About Meet Me at Live Age
Meet Me At Live Age is a two-year programme of arts workshops, events and performances created for and by older people. It is produced by the New Vic Theatre, Keele University and Age UK North Staffordshire, supported by Arts Council England’s and Baring Foundation’s Celebrating Age programme, and builds on the success of the New Vic Theatre and Keele University’s intergenerational projects Ages and Stages and the Live Age Festival.
The programme seeks to ensure older people in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire can enjoy professional art commissions, theatre, and creative activities in their community, which helps to reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness.
Live Age Ambassadors
We are grateful to the members of Ages and Stages Theatre Company who have volunteered to become Live Age Ambassadors. For the two year project they are helping more participants to get involved through supporting the work of the artists wherever they are needed.
Ambassadors receive a programme of training which includes safeguarding, planning and delivering creative projects, and dementia awareness. They update the Advisory Group at quarterly meetings on their experiences. Their insight adds to the growing body of best practice within creative ageing activity. Ambassadors are themselves developing artists and devise new theatre and perform regularly with Ages and Stages, which many have experienced for the first time in later life.
Live Age Festival Co-Founder Dr Jackie Reynolds developed a framework of evaluation based on theories of change, and produced artist case-studies to better understand the relationship between theory and practice. The research involved a number of Live Age Ambassadors as co-researchers. Dr Reynolds was Public Engagement (with Research) Fellow at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science at Keele University.
Jackie has now been replaced by Dr Michelle Rickett, who will be developing this work during the second year of the project.
The Advisory Group is made up of organisations based in Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire who kindly donate their time to attend quarterly meetings and provide advice on the development of the Meet me at Live Age programme. It includes representatives from Stoke on Trent City Council’s Age Friendly City Team, Art Link, Vintage Volunteers (VAST), Staffordshire Film Archive, Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, B-Arts, Beth Johnson Foundation, and Staffordshire Housing Association.
We are hugely privileged to have worked with Chloe Knibbs, a composer, singer-songwriter and community practitioner based in the West Midlands. Having graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class degree she has since gone onto complete a Masters in Composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Included in the British Music Collection, her music has been performed at Orkney Arts Festival, RSC’s Play Making Festival and Birmingham Weekender.
Chloe has an equally strong record in working in participation. She has worked on a number of creative community projects with a number of arts organisations including Bridgewater Hall, Cheltenham Music Festival, Hallé Orchestra. Chloe also has extensive experience in arts-in-healthcare having delivered workshops on elderly-care and dementia wards at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust on behalf of the national wellbeing charity Kissing it Better. As such, she is a passionate advocate for the use of arts and music in dementia settings –giving those affected by dementia to reminisce, reconnect and have fun.
Sharing in Song for Meet Me
For Meet Me, Chloe is working with the Approach Staffordshire day care group who meet at Oak Priory in Abbey Hulton. The group are people who are living with dementia. Live Age Ambassadors Ken and Marion are working with Chloe, and staff and volunteers from Approach also join in the sessions. The group contains 15 members who have are living with varying degrees of dementia and range in age from 65 to 96.
The project is called Sharing in Song. It allows the group to explore shared connections between one another through well-known songs. These songs trigger memories and stories which are shared within the group, and as such allow each individual to feel valued and connected.
Chloe says: “For those dealing with dementia, music can have great power. If someone has a connection to a song it may trigger special memories and stories, inspire them to dance or chat with one another, or sing. The Sharing in Song project aims to celebrate each individual’s connection to music and their life stories, and our collection of stories is growing all the time!"
Members of the group include a retired pianist and solo tenor, who by week four of the project were comfortable enough to play together and rediscover their talents with the group. Neither had performed in the last decade, so it was a very magical moment for the staff and their families!
Chloe is recording moments from the sessions where the group explore sounds and music and is collecting the memories and stories they share. She collected stories in a pamphlet which you can view here.
We are delighted to work with Kate Buttolph, a voice artist working with song and spoken word. Kate has over thirty years’ experience in working with community members to help them find their voice. Last year Kate delivered five residencies for the Baring Foundation and Arts Council Wales cARTrefu project, which places artists in care home settings. The main focus of this work was writing music and lyrics with people with dementia - a truly uplifting and revelatory experience.
