I have spent time with some brilliant minds during this trip. Lenore de la Perrelle works for ACH Group, a charitable organisation that supports older South Australians to spend their days in fulfilling ways. She is in the dementia learning unit. Part of that role includes initiating arts projects. Fiona Telford-Sharp runs a programme called the Exchange, which includes a writing group for older people – with an average age of 80 – who share stories and poetry about what a good life means.
The impression I had from Fiona is that she is always responsive to people. For example, she led a project for older people to write a health information booklet. Testing the idea with to a group of elders, she quickly realised that they didn’t want to read – let alone write – anything of the kind. Their creative energy led to the development of a writing group. It was advertised for those who were writing already and wanted a clear purpose for their words. So, no information booklet but a brilliant space for new writing instead.
Lenore talked passionately about arts, collaborative creative processes, social inclusion and how important it is for people to contribute to their own communities, regardless of age. Many of the projects she develops are cross-artform, which offers those with dementia multiple ways to join, understand and contribute to activities.
With many older people, Lenore’s team use a facilitation model to create personal life histories based on the memories and aspirations of individuals. The results are testimonies produced as pamphlets and books, a solid way to show value to all people’s lives.
I wondered a little about whether it could be taken further, whether writers could be brought in to make this work or respond to it. What might that offer, allowing another person to walk around in someone else’s world for a while and create new poems or stories from that place?
An organisation like ACH would be the ideal partner for a writer, as it provides continuous connection with individual older people and groups. While ACH would have the overview and maintain all relationships over extended periods of time, an artist could be brought in for short or long term projects, and focus on making this work brilliant.