“People don’t know what dementia is and it’s a bit scary at first…but slowly, I found I was becoming more confident and positive, learning coping strategies and picking up things”, says Bob, a person living with dementia and also a member of the Leeds Peer Support Network. The Network, run by Adult Social Care, provides a series of groups and memory drop in sessions for people with dementia. I went to three of them, the ‘Budding Artists’, a men’s group, and the ‘On Yer Bike project’, to find out what went on. The Budding Artists, who meet every Monday morning during term time at the Swarthmore Centre, are a mixed group of people living with dementia, their carers and supporters. Bob is one of them. Led by Sue, an art tutor, the group is working on the creative theme of landscapes, waterscapes and cloudscapes, using a photo of the Jersey countryside. At each setting is a copy of the photo, the person’s artwork, brushes, a palette of paint and a list of instructions. Everyone is keen to get started. The first task is to mix the colours. As people get busy mixing you can tell it is a well-established group – it started in 2010 – by the chatting. Having a conversation, which can be about anything, is just as important as the artwork. Sue suggests that everyone look at Bob’s jumper, which is the exact shade of soft sage green needed, for guidance. “Thanks”, says Bob, “it took me hours to find this jumper”. Everyone carries on at their own pace, doing as much or as little as they want or can. The paintings will be shown later in the year at an exhibition in the Central Library’s Art Space. At the tea break I talk to Chris, an occupational therapist and one of the helpers. “What do people get out of the group?” “The group takes/ gets them back in touch with historic skills, it helps them with self-esteem. They can reminisce. Here, they can come and be themselves and have something to show for it. They’re showing their ability not their disability” Chris says. Supporters and carers also get support from each other at these weekly meetings. Bob enjoys painting so much that he now paints at home.
Tuesday morning, and it’s the weekly men’s group session at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Eleven men experiencing dementia meet to talk about whatever appeals to them at the time. Bob goes to this group too. Good social bonding without their “other halves”. They can talk about personal memories or problems and set the world to rights. Today it’s a bit of both. One of the group, Brian, remembers a family trip in a plane over the Grand Canyon. He didn’t think the plane would get off the ground it looked like it was just wound up with elastic. The group discuss problems with timekeeping and tips on how to keep track of useful belongings – use a workstation or tray. Debbie Marshall, Peer Support Co-ordinator, who chairs the group, asks them what they think about the England team selection for the imminent World Cup. The group discusses England’s chances. Three of the group are former professional rugby league players who reminisce about playing for Huddersfield, Warrington, Leeds, Bradford and Castleford. The group laugh, joke and remember their glory days. Barry, even though he has just started coming to group, told me he came to meet his friends.
This afternoon is week three of the twelve week On Yer Bike project – a cultural partnership group between the Network and Libraries and Museums. The overall theme is the Tour de France considered through art, history, language, music and theatre. Today’s theme is French – the group starts with a visit to the Art Gallery to look at French paintings and then move to the Portal, a room in the Central Library. Here they are greeted by Colette, who has a French background but now lives and works in Leeds in the library. She tells the group about her French childhood and how she came to England. The afternoon passes quickly with a mini-French lesson, quizzes and singing French songs – they can remember the words tothe French Marseillaise. The group members all seem lively and interested. Bob shows some of his paintings he’s stored on his ipad. Next week they will be at The Discovery Centre, looking at bikes from the museum’s store collecting and designing their own Tour de France jersey.
I was really surprised with the groups, with the amazing creativity that is unleashed andfor what they do for the people living with dementia, their carers and their supporters and for what the people do for each other. All in all, an experience everyone can treasure.
As well as these groups there is a Men and Women’s Peer Support group; an Irish Seniors group; a Life Story group and an Active group. There is Dementia Café for South Asian Communities, the Corner Flag Café- a sporting memories based Dementia Café and the Tea Cosy memory café based in Rothwell. To find out more about the work of the Leeds Peer Support Network and the other groups contact Deborah Marshall, Peer Support Co-ordinator, tel 07891271980 or email Deborah.Marshall@leeds.gov.uk or Deborah Catley, Assistant Peer Support Co-ordinator ,tel 07545605413 or email Deborah.Catley@leeds.gov.uk
Debra Kerr, ASC Communications