Inside Out 2021 connected care professionals in three care homes in East London with Magic Me artists. Pooling knowledge, skills and expertise, care professionals and artists worked together to understand the unique challenges care homes face – developing creative interventions and activity to benefit the residents and each home during this time.
From March – July 2021, care professionals from three care homes in Waltham Forest, East London and Magic Me artists have been pooling their knowledge and expertise to design and experiment with new creative activities that will bring stimulation, joy and connection to each care home. The Covid 19 pandemic has presented new challenges to all of us and these teams of artists and care professionals are finding new ways of tackling the particular challenges faced by care homes. Each Inside Out collaboration is designed and shaped to meet the unique needs of the care partner. They have worked together to identify a central question relevant to their care home and this has guided and inspired the activity design.
At Alliston House, Walthamstow, care professionals, Sandra and Agnes, and artist, Georgia Akbar, ask the question:
“How can we create a sense of occasion across units, whilst taking care to include residents who prefer to stay in their rooms?”
During the pandemic care homes have had to impose restrictions on gathering in communal lounges and dining with others, and reduce visits from family and friends over the past year. This lack of human interaction and stimulation has had negative impacts on resident’s well being. Even though restrictions are beginning to lift the question remains relevant as some residents still prefer to stay in their rooms. Sandra, Agnes and Georgia’s response to the challenge is an experiment with a colourful, carnival-inspired, mobile entertainment trolley on wheels that can move seamlessly through the care home to different units and rooms with a variety of different activity offers.
“…for me, the most important thing was the quality time and giving that quality time to residents…”
– Care Professional
In June 2021 the trolly was launched during a covid-safe, socially distanced garden session and ‘Trolly Tour’ at Alliston House. Multi-sensory explorations of music and moving images are made possible with the trolly’s new bluetooth speaker and HD projector. An ongoing collaborative Alliston House scrapbook activity has given care professionals an opportunity to do more detailed 1:1 work with residents. Residents and staff shared ideas and imagined together the trolly’s future activity, including future beauty therapy and gardening sessions. The trolley’s variety and changing selection of activity tailored to each resident’s and staff’s ideas and interests.
The question posed is one that resonates for care homes generally, outside of Covid contexts. Where restricted mobility makes communal socializing challenging, solutions still need to be found to provide stimulation and activity. The care home management noted in particular, the benefits of creative activity in care homes in understanding residents better.
“...We are so impressed with the outcome of the project, trolly will be definitely in constant use!”
– Care Home Manager
At George Mason Lodge, Leytonstone, care professionals, Pat and Maxine, and artists, Chuck Blue Lowry with Paula Varjack, are tuned into the particular challenges that the past year has posed for the home’s residents, the vast majority of whom are living with dementia.
The team asked the question:
“How can we create activities and events that can be carried out in a covid-safe way? That bring variety and connection to the residents’ lives?”
Tools for stimulating conversation and reminiscence are important for residents living with a dementia; further connecting them with fellow residents, and supporting their care staff to deliver more tailored person-centred care. When visits take place in rooms the ‘reminiscence walls’ – a place to post photos, clippings and imagery important to them – help to stimulate conversation with visitors and staff. With most interactions taking place in communal spaces and newly constructed outdoor pods, the collaborators are experimenting with producing mobile scrapbook versions that can more easily be taken with the resident to all the places they can meet their family and friends as restrictions ease.
The care professionals and residents were able to meet in small units to take part in group activity – working on their individual books. The care professional team members report: “…it really got people talking, and brought a bit of light back to the home.”
The collaborators worked together to throw a socially-distanced, covid-safe creative session in June inspired by ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party,’ attended by staff and residents in their bubbles. The session included lite-party games, colourful and imaginative conversations and an interactive photo booth. Care professionals told us that the activity supported residents’ wellbeing and provided a “feel-good factor” and while restrictions on visits from residents’ family members and friends still persist, the project offered a topic of conversation during visits, with many pleased there was positive activity going on.
“It was a nice finale, but it wasn’t really a finale because it’s carrying on….”
