Blog: Arts and older people

Published: 24 Sep 2020

Author: Naomi French
Blog: Arts and older people

On National Arts in Care Homes Day, we look back at WCMT’s pioneering contribution to developing arts for older people in the UK.

“Our Partnership with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has been essential in placing the UK at the cutting edge of good practice on arts and older people.” - David Cutler, Director of Baring Foundation

Over a four year period beginning in 2010, WCMT ran a programme of Fellowships exploring ‘creative ageing’ in partnership with the Baring Foundation. As a leading funder of arts projects for older people, Baring Foundation had found that participating in the arts can improve older people’s wellbeing and ease conditions such as dementia, arthritis and loneliness. In working together to explore international best practice in the area, this new therapeutic idea was transformed into a well-established professional field - in which the UK is now a global leader.

Baring Foundation Director David Cutler commented at the time: “Our Partnership with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has been essential in placing the UK at the cutting edge of good practice on arts and older people.”

image of report

Across the four-year programme, 47 Churchill Fellows visited 21 countries around the world to explore best practice on using the arts to engage with older people, improve their health and wellbeing and build community. Their findings were published in a detailed report, ‘Growing the Creative Ageing Movement: International Lessons for the UK’, written by Fellow Alice Thwaite and launched at the International Conference on Culture, Health and Wellbeing in Bristol in 2017. Since then, the Fellows have become leading practitioners in this field, making a huge impact across communities in the UK. Here are some examples of their work.

Theatre Curator Nicky Taylor (CF 2014) explored the role that theatre can play in the lives of people living with dementia in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. On her return to the UK, she devised and launched Every Third Minute, a festival of theatre, dementia and hope, at Leeds Playhouse. It involved people with dementia co-curating the festival, programming theatre shows, contributing as performers and co-writing plays about their experiences. More than 7,500 people attended events over seven weeks and the festival won a National Dementia Care Award.

Curator Pete Grogan performing at Every Third Minute. Curator Pete Grogan performing at Every Third Minute.

Arts Director Sylvie Fourcin (CF 2014) explored international research models used to assess the impact of creativity on older people in Canada and the USA. On her return to the UK, Sylvie was awarded £10,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund for a project offering arts for older people in Leeds. This led to a book and a film on the creative process of working with people living with dementia and with elderly women from a BAME project in Leeds. In 2019, she was commissioned by Leeds adult social care services to extend the project across three residential care homes. 

An art workshop for pensioners in Leeds organised by Sylvie Fourcin.An art workshop for pensioners in Leeds organised by Sylvie Fourcin.

Artistic Director Kerry Rooney (CF 2014) shadowed a leading arts programme for older people in the USA in order to inspire the work of his organisation, Kaleidoscope, an arts centre in Northern Ireland. On his return to the UK, he set up a year-round arts for older people programme, aided by National Lottery funding. The Imagine Arts Centre, created in 2015, was the result, enabling over 200 participants aged between 60 and 88 to take part in weekly classes such as drama, dance, creative writing, photography, ukelele playing, singing and knitting. An extension of the programme, Imagine Outreach, takes these activities into new settings such as care homes. In 2016 Kerry was awarded an MBE for his services to older people and drama in Northern Ireland. 

A short film about Kerry's Fellowship

The theme of this year’s National Day of Arts in Care Homes is ‘Creative Communities’. During the pandemic, we have seen, more than ever, the need for community and the role of the arts in fostering it. Virtual choirs, window art, poetry pen pals, art packs, live-streamed concerts, craft activities and more have brought people together. Churchill Fellows, including Nicky, Sylvie and Kerry, have continued to play their part in bringing this about. 

During the lockdown, Nicky has been coaching people with dementia to use Zoom in order to ensure they do not become socially isolated. Sylvie has been providing fortnightly art packs for 200 adults living in supported housing who are isolating due to Covid-19. She has been awarded £41,000 of National Lottery funding to assist this work, which will run until January 2021. And Kerry has developed a new social media site exclusively for older people called Greysnet, helping older people to stay connected, active and healthy during the pandemic.

You can read more about Fellows’ projects supporting older people through Covid-19 here.

Read the report: Growing the Creative Ageing Movement: International Lessons for the UK

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