The importance of making activities accessible for older people

Hands weaving paper strips
An older person weaving paper and text

Alex McEwan is an artist who has led a number of Sense arts projects that focus on supporting people with disabilities, harnessing creativity and nurturing confidence. In this post, Alex talks about a project for older people, the bonds they formed, and the incredible access granted by the British Library when project participants visited last year.


We’re constantly told the ‘good’ news, that we’re all living longer. That’s great if the extra years we’re being given are fulfilling, but for many the reality is loneliness and exclusion in a fast-paced world.

Sense asked me to organise an arts project that would focus on the enormous benefits of taking part in a communal activity. With this brief in mind, I set about creating TEXTtile, a ten week arts project aimed at breaking down isolation and connecting local people. Participants were based in Islington, London, were over the age of 55, and had sight and hearing loss.

The importance of making activities accessible for older people has never been more poignant, and will only continue to gather momentum. Older people often live with the challenges of sensory impairment, and many live with additional challenges, such as reduced mobility. But being older, or having reduced hearing or sight, should not spell the end of creativity.

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TEXTtile Project: Tribute To The Team.

Meet the TEXTtile Team: Nicole, Yemi, Dani, Natasha, Kara, Hayley, and Colin.

Nicole and J enjoying each other's company.
Nicole and J enjoying each other’s company.

You can get easily get so inspired by the wonderful makers and the positive light they project that the amazing people who make these workshops happen remain  lurking in the art room shadows.  And sometimes this is exactly where these lovely people would like to remain, extremely helpful and generous with their time but completely anonymous and in the background. Having sought their permission,  we would like to appreciate them publicly for all their sterling work and input to the project.
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TEXTtile Project Chapter 6: Mono Printing The Perfect Day

Perfect companions for the prefect day.
Perfect companions for the prefect day.

What makes the Perfect Day?

What would your perfect day look like? As the iconic song states, for Lou Reed it was drinking sangria in the park and feeding animals in the zoo. Of course everyone is going to have their own personal slant on this, but would it involve being with other people? I know mine would.

Loneliness is a huge problem for the elderly and having one or more sensory impairments makes going out and joining in,  just that little more daunting, but if this phases our TEXTtile makers they do not let it show!
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TEXTtile Project: #Cclasses No.3

Collaged connecting classes logo blue paint background with cut out white lettering.
Collaged connecting classes logo blue paint background with cut out white lettering.

#Cclasses No.3

Today is our third, and final, Connecting Classes workshop. Connecting classes, (#Cclasses), is a teaching method mostly, thus far, used in university settings but we like to keep it fresh and try new things so we have inserted three short classes into our already jam packed 10 week TEXTtile book project programme!

By gamely agreeing to take part our elderly makers are breaking new ground and having valuable input to the direction of future community arts and wellbeing projects.  I admire their seemingly endless ‘have a go’ attitude, they are truly inspirational. We would love you to join in, so please tweet or leave a comment on the blog – it all adds to the conversation.

Today’s topic? The role of the blog, (and for us, that is this blog), in community arts and wellbeing projects. Is it relevant for older people with sensory impairments? How is it used? What could be done better and how? How does the blog make you feel about the project? How do your friends and family feel about the blog?
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TEXTtile Chapter 5: Play with your food! "It’s fun!"

Healthy amount of work made in one sitting as TEXTtile makers exceed recommend 5 a day!

Someone call the fire brigade, the TEXTtile makers are on fire! A phenomenal amount of print work was harvested last week in a foodie inspired creative frenzy, which was lots of messy fun. So much work in-fact, that I couldn’t get the whole, beautiful buffet up on the blog, so here is a little taster of fruit and veg prints for starters…

Food and drink, it’s the one topic that I retained from project to project. Why? Because it never fails to get everyone talking, reminiscing, swapping recipes and stories and creates a genuinely  enthusiastic, creative vibe. Cooking and food preparation is an interactive, hands on, creative activity and so lends itself to participatory crafty endeavours. Everyone has a favourite food or food memory, every culture celebrates with special foods, every country has its own specialities. It is on an equal par to music for guaranteed, genuine, emotional  responses. So, what better medium to create the work with than the utensils we cook with and the food itself? But first, something smelly….
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TEXTtile Project: Connecting Classes 2

IMG_8807We have a very forward thinking and open minded group of makers who have generously offered to take part in some research with The University of Newcastle by taking part in three Connecting Classes workshops. Our second #CClasses workshop will take place on Monday. The idea is simple, as part of our making workshops we schedule in 20minutes to watch some short film footage about community projects on our own or in pairs,  (other groups are looking at different topic of interest), and  we tweet our responses and thoughts about what we have seen / listened to. Responses can be in the form of audio recordings, scribed responses by a peer or volunteer or tweeting directly. For all of our elderly makers sending tweets is a new experience and iPads unfamiliar tools of communication. By asking our makers to take part in this research we hope to be able to open up the conversation of how arts and wellbeing community projects can interact and share and include feedback from the people who matter the most – the makers themselves. Feedback from the makers, the staff and volunteers on the project, other facilitators of learning and participants form other art and wellbeing projects around the world, feed into and inform our future projects. For many, old age can be an isolating experience, especially when faced with the challenges of sensory impairment coupled with issues of mobility in later life. We hope that by including their experiences we can, ideally,  glean information which, will allow for more inclusive practice pathways whilst empowering our makers by teaching them new methods of communication within a positive, intergenerational group.

This week we will be watching a short 6minute film entitled “Meet Me At The Albany”, in which, two elderly people give their first hand experiences of the impact creative activities in a supportive community have had on their wellbeing. We will be tweeting form 13:15 on Monday 23rd May.  We would love to hear your thoughts please join in. Here’s the link…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ1FMs99mAQ

Thank you for sharing.