– Care Professional
At Mapleton Road, Chingford, care professionals, Cathy and Linda, and artists, Ishwari Bhalerao and Leonie Rousham (known collectively as Kneed) bonded over baking and bread at their first ever ‘virtual cuppa’ meeting earlier this year. They ask the question: “How can we create group euphoria?”
The collaborators experimented with bread-tasting activities with residents, bringing in freshly baked bread from different bakeries from the Waltham Forest area – sharing information about the local bakers and the different cultural traditions and ingredients. The tastings encouraged participants to share their views and explored how sharing bread can elicit memories, tell stories and start conversations. The connection to the local bakeries will also help to build networks with the local community in new ways.
The collaborators were inspired by the group storytelling sessions and care professionals had expressed how much the conversations had allowed them to get to know the residents better. They began experimenting with sound recording of impromptu singing performances, creative interviews with staff and residents on different themes. A tablet with an original user-friendly, accessible interface designed by the artists will continue to build upon an interactive archive of sound recording Mapleton Road audio library.
In June, the ‘Activities Arcade’ – was launched, home to a range of collaborative activities tailored to residents’ interests, and permanent exhibition space for artworks at the home. A socially distanced, covid-safe garden session with residents in their bubbles took place to launch the arcade, and group listening session of audio recordings the groups have been creating together since March.
“When they heard themselves – I saw the beauty and the smile on their faces… “
– Care Home Manager
Connecting care professionals and artists in creative partnership can bring a fresh eye, new reviving energy and a sense of possibility and potential to care homes, their staff and residents. A six word poem reflecting on Inside Out by one of our Care Professionals captures this beautifully:
“The light goes on we know…”
The inspiration for the project
During lockdown many care home residents had become disengaged from meal times as they could no longer be communal, social event events. Residents had meals in their rooms, which meant an increased workload for care staff, providing one to one support. In response artist Kathy Horak-Hallett created an activity called ‘Dream Dinner Party’ – participants were asked to imagine their dream dinner party – draw up a guest list, create a menu and decide on a soundtrack or entertainment. The activity was successful in gently bringing residents back to thinking positively about food, providing opportunities to instigate conversation and stir the imagination. Dream Dinner Party was part of The After Party which was our first remote project with care homes in April 2020’s lockdown.
The way in which the artists worked with the care homes to deliver it was part of the inspiration behind Inside Out 2021. With 30+ years of intergenerational work behind us, Magic Me has the experience and understanding to begin this new project. The After Party saw how the feedback from our care partners could help shape creative activities that responded to the needs of residents, and of staff, working through some of the most difficult months of the pandemic. The value of care staff as collaborators and facilitators was a vital part of the delivery of The After Party, and this new project encourages care professionals and artists to combine their specialist knowledge. Our aim is that activities will meet the unique needs of each individual home, benefitting its residents and staff (and, hopefully, as restrictions lift, family and friends.)
In the long term, Magic Me hopes learning from Inside Out will add to the range of ways in which creative work in care homes is developed. Our current 4 year Artists’ Residencies in Care Homes programme in Essex is also exploring how artists and arts organisations can work with, and in, care settings and we will exchange knowledge and learning back and forth between the two groups. The three care homes were chosen after a careful recruitment process, to continue to build our relationships in the Waltham Forest community. Magic Me has been working in care settings in the London Borough of Waltham Forest since 2014 with our Cocktails in Care Homes Project and Inside Out in 2019 which was part of the London Borough of Culture.
We have recruited care professionals and artists eager to share and combine their knowledge, skills and expertise, keen to experiment and try new ideas. The care professionals are given protected time by their employers to take part and the artists are contracted directly to Magic Me: we view both as equally important to the success of the project.
Our Inside Out creative collaborators are:
Artists Chuck Blue Lowry and Paula Varjack with Care Professionals from George Mason Lodge, Leytonstone
Artist Georgia Akbar with Care Professionals from Alliston Road Care Home, Walthamstow
Artists Ishwari Bhalerao & Leonie Rousham (Kneed) with Care Professionals from Mapleton Road Care Home, Chingford
Inside Out 2021 funders:
Postcode Neighbourhood Trust
The Rayne Foundation
Woodroffe Benton Foundation