consistent, supportive and positive relationships throughout their lives. We’re supporting peer mentoring as one means of increasing the opportunities for care experienced young people to have positive relationships, because young people tell us this is a big gap area.

We think that if young people can widen their social connections, this could open the door to lots of other opportunities.  shutterstock_121861366

It is centred upon providing opportunities for stable and supportive relationships for care experienced young people to help them build loving, healthy, interdependent relationships in the future.

Peer mentoring is aimed at providing one-to-one support in a relationship which is entirely voluntary on both sides, as with mentoring more generally. However, the added element is that both the mentor and the mentee will share one or more characteristic.

The gathering of the Peer Mentoring projects at the end of March provided the opportunity for representatives from each of the projects to come together to share their progress, what they have learned and the challenges they have faced during the first six months of their projects. There was also space to share ideas around other topics including the secrets to successful mentoring matches, training and development for mentors and the support available for both mentors and mentees.

While the projects are all at different stages, and they have varied experience of mentoring, they have each made good progress in the first six months, including recruiting staff, developing training materials and the recruitment of mentors and mentees.

Some organisations are new to focusing specifically on care experienced young people, which brings new opportunities to raise awareness and build understanding of care experienced young people at community level.

There have been some challenges in reaching prospective mentors with care experience who are ready to take on a mentoring role, which has sometimes meant projects adapting their recruitment methods and criteria. Feedback from the day highlighted that the space to discuss some of these challenges was particularly useful for the projects, and the Trust hopes to continue these gatherings in the future.

For me personally, it was fantastic to see the passion that all of the people working on these projects have for peer mentoring and our shared belief that it will make a profound difference to the lives of care experienced young people. Their willingness to share their learning with each other and the Trust, as well as be open to learning and trying new things, was particularly exciting and we look forward to hosting the next gathering in October.


Catriona Kelly, Programme Officer, Care Experienced Young People Programme

* Our six funded peer mentoring projects are being delivered by Barnardo’s, Move On, The Rock Trust, Up-2-Us, Ypeople and Y Sort It.

A day in the life of a peer mentor co-ordinator

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog which described a day in the life of a volunteer peer mentor with VOCAL (Voice of Carers Across Lothian).  This blog describes a day in the life of by Hazel Waddell, who co-ordinates the peer mentors for VOCAL. VOCAL provide peer support to carers of people with dementia. This service is one of the Trust’s 12 funded dementia peer support and befriending projects.

Image hands 2

My role at VOCAL is quite complex as I wear a few hats as Carer Support Worker.

One of the newest bits of work I am involved with is VOCAL’s peer mentoring project.  We had a very small pilot of this kind of work about 18 months ago and have relatively recently been awarded Life Changes Trust funding to further develop this work to support a much larger number of carers of people with dementia.

The pilot was led by my line manager and we are working together to develop the work further. Today we met to plan the recruitment of a few more carers to become mentors.  We have already trained a group and as they are settling well into their roles well we are looking to expand the team to make it as diverse as possible.  While there is lots of common ground in people’s stories, we are keen to ensure we have a good mix of male and female, ages and caring relationships and experiences to ensure the best possible service for clients.  At today’s meeting we discussed approaching a few carers who have used VOCAL’s services previously to ask if they would be interested in sharing their stories in this way.

Next on my peer mentoring to-do list is to log in to our case management system to see if my Carers Support Worker colleagues have made a referral for a mentor.  There are two referrals waiting for me which is not too much of a surprise as everyone in the team is able to see the benefits to carers of being mentored by someone who has lived experience of caring for a family member with dementia.


The Carers Support Workers who have made the referrals have read the mentor profiles and suggested the mentor they think would be the best fit for their client’s needs and have listed the times that suit their client the best.  This is great and it means I can make contact with the mentors to see if they are free to meet (as always checking that the carer and mentor don’t live too close together or know each other in other parts of their life) and book a room here at the Carers Centre (the mentors and carers always meet at the Carers Centre for their first meeting and then after that meet in cafes).  I send the mentors emails and wait for replies.  This should not take too long as they are very good at responding (once again I think how helpful smart phones are to our work!).