Kate’s past experience includes working as a creativity consultant for Arts Connect West Midlands, devising and directing productions for her own company Play On Performing Arts and directing and and co-writing A Birmingham Boy in No-Man’s Land, a World War One themed show for Vox Populi Community Singers. Kate also runs three community choirs in Shropshire and the West Midlands.
Chance Sounds - Meet Me project
Kate is working with the My Community Matters Friendship Group who meet weekly at Rowan Village in Meir. The Friendship Group is the longest running of its kind in Stoke, and was established to provide social contact for isolated older people, many of whom have lost a partner and whose family have moved away. The group explore gentle exercise or relaxation together each week and were keen to have the opportunity to work with an artist.
The group are directing the project and have chosen to focus on a theme of chance. They have begun by exploring their shared love of bingo, which is how they end each session. Kate is collecting words, phrases and stories and the group are beginning to shape these into a piece for recording. Our plan is to produce a short CD comprising spoken and sung pieces based around the ideas of luck, fortune and the throw of the dice.
Meet Me at Live Age Community Programme
An overview of the four artists we worked with in 2017 - 2018 and in-depth case studies about the impact the project has had on their working practice.
YEAR TWO ARTISTS
Meet the six artists we are working with in 2018.
Book places on their workshops at the Live Age Festival.
We worked with Junction 15 film-makers to document the project. You can watch the film from the first year here.
Chloe's Case Study
Chloe Knibbs is a Birmingham-based composer and singer-song writer. She plays and teaches the piano and the clarinet. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Manchester, during which time she became increasingly interested in outreach work, initially with young people:
“...I became aware of a need for musicians to be using their skills in a wider area and that was something I was very keen to do. I didn’t want to become a performer and I wanted to do composition work, but very much knew that I wanted to have a role in the community as a musician that was doing something useful.”
She undertook volunteering roles at Bridgewater Hall, Halle Orchestra and with a charity called Kissing it Better, who were working in Manchester Royal Infirmary at the time. This led to employment with Kissing it Better, through which Chloe unexpectedly discovered her passion for working with people living with dementia. Reflecting on the difference that music made to the patients she worked with at that time, Chloe comments:
“I was amazed at the impact: if you’ve just found the right song it feels like a key into this world – and the way that it impacted on patients or their family and the way that it allowed people to realise that this person is still them and they’re not just a patient and they’re not just a person with dementia. It really made me passionate about that and I became fascinated about memory and music...”
The experience of working in hospitals was particularly valuable to Chloe. She feels that it helped to increase her understanding of the many different ways that dementia can impact on people, and of “those little things that can make a difference to somebody”. Chloe later completed a Master’s degree at the Birmingham Conservatoire, throughout which she continued to explore different approaches to working with people with dementia, including music therapy models. She describes herself as “fascinated by different people’s stories” and explains that she’s keen to challenge the way that society views ageing and the divisions between different generations.
For Meet Me at Live Age, Chloe’s project is entitled Songs and Stories. She is working with a Dementia Day Opportunities Group run by Approach Staffordshire and held at a new purpose-built retirement village called Oak Priory in Abbey Hulton, Stoke-on-Trent. Staff leading the sessions were keen to introduce music and were also looking for guidance about how they could use music themselves to engage with participants:
“So we’ve been exploring all types of music that they like: music that I know is familiar to people of that age group and I’ve also been responding to things that have come up in conversation, either through participants or staff at Oak Priory.”
Chloe sees songs and stories as being very much inter-connected, with a focus on celebrating people’s lives. Participants are encouraged to share their stories, and Chloe records them to include in the creative outputs of the project.
Challenges and Highlights
In terms of challenges, Chloe comments that the size of the group “is an issue” and that fluctuating attendance can make it more challenging to create a sense of community in the group. The size of the group and people’s need for one-to-one attention and support also means that staff play a vital role in supporting the sessions, and this can also be a challenge when conflicting commitments and priorities affect attendance and engagement of staff.
When asked about the highlights of the sessions, Chloe responds that there have been “loads”, but emphasises particularly the increasingly positive response of the group to the sessions. She describes how the group has generally become “more open and more animated” and that “they feel more relaxed to have fun and enjoy themselves”. She also feels that the staff have similarly become increasingly engaged, and that everyone has had the opportunity to discover connections through sharing stories and music:
“And that the staff have become part of that sense of fun is important because obviously they have such a big workload on their shoulders so I think it’s really nice that they are having these experiences where it is all about fun and music and banter and jokes and stories and taking that time and getting to know each other in different ways...I think there’s a really personal and special type of thing to be able to share the type of music that you like to listen to when you want to feel comforted or how perhaps it links to your past or the things that you’ve done in your past.”
