When I started at Magic Me in June 2023, I was fresh off the corporate ladder of the Production department on a studio feature film in the outskirts of North West London. I was pivoting careers from film to public arts because I was looking for work that was more in touch with my local area (Tower Hamlets), more creative and more socially impactful. Thankfully I came across the role of Community Arts Trainee with Magic Me, a role perfect for an industry pivot – part-time, progressive and bespoke. I’m Yasmin, I was born and raised in Tower Hamlets and I am a producer in film and an aspiring multi-disciplinary creative.
The project I came on board to assist with was ‘Magic Moments’, a project that specifically works with Care Home Residents, some living with varying degrees of Dementia. I supported a series of creative workshops that focused on the here and now with a range of sensory activities. This pilot series is at an experimental stage and the objective is to create a package that can be used by Care Home Staff to meaningfully connect with Residents and improve their quality of life, increasing the wellbeing of both people living and working in Care Settings
A challenge for me as it was my first time working with Care Homes and people living with complex needs. I spent a few days preparing for the workshops with Emily, who is the lead Project Manager on ‘Magic Moments’. We watched lots of videos on working with people living with Dementia, and how to creatively engage with Residents. I read through the policies and helpful guides that Magic Me has put together to support staff. I often over-prepare when I am nervous, I was especially concerned about saying the wrong things so I had lots of questions all of which Emily answered.
Workshops started with myself and another Magic Me staff being briefed on the activity by Georgia Akbar and Lily Ash Sakula, the talented Artists who had carefully conceptualized the activities. The Care Staff and Care Home Residents would file in, or we would go to them depending on the setup of the Care Home. Some Residents were excited to see us and curious about the activities, some were more cautious and unsure. We would start with a sensory mindfulness warm-up; taking deep breaths and taking in the sounds and the things we can see and feel around us. We then would start the activity and go off into little groups. I would normally find someone to work with at the beginning and then float around as needed, normally to residents who would need more encouragement.
The Residents can have varying responses to the activities. It was exciting when a participant was extremely chatty and delighted by everything they see and hear and feel, their responses often poetic. I found the cautious participants interesting to engage with – their thoughts on the activities were always so unique and told me about them as a person.
One workshop we were making cyanotypes and all a participant wanted to do was make a bouquet of flowers, after she was done we walked around the garden and named the flowers. I enjoyed working with a participant who was once a painter, he had a lot to say about the repetitive motion of weaving during our weaving workshop. We were all struck by a moment with a Resident that looked at her work and said ‘Wow! I’m beautiful!’
During the lights workshop, a Resident who was originally not interested in taking part asked me to move out of her way, in what I thought was a grumpy way but she wanted a better look at the lights as she was so fascinated by them- she was delighted the entire session! Moments like this were indeed magic, and honestly, you never know what will float a person’s boat. In that same workshop, another participant didn’t want to engage necessarily with the activity because it wasn’t to her taste, instead, we conversed and watched others while they created their light installations. The project allowed people to take part on their own terms including as an observer.
It was difficult at times to understand the needs of a Resident, after all this was a pilot programme and a lot of the work we were doing was experimental. Outside of the activities themselves, there are other elements to a workshop that need to be considered such as the temperature of the room (not too hot, not too cold!), the mood of the participant on the day, and the time of day an activity is taking place. All of which can change! This meant I had to feel comfortable with not always knowing what would happen next, and me being someone who planned ahead, I really stepped outside of my comfort zone here. The empath in me always wanted to seek a resolution to a problem. When one participant was overstimulated, I tried to assist but realised my attention put pressure on her so I gave the participant some space which I think was the right call.
This is why evaluation played a key part in the project and at Magic Me overall as an organisation. Unexpected things happen all the time, and there are difficult scenarios that you have to deal with in real-time. A Care Home is a busy environment and each one has its own makeup, some Residents have higher needs and Care Staff capacity varies. It especially struck me the value Magic Me places on the Care Staff’s thoughts and feelings – them being as much a part of the Care Home and the activities as the Residents. We collected feedback from everyone involved; residents, Care Staff and Artists/Magic Me Staff and took a holistic approach to assessing it – no factor was of less importance and there was always room for improvement.
Many of the artistic methods in Magic Moments were experiential. Having worked in an outcome-heavy environment – it was a breakthrough for me that the final outcome was not necessarily the most important part of the workshop but the way that the participants felt in the moment. In some ways, it was exactly the kind of workshop I needed, as well as the participants. To feel no pressure to be creative or make outstanding work and instead value the feeling of engaging in it, it took me back to my childhood when I painted clouds pink just because I wanted to. I had fallen out of love with art growing up, the creative industries being underfunded and outcome-heavy currently. With Magic Moments, I found my way back to my enjoyment of art in the experience itself.
Whilst I identify as a Creative, I would consider myself an activist first. I hadn’t worked for organisations that shared my values before Magic Me. The team was transparent with me about the trials and tribulations of being a small arts organisation and each team member sat down with me and explained their role and how they contribute to the running of Magic Me. Recognising that I was making a career pivot, they taught me key skills; planning a communications campaign, budgeting and project planning. Seeing that it was possible and that there is a real tangible and practical way to run a charitable arts organisation made me think more optimistically about my own future.
Magic Me taught me the real meaning of the term “best practice”. As a workplace, it has a warm, friendly and professional culture. I never was afraid to question anything and communication was actively encouraged. The team welcomed feedback from me on projects I had no previous involvement in and I felt this was taken on board. Obstacles at Magic Me are approached in a calm and methodical manner, seeking a useful resolution for the whole group. I learned to set better professional boundaries, and work was strictly ring-fenced to my working hours. I will continue to implement the best practice I adopted at Magic Me into my own life.
My biggest takeaway from my time at Magic Me would be that I want to do more intergenerational work and connect locally with people, and there is a way to do meaningful work without too much self-sacrifice. At Magic Me I learned both very hands-on practical skills, and learned more about myself as an individual, my strengths and shortcomings and how I can make those shortcomings strengths. It was, dare I say it – the best professional experience I have ever had and I would recommend anyone and everyone to look into the very important and impactful work that Magic Me do.