Next I switch hats and contact some of the clients I am working with as a Carers Support Worker. I really enjoy the carer support work and I think it really helps me with my peer mentor coordinator role as the work, while different to the mentoring role, has some similar lessons, pleasures and challenges, all of which I can use to support the peer mentors.

By the end of the day I have heard back from both mentors and have scheduled their meetings for next week.  I have also checked the case management system and am pleased to see that all the mentoring meetings for last week took place and I can see from the case notes the mentors have made that there were no issues that they are seeking my support with.

VOCAL’s Training Officer will be pleased that one of the mentoring clients is also interested in attending one of our stress management courses and that the mentor has booked them a place.

I draft a few notes for next weeks mentors team meeting and head home, happy in the knowledge that the work we do helps provide vital support to carers from someone who has walked in their shoes.


Champions Boards: Giving young people a voice


Last week I was lucky enough to be part of a special day in Edinburgh, marking the journey so far of eight different Champions Boards from different parts of Scotland.

Care experienced young people, and staff who are passionate about giving these young people a platform, got together to celebrate the award of funding from the Life Changes Trust. The young people led the day, sharing their experiences of Champions Boards so far and their ideas for the future. The energy, drive and determination in the room was palpable. So was the air of competition, as various folk took part in our giant jenga challenges……


…and vied with each other over the most outrageous get-up for the photo booth! 

Dress Up Matt plu 1

So what’s all the fuss about? Why do Champions Boards matter so much? On the face of it, Champions Boards themselves might not seem like an especially radical idea. They bring together senior representatives of services and agencies in local areas who have responsibilities for young people who are in care and care leavers, and get them round the table with care experienced young people. The aim is to improve services and supports on the ground, so they have a much better opportunity to achieve their potential. So far, so what?

The thing is, we know that when people who make decisions about budgets and services hear directly from the people on the receiving end of those decisions, magic tends to happen. Issues that might seem abstract suddenly become very real and powerful, when a young person explains the debilitating impact of twenty placement moves or the horror of being separated from a much-loved brother or sister. The sense of apathy and/or fatalism which can pervade the discussion falls away and is replaced with a desire to act.

The stark reality is that young people growing up in care are still very much caught in a system, and systems are not famous for their ability to listen and respond to the needs of individuals. That’s why at the Life Changes Trust we’re excited about the possibilities presented by Champions Boards. We think that done well, they can create a much-needed space for care experienced young people to have a voice, and, just as important, to be properly heard by the people who are responsible for their care and well-being.

Please note the phrase “properly heard”. Listening is a fine art, and we’ve all experienced people in positions of power who haven’t listened to us. The GP who does not take our health concerns seriously; the head teacher who will not agree to a few small adjustments to the school day for a child who is struggling; the boss who moves us to an evening shift even although there’s no transport available in our town to get us to work at that time.

Listening to people, acknowledging their concerns and creating the space for them to be involved in developing a solution takes time and effort. It also takes a particular value system – you have to believe in people.

Anyone who took part in the event last week, and watched the young people doing their thing, could be in no doubt about the potential of Scotland’s care experienced population. However, those who run services and make decisions about budgets are often under huge pressure – they’re supposed to have all of the answers, and to act quickly. We should not underestimate the challenge of changing this culture – working collaboratively, taking the time to genuinely get to know young people and to create opportunities for them to lead is a radically different approach.

group discussion

By investing in Champions Boards, we are recognising that not only do care experienced young people need to have many more opportunities to develop their confidence and speak out about issues that matter to them, people in decision-making positions also need to sharpen up their listening skills and remember their accountability to the young people sitting in front of them.

It’s no longer good enough to say that the problem of challenging poor outcomes is too great. There is a huge wealth of talent, experience and passion for change amongst care experienced young people in Scotland. There are also so many people involved in running and delivering services who want things to change. Champions Boards are spaces to harness the collective abilities of young people, staff and senior decision-makers. They have grown out of the belief that things can and must improve, and care experienced young people must be at the heart of creating a new reality.

