#51 Sharing creative moments in a care home

I am very excited to be part of the ‘Moving In’ project, supported by Equal Arts: All kinds of artists living, working & making creative moments at Northbourne Residential Care Home in Gateshead during August-September 2017.

Artists Claire Ford and Kate Sweeney have now moved from their studios into the care home & will stay there for a month. During that time, other artists will visit & stay with them. I’ll be joining for a few days from 21 August.

They say: “The project seeks to challenge the conventional ‘workshop’ structure that artists are restricted to in care home and institutional settings. It aims to develop more immersive practices and create spaces to experiment with the types of activity, processes and outcomes that could be possible.”

More info & updates as project develops, here: http://movingintocare.blogspot.co.uk/


#50 Quiet intervention in the landscape

IMG_4416In Yorkshire Sculpture Park, there are a series of exposed tree roots on the ground. They’re almost hidden by the fallen leaves where you walk. Fine, that’s expected. We’re outside after all. But on closer inspection, you notice the bark catches the light in a curious way. There’s something unusual here, but it is subtle. Speed Breakers, the roots of a fallen beech tree cast in bronze, is a piece of art by Hemali Bhuta. It’s a quiet intervention in the landscape, encouraging you to pause before moving ahead.

The idea of quiet intervention is at the heart of many of the best literature projects with older adults and about the experience of ageing.

I’m using the notion of an intervention that creates a shift in perspective for a new endeavour of my own. It’s a creative befriending scheme, linking writers to older adults living alone. In the pilot project, I’m undertaking one-to-one visits, offering an intimate space for shared creativity.  We talk. We look through books. We read classic and contemporary published writing. We use our words, photographs and objects to create a story or a poem together. By combining creativity and befriending, this project offers participants a unique chance to meet new people, and explore their own imagination in the comfort of their own home.

Read the rest of this article on the British Council literature blog.

#49 The final report!

I’m pleased to be able to share my final report, which considers all my experiences to date in the UK, North America and Australia.

Here is the report in full!

Writers Meet Elders, a creative writing & creative ageing project, explores the exciting possibilities for making and sharing stories and poetry. It examines the range of ways literary activity can engage writers and older people, as audiences, artists, collaborators and participants. And it reflects specifically on activities offering professional or creative development opportunities for writers.

I present my findings under five themes to define the different roles a writer can take in a project with older people. These roles—collaborating, facilitating, making, showcasing, and teaching—are offered with case studies of creative activities with older people in Australia and the United States of America. The case studies show the numerous possibilities for older people and writers to create meaningful and vibrant literature projects together.

Three key conclusions are that:

  • Literary projects by older writers, with older adults and about ageing include dynamic spoken word poetry events and transmedia stories. There are huge opportunities to invigorate the field by commissioning artists of all kinds to develop projects.
  • Formal artist training in the UK could be improved, and there must always be space for intuition, responding to the context and informal training.
  • Bringing together editors, producers, writers and artists to review and generate critical discourse about the kinds of literary work being developed feels vital.

Sharing and debating this report are part of my next steps. And I plan to:

  • Develop a creative befriending programme and commissioning project to link writers to older adults living alone.
  • Explore poetry, film, sound and technology in a literature project made with elders.
  • Support a training programme with practical guidance and mentoring, for a diverse range of writers

There is so much potential for artists to co-create literary activities with those in later life. For supporting and deepening the creativity of older adults. For organisations to commission bold, excellent and disruptive projects. This is a burgeoning area of arts practice, ripe for investigation by those willing to take on a challenge and be open to its possibilities.

I first started working with older adults alongside my local Age UK in 2012, and have since then had many tremendous conversations, shared challenging moments, gained insights and hopefully offered something towards the creative expression in later life.

With thanks to Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and Age UK Bromley & Greenwich for the opportunity to travel and research, and to all the people I met along the way.

So, what do you think? What strikes you as important? What is open to debate? I’m keen to hear your thoughts!

If you think there are opportunities for us to work together on a project or event, please get in touch – via the comments page, email (gemmaseltzer @gmail.com) or follow me on Twitter!

Image: From Arts for Aging’s ‘Dance and Blues’ session at Downtown Clusters Geriatric Day Care. Photograph by Stephanie Williams.

#48 Recommended reads on ageing, caring and dementia

Writing in fragments is not the only way to share experiences of dementia. While this can be evocative and accessible, it reduces people’s individual experiences to one idea. It focuses on what’s been lost rather than what has been created.

Here’s a list of books and literary projects about ageing, caring responsibilities and/or dementia.

Graphic novel

  • Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me, Sarah Leavitt (Freehand, 2010): vivid portrait of a daughter and her mother as the elder progresses toward the late stages of dementia. Unusual, heartbreaking and delightful, too


  • The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit (Granta, 2014): heaping story upon story, this beautiful memoir is about how dementia changed and enhanced the author’s relationship with her mother


  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001): story of a dysfunctional family at Christmas, with scenes about the father, his Parkinson’s Disease… and a talking turd
  • Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, Sarah Ladipo Manyika (Cassava Republic Press, 2016): Glorious novel about a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman, living in San Francisco. In good health at 74, she lives a joyful existence
  • The Wilderness, Samantha Harvey (Vintage, 2010): Jake is losing the words he knows while piecing together the loss of his wife and daughter. Fascinating exploration of language
  • We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas (Simon & Schuster, 2014): a book about a family, their charms and quirks, and how their lives unstitch when dementia is introduced into their world


  • An Anthology of Poems about Ageing (Emma Press, 2016): includes poems by fine contemporary poets Julia Bird and Harry Man
  • The Hard Word Box, Sarah Hesketh (Penned in the Margins, 2015): terrific poetry collection written during the writer’s residency in a secure dementia care facility

Poetry films

  • My Mother’s House, Victoria Bennett and Adam Clark (2015): a astonishing poem-world built within a game of Minecraft, using Bennett’s experience of caring for her mother in the last phase of life
  • Watch Leah Thorn (2015): this spoken word artist created a poetry film about the impact of dementia on a father/daughter relationship

Short fiction

  • The Bear Came Over the Mountain, Alice Munro (from Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Vintage, 2002): an older married couple and their response to her changing behaviour resulting from Alzheimer’s disease

Do you have any other recommendations? Let me know, if so!

