Engaging people living with dementia and cognitive impairment through the arts

6-Week Programme at Millman Street

Leaf printed with ink

Our first in-person series of workshops since the lockdown restrictions were relaxed, delivered at Millman Street Day Centre based in HolbornArrow right

Written by Melissa Fry

First of all, I would like to mention what an amazing job Millman Street has done during the pandemic, managing to keep a number of services running in-person, where many other centre's were unable to.

Man making art with leaves
David preparing a cyanotype with found leaves

The premise of these workshops replicated our ‘Art at Home’, covering each of the different senses through the exploration of six artistic processes. Drawing Sound was certainly a group highlight, of which I have fond memories of the participant's enjoying the archival audio of dogs barking. It was a also a great opportunity to really understand the benefits and differences of in-person facilitation versus remote facilitation.

Activity Worksheets
Peggy making expressive drawings to sound
Man creating art with leaves and a drawing of a face
Fred preparing a cyanotype, alongside one of his fantasticly surreal portraits

One real strength programme at Millman Street, has been more opportunities for spontaneous discussion. Not only useful for navigating the sessions towards the interests of the cohort, but also as a catalyst for cementing the bonds between the participants, I predict forging stronger more meaningful relationships as a result. It is no comparison to Zoom, which is sometimes difficult to have free flowing conversation over, without feeling as though you are speaking over one another.

Floral cyanotypes
A collection of the participants cyanotypes
Expressive drawings and a toy cat
Helena's drawings to sound, with her beloved toy cat

Another huge positive is physically sharing the same space as the participants. It allowed me to more sensitively pick up on the participant’s sensory experiences. Whereas on Zoom, smell and touch could be hard to comprehend, definitely more so than sight and sound, in person all the senses were more feasible to understand. In addition to that, my physical presence allowed me to better judge the speed at which the participants were working, providing more appropriate intervals to share their creations.

Somebody holding a small felt heart and some felt creations
A selection of felted objects

Although, on the whole, this programme at Millman Street seems like a more accessible approach for engaging with people living with dementia going forward. The online workshops, particularly when participants were based in their own house, certainly gave snapshot of their personality they embody in their own home. Whether this is the comfort of sitting in their favourite chair, or their ease at sharing objects from the shelf behind them. This is admittedly an element I would like to figure out a way of working in future in-person sessions if they are likely to be focused more in day and community settings.