Carole 2015

Carole Patrick, Programme Manager, Care Experienced Young People Programme

North by North West – travelling with dementia on the Isle of Lewis

This post was written by Andy Hyde from Upstream, an organisation which aims to bring people affected by dementia together with those providing mobility services, to share their experiences, insights and ideas to develop and deliver new training experiences for mobility service providers in Scotland. 


Stone bus shelter

It’s a bus shelter. No, seriously, it is.

It’s called a Four Winds shelter and when you see it standing in a wind-swept spot, in the middle of the Isle of Lewis, you begin to see why. No matter what direction the wind blows from (and it can really blow) you’ll find a sheltered spot somewhere in there.

Paula Brown, who was taking me on this tour of the Island’s more remote transport links, leads the Life Changes Trust Dementia Friendly Communities project at Stornoway’s arts hub An Lanntair.  Among many other things, they are using creative approaches and ‘…co-designing techniques for engaging with people living with dementia, their carers and the wider community’.  One of the related projects involves primary school children mapping and exploring their routes to school. Some visiting artists had recently travelled the island’s bus routes and they are currently developing art installations for these very bus shelters…

We had already visited Staran, a community interest company that provides all kinds of services locally including gardening and transport. They have an impressive fleet of minibuses and adapted vehicles. One of the volunteer drivers Ken was just off to the local care home, so he offered me a lift and we chatted about how Staran transport was increasingly being used to take older and disabled people to medical appointments as well as errands around town and social outings too.

At Blar Buidhe care home, just on the outskirts of town, Ken met his passengers and Paula introduced me to Peter the care home manager. Peter has a wealth of experience in keeping the residents active and connected with Island life. We talked about mobility in older age and the challenges of simply getting in and out of vehicles. We heard that the home’s minibus is a lifeline and in constant use – and yet, some aspects of adapted vehicles could be better. Those yellow strips showing the edges of steps might be a perceptual problem for some people with dementia. Perhaps a solid block of yellow might be better? Could minibus adaptation include design, creating a better environment to travel in? We weren’t sure…

I had a go on the wheelchair lift into the back of a bus … those yellow stripes again.

minibus adaptation

The Alzheimer Scotland resource centre in town was the next stop – this is where a group gathers regularly to share information, have a cup of tea and generally tap into local support. We had some lovely conversations and noticed a taxi or two pulling up outside. We briefly chatted with one of the drivers  – yes, they regularly drop off here but no, not aware of guidance on the needs of people travelling with dementia. We need to point them to the SDWG film...  (Travelling with Dementia).

Alzheimer office

And now we were heading north and west of Stornoway, stopping at bus stops and taking pictures…

Bus Bus stop1 bus stop 2 busstop 3

Some of them are pretty remote and we were wondering – why no timetables? Not even a bus number in some cases. Somebody else had been wondering too…

where is the timetable

Back at Lanntair we chatted these things through with David Smart, the local council’s Transport Manager. Clearly it’s a challenge, keeping information updated across a large, remote region. We learned that local minibuses provide short, circular services from remote locations, connecting people with more major island bus routes. Some of these are demand-responsive – you call and book them, so there is no timetable.

David told us about the HI Trans Thistle Assistance card and the Ferry User-Group meetings. We talked about concessionary travel and wondered if a diagnosis of dementia leads to a travel concessionary card? The answer, it seems, is ‘it’s complicated’.  Alzheimer Scotland has useful advice on driving and dementia which has guidance on free bus travel ‘If you are 60 or over you will definitely qualify. If you are under 60, you might qualify – some local authorities include people with dementia and some don’t’.

There are clearly many aspects of Island travelling with dementia to explore. Many people and organisations play a role and we need to find ways of including them in our conversations. There’s also a vast amount of local knowledge for us to tap into and maybe a different, more personal side to travelling that we might not find in other areas – drivers and passengers often know each other.

So, head buzzing with thoughts and ideas we headed back to the airport and one last bus-stop.

bus stop 4

Thanks to Paula for a day of thought-provoking conversations and sights – it has got us thinking about the similarities and differences we might find as we explore travelling with dementia in different areas.