#47 Name an elder who inspired you


Hello all!

I wanted to let you know that my Writers Meet Elders evaluation is almost ready to publish!

In this final report, I share experiences from my travels in the UK, US and Australia, and offer eleven case studies of amazing literature projects with, for and by elders.

I open with a list of responses to the questions above. I asked this of many of the older people, care staff, artists and cultural organisations I met on my travels.

Answers were moving and funny, personal and professional. Here’s just a few:

My parents who were big thinkers and lived until they were 88 and 89 /// Vera, who was wild and beautiful. A Holocaust survivor, a writer. Women like her changed everything for other women. /// My grandmother, who taught me that words were powerful things. She did the cryptic crossword each day. /// Auntie Edna who adored exploring the bush. /// Leloba, a great philosopher  /// My beloved Grandma: a feisty, argumentative, left-wing intellectual who studied books, art, theatre and music. I miss her desperately.

I expect the report will be available to read and share in November. Watch this space for more information!

#46 That’s it!

I’m going to pause now, and enjoy a bit of time relaxing and reflecting on everything I’ve seen and learned during my time travelling in the US.

Here’s some photographs of the mountains of Colorado, where we’re resting for a while until the flight back the the UK in a week or so (via Vegas).

Grateful, heartfelt thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for making this adventure possible, thanks to Age UK Bromley & Greenwich for all their support, and thanks to you for joining me on this journey.

More when I return to London!

Til then x

#45 Stage Right Theatre

Oh this is one blog post I’ve been looking forward to writing. I had the time of my life, just sitting observing (and singing along to) Sammy Goodrich’s musical theatre session at Chai Point Jewish senior care home.

Stage Right Theatre makes collaborative, intergenerational, theatrical experiences in care facilities. Over the course of three visits, Sammy and her team (a dancer and a pianist) work with older people of all abilities to script, rehearse and perform a 10-20 minute original musical.

It’s original and it works incredibly well. All the participants had a say, all were listened to, all laughed all the way through! (Nice video by Sammy on her Facebook page)

This bunch of brilliant folk created a musical set in Chicago, and involving a fairground and an averted disaster on the big wheel. The star of the show was Shlomo, who sang and danced and made us all laugh throughout the performance.

Sammy is inspiring. She set up Stage Right quite recently, and it’s growing in profile. Seeing it in process was super. Sammy uses the basic TimeSlips techniques – including asking open questions, involving everyone’s responses – to generate story and music ideas, always maintaining a bright and positive tone.

I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next!

#44 I heart Milwaukee



Oh my, here comes the snow again! We arrived in Milwaukee to several inches of the white stuff on the ground. It might not have been the wisest idea to travel to one of the most northern states before spring had reared its head, but we have!

Turns out, Milwaukee is not just Happy Days and Colin’s storyline from Love Actually. It’s a vibrant and creative place, nestled on the shores of the enormous Lake Michigan.

Joan Williamson hosted us beautifully. She treated us to homecooked food, frozen custard, and drove me to all my meetings and events. Joan is a theatre teacher, TimeSlips Master Trainer and the TimeSlips Coordinator.

Together, we saw the US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera talk at the University, visited a wonderful bookshop called Woodland Pattern, met writers, ate muffins and learned all about TimeSlips, a way of making stories with those experiencing memory loss.

Two experiences stand out for me, and I’ll blog separately about those shortly.

#43 TimeSlips and how an artist isn’t any lonelier than anyone else…


IMG_8720Anne Basting is the founder of TimeSlips. That’s an improvised creative storytelling method used with seniors. She set up this innovative practice in 1998. TimeSlips opens storytelling to everyone by replacing the pressure to remember with the freedom to imagine.

Using images as prompts, a trained TimeSlips practitioner co-creates a story with a group of seniors. They create a safe environment to share ideas and by using open questions. The story is then shared with the wider community, in all kinds of amazing ways. From plays and puppet shows, to poetry slams and exhibitions.

I met with Anne, and asked some questions about the process. I’m focusing my research on writer development, but Anne made some interesting points that allowed me to rethink a little.

I said, What are the best ways to support writers before, during and after working with seniors. Where can they find support? It can be a tough environment to enter…

Anne replied that if the writer or artist is feeling a little isolated or sad or disorientated after leaving a care facility, the older person is probably feeling the same. A lot of the time, actually.

Nothing is ever done alone, artists are part of a ‘community of practice’. Everyone involved in a TimeSlips project is in it together.

The aim for any great project is for everyone leave feeling better. And for them to carry that feeling with them afterwards. Everything should be part of the same system, part of the same a community.

That’s a really helpful viewpoint. Instead of thinking of the artist as a lonely figure wandering through a care home, perhaps it’s better to consider how each person is an island but that a creative project might offer a way to connect everyone.