TEXTtile: What the Dickens?

Margaret's Charles Dickens
Margaret’s Charles Dickens

Dicken’s creative medium was ink and so it seems fitting that we draw him in ink. Not wanting to be mean, a variety of portraits of Charles throughout his lifes were provided as inspiration…but we didn’t make it easy, instead we went for the scratchy ‘not brush end’ of the paintbrush and used it to get some lovely quality of line, handy for portraying that enormous, trademark beard!

Drawing is a contemplative, almost mediative activity. It calms the nerves and frees up the mind. Concentrating on your mark making means that when you return to reality you often have clarity of mind and feel refreshed. It is exactly at these moments, fresh from creative endeavour, inspiration strikes and eureka moments happen. The act of drawing invites inspiration in. We use the terms ‘Drawing inspiration” and “Back to the drawing board” in every day conversation but we very rarely take the time to exercise this important practice. The creative act of drawing has the same effect regardless of sensory impairment. It is the process, not the outcome, that is important here.  As demonstrated by the enormous amount of pleasure gleaned from this exercise and positive calm atmosphere in the drawing room. By drawing we understand our selves and our surroundings better, whether that is through sight, touch, sounds, smell or taste we can draw inspiration from our environment and communicate our ideas and emotions.

” I can’t see , I can’t hardly hear, but I am still here and I am still having a go and do you know what? I LOVE IT! It’s good fun!

“If my kids saw that drawing they’d laugh at me… at least I’m having a go!”

J – TEXTtile Maker

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TEXTtile Project: Chapter Four Pick A Pocket, or Two!

Pockets and contents laid out before the game.
Pockets and contents laid out before the game.

Fresh from our successfully bookish outing to The Dickens Museum we were all fired up with literary inspiration and Dickensian drive.  The Dickens Museum is Charles’ once home at 48 Doughty Street, London and where he wrote the iconic Oliver Twist. This in mind we embarked on an object handling activity with a distinctively Fagen-esque feel.

To jog our memories of what we had experienced on our Friday trip to the Dickens Museum we started the session by reading our feedback postcards we had written in the museum café, which had all arrived safely via Royal Mail to St. Luke’s reception. After reflecting on what we had like most about our trip, ( see previous post) and then we got stuck into an Oliver Twist, themed game.

The idea of Pick A Pocket was to get the group interacting with mystery objects and create their own Dickensian characters and stories spun around them. In each pocket a secret, random object was placed. Each participant picked a pocket and, without looking inside it, we went round the table guessing what was secreted inside. In turn, we revealed what was inside our pocket and had only a few minutes to warm up our imagination muscles and create a profile of what kind of person owned the pocket we had picked. Who were they? Where were they going when we happened to pick their pocket? Why did they have that item in their pocket?  In turn, we revieled what the object was and had only a couple of seconds to think up a back history to our only clue, the small object. I was not sure how this would go being a bit abstract, but I needn’t have worried, in fact I should have had more faith in this unflappable  group. The TEXTtile makers rose to the occasion with detailed, complex and intriguing stories woven around their stolen item. Many elaborations on each others stories followed as we hastily captured our ideas in drawn form for inclusion in our very own book.

 ” I’ll have a go at most things. It’s good for the brain, trying new things. You are never too old to try new things! I wish there were more groups like this so more people would be able to have a go. ” – Margaret, TEXTtile Maker.

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TEXTtile Project: Chapter Three Going Dickensian

Dickensian Dream Team
Dickensian Dream Team

‘It was the best of times, it was’ ….well actually, I think I will just stop there, because in no way was, ‘ it the worst of times.”

It is all very well to meet every week in the same place and make art work for our book project but sometimes an inspirational excursion is required to get the creative juices flowing. Given St. Luke’s Community Centre’s  Islington location, we are a bit spoiled for choice, but as we are making a book we chose a museum and an author with a world renowned reputation,Charles Dickens and The Dickens Museum was an obvious choice.  Let’s face it, Shakespeare is getting more than his fair share of attention this year!

So, we hopped, (ok, clambered), onto the St. Luke’s minibus, with the lovely Gary at the wheel, and were whisked off to 48 Doughty Street, former London residence of one Mr. Charles Dickens and family, and now a wonderfully evocative museum for the public to enjoy. We really did feel as if we were stepping back in time and merely popping in to someones home for a visit, rather than going into a museum. There are many original items to look at and although we couldn’t touch, we had audio descriptive guides and headphones for all, an extra descriptive guide for our blind makers with raised buttons and plenty of museum staff and volunteers on hand to talk us through the histories of the rooms, their contents and add in interesting little anecdotes, which are the best and most memorable bits of any tour! Continue reading “TEXTtile Project: Chapter Three Going Dickensian”

TEXTtile Project joins #CClasses research

IMG_8807
#cclasses poster

We have embedded some pioneering research into the TEXTtile project programme. In collaboration with Higher Education Academy colleagues we will be running three short Connecting Classes workshops the first of which starts in tomorrows TEXTtile workshop.

The idea is allow participants to watch / listen to a short clip of footage and respond to it on twitter starting a conversation with fellow participants in the same room via twitter and reaching out to create a broader audience from other classes, from a variety of disciplines, music, photography etc., who we welcome to join in the dialogue in real time.

Using the Sense iPads and iPad minis our makers will have one to one support to watch / listen and anonomously tweet their thoughts on the short video clip. We will be capturing and tweeting audio clips of reactions, have help on hand in the form of scribers and help with the unfamiliar tech.  We hope to reach  wide audience and ask:

What makes for best inclusive, creative practice in community projects for elderly learners living with the challenges of sensory impairment?

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