With thanks to Andy Hyde.

A day in the life of a peer mentor

This blog was written by Nicky Gavin, a volunteer peer mentor with VOCAL (Voice of Carers Across Lothian).  VOCAL provide both one-to-one and group peer support to carers of people with dementia. This service is one of the Trust’s 13 funded dementia peer support and befriending projects.


Today, as I am looking after my granddaughter (which I do every Friday to allow my daughter-in-law to work), I find myself thinking about the past week.

I have been volunteering with VOCAL – Voice of Carers Across Lothian – for a year now and this has been my busiest week with them so far.

I had so much support from VOCAL when I was new to caring for my father, that I was really keen to give something back.  Then Jane Greenacre, who is VOCAL’s Assistant Director and peer mentor co-ordinator, approached me to get involved as a volunteer. We discussed a few roles and I did try working in the carers centre for a bit, which I enjoyed, but when the mentoring project was mentioned, I knew it would be better for me.

I learned so much caring for my Dad and consider myself a people person so it felt a good fit.  Going through the training programme, I grew more confident that peer mentoring was something I wanted to do as I would not be giving advice (which I don’t feel qualified to do – what was right for me and Dad might not be right for others), but telling my story, letting others take the things they want to from it, and sharing experiences.

Last week was particularly busy, as I am currently mentoring two different people and we also had a team meeting. On Wednesday, I had my final meeting with a person I have been mentoring for a while.  We met in the same quiet cafe we have used for our previous meetings and, at her request, our meeting focussed on my role as my Dad’s power of attorney, so I shared quite a lot about the practicalities of this but also how I felt doing it.

This is something I always try to do, as often my mentees have a good understanding of processes but find it difficult to use them due to the intense emotions involved.  Saying our goodbyes was quite difficult as I will not see her again, but I left feeling upbeat as she kindly thanked me for my time and told me that it had been really useful to talk to someone who has been though the same thing as she had – none of her friends had been carers before.

On Thursday I had a first meeting with a new mentee so we met in the Carers Centre (first meetings are always in the VOCAL offices). I got there a bit early to make sure I had the kettle boiled to ensure a warm welcome.  My new client was particularly interested in behavioural changes and how I coped with them.

When I talk about this, I always think back to my training and am mindful of identifying the learning from my story, the positives, and the things I would do differently.  It might not be too helpful to share all the struggles I had without providing some light at the end of the tunnel!

The meeting went well and I was pleased that said she would like to meet me again.  She had been unsure that we would have enough in common as she was caring for her husband, and I was a carer for my Dad, but she found it useful and we scheduled a meeting for two weeks time and she seemed to head off a little lighter than she came in.  A number of new clients have been concerned that my Dad’s dementia was different from their own experiences with a loved one.  That’s true, but what is common are some of the challenges that we face as families.

The team meeting was good as always. I like going to the Centre and catching up with the staff but the peer mentor team meetings are the only time I see the other mentors.

I like these meetings, as we really got on well as a group when we did our training, but also as it gives me a chance to learn from their work too. The meetings are quite structured by Hazel (the carers support worker who manages us) but she always allows us time to catch up as well and it gives us all time to reflect on how we do our work.

My mentoring journey has so far been really rewarding, and I am glad that it’s a journey I chose to embark on.

With thanks to Nicky Gavin, volunteer peer mentor with VOCAL (Voice of Carers Across Lothian)

Dementia Friendly Theatres

Creating enabling environments in historic buildings – the challenges and the benefits.

Inside theatre 2

Many of us love going to the theatre and the arts, but what happens when people who may have enjoyed theatre all their lives find themselves living with dementia? Our staff at the King’s and Festival Theatres in Edinburgh started to notice this happening. Friends of the theatre who had been avid supporters over many years suddenly stopped visiting. After contacting them it was discovered that they had had a diagnosis of dementia and no longer felt confident coming to see shows. So the theatres starting asking the question ‘Is there something that we can do so that people can still come to the theatre?’ As a result last year the Festival City Theatres Trust applied for Life Changes Trust funding and were awarded £320,000 over three years to explore how our venues could become dementia friendly communities.

‘What makes a theatre dementia friendly?’

Many venues around the UK are now offering dementia friendly events and shows as a part of their programme, adapting their procedures for these shows; putting up extra signage; having more frontline staff and/or volunteers working in key areas front of house and in the auditorium. Some venues now offer adapted dementia friendly performances of major touring productions as a part of their programming. We started to ask ourselves is this something we can do all the time? Could we adapt our venues and procedures and enable our buildings to be more accessible and user friendly 24/7?

Key to any of this work has been and will continue to be the inclusion of the voices of people living with dementia, their carers and our wider audience as well. We also took the decision to have our buildings audited by the DSDC to give us a clear indication of the task ahead. So over the course of two days last September Chief Architect Lesley Palmer from DSDC visited the Studio Theatre and the Festival Theatre. One of the main challenges here is the age of the buildings and their differing levels of accessibility. The Festival theatre was rebuilt in 1994 with its iconic open glass frontage while retaining the original Milburn Brothers 1928 auditorium. The Studio theatre opened in 2013 and is the most accessible of our buildings. Our sister venue The King’s Theatre is a grade A listed building and opened in 1906 and is the least accessible building with its own set of challenges. So for this article we’ll focus on the Festival Theatre.

Armed with our DSDC building audit we invited our first groups of people living with dementia for a walk around the Festival Theatre foyer spaces and corridors.  It became clear very quickly that it was the environment that was the disabling element in the equation. Not necessarily the person’s dementia. As we walked round and I was explaining some of what we were proposing to do, like improving signage one lady said, ‘so you’re just making it better for everyone then?’

The process of adapting our buildings for people living with dementia will ultimately make them friendlier and more supported environments for many more people. The comprehensive audit from DSDC identified seven key areas for adapting the Festival Theatre and three areas for the newer Studio Theatre.

The café at the Festival Theatre was already due for a refurbishment before the project began and was number seven on the audit hit list. Not a huge priority but it gave us a great opportunity to implement some of the findings from the audit before taking on the bigger chunks.

Theatre cafe 1

Here is the café as it was. There are lots of hard surfaces on the back and front of the bar which coupled with the slate flooring made the space very noisy even with just a few folk in and even more so with a sell-out show and 1915 people milling around the foyers. The lights were old fashioned directional spot lights that at night threw confusing shadows around the space and onto the tables and chairs. The tables were also quite reflective and the seating, with its grey seats and black backs which were contrasting in tone there wasn’t a  sufficient contrast between the chair seats and the black flooring for them to be as visible as they could be for people with dementia and also people with visual impairments.

The Director of Operations at the theatres, Brian Loudon, was able to liaise with appetite direct, the company who run the café, their designers and come up with a design that fulfilled the cafes desire to have a stylish environment for diners to enjoy their food and drink in and at the same time fulfilled our desire that the space should be as supportive as possible for a broad range of customers, but particularly those elements highlighted in the audit to support a more dementia friendly design.

Theatre cafe 2

The new space has improved lighting, wooden surfaces on the bars to help deaden the acoustics, along with drapes and a new sofa style seating area to extend the café capacity and provide a more social seating area that has proved very popular with wheelchair users and some of our larger consultation groups with the dementia friendly project. It is a much more accessible space and the confusing menu written on the back of the bar wall has gone and has been replaced by a large glass fridge so that you can see the food before making a decision what to eat.

As the project moves forward we will continue to work with our consultation groups on the implementation of the building audits and the group will now be assisting with the formal audit of the King’s Theatre this year. We want our theatres to be as welcoming and as supportive an environment as is possible for all our audiences. Not just our current audiences and for our future audiences as well.

Paul Hudson is the co-ordinator for Forget Me Not at the Festival & Kings Theatres.  

Paul Hudson

This project has been funded by the Life Changes Trust and is supporting the Festival & King’s Theatres in making Dementia Friendly Communities. This includes programming events and performances which are suitable for people living with dementia and their carer’s.

This blog first appeared on the Stirling University Dementia Centre website.