Chloe goes on to offer a specific example of when two of the participants connected through a particular song:
“...one started singing ‘Jesus loves me’ and then the other one turned around and started singing it with her and it was this really special moment of them acknowledging ‘we both know this song, we’ve both probably had similar experiences of this song being sung to us when we were really little and now we’re here together’. And I think those moments are really special actually.”
As well as people’s engagement through songs and music, Chloe also notes that the involvement in sharing stories has really developed throughout the project, with participants “becoming more and more clear with the things that they were saying and they were adding to stories and we were getting a context of the stories and I thought that was really lovely...”
One of the important aims of the project, particularly in relation to its sustainability, was to demonstrate to staff how they can integrate music into the day sessions. Chloe has observed an increasing confidence in this regard:
“I’ve noticed that they’ve been playing CDs and choosing things to put on, and that’s become important...there’s a sense of the staff feeling like they sing along and these instruments are theirs so they can get these out and do that. I think they were not feeling very comfortable to do that before I came. So it would be really nice if they felt more able to introduce things themselves a little bit, just in general – even if it’s just a song over lunch...”
As Chloe herself is relatively young (in her twenties), she also feels that there can be “more of a sense of exchange” with participants:
“There are a couple of participants in the group at the minute that have really enjoyed telling me off [for not knowing famous past performers]...it’s nice that they see that I’m learning and there’s that sense of sharing. I’m sharing my musical skills and the songs that I’ve researched but they’re sharing their stories that I don’t know or maybe songs that I can go away and look up.”
A more poignant and challenging aspect of Chloe’s reflections on her learning from the project followed a session in which one of the participants was sadly taken ill and later died. This led Chloe to consider whether there is a need for arts practitioners to create spaces to share their experiences and support each other:
“...there’s an interesting thing where obviously celebrating ageing is brilliant but in the UK I think we don’t really talk about death and don’t seem to have great frameworks to deal with that. And I wonder how other practitioners deal with that if it happens. I know that it’s a rare occurrence but it did definitely impact on me personally.”
Chloe goes on to explain that the impact was partly in terms of shock, but also in the sense that it made her value the work more than she ever had before:
“...which sounds strange, but just realising that it really is a good opportunity to celebrate someone’s life and to give them good opportunities and access to good opportunities because ultimately you never know when they are going to, sadly, pass away – so for me, that was quite a big moment for the project.”
Being Part of Live Age
Chloe talks with enthusiasm about the impact of her project being part of a wider programme, and feels that this has made a real difference for her. She saw the Live Age Festival 2017 as a great way to “kick start” her project:
“And it’s really nice as an artist to be inspired by other disciplines and to see what they’re doing or how other artists are approaching things. So I enjoyed the Letting in the Light workshop. I did their workshop before I did mine...and it was just really nice to have that sense of collaboration and to learn through Live Age about this whole bigger community that I’d perhaps not been aware of – this national community – to hear about the research...I think it gives you a sense of connectedness about what you’re doing and that you’re not just a drop in the ocean with this one thing.”
Chloe also comments that her involvement in Live Age has opened up a new network for her, including people who she could contact in relation to new ideas in the future. Moreover, she has particularly valued the longer-term engagement with a group that Meet Me at Live Age has enabled. Previously, much of her work was one-off or shorter term connections with hospital patients, and whilst she recognises the value of these “short-term moments”, she can also see the benefits of longer-term involvement, both for participants and for staff:
“...I’ve really enjoyed it having a long period of time to work with the same group and to see how you can create those connections over time...So today somebody at the lunch hall just turned around and said ‘hello Chloe’ and it was the first time they’d acknowledged my name and that was quite moving... It varies, but there does seem to be a general sense of recognition that’s grown over time...obviously there will still be moments, but generally the group does seem to have an acknowledgement of me and an acceptance of me as someone who does this and that’s been really nice.”
In addition, Chloe feels that being part of a wider programme gives the work further credibility from the point of view of staff who support the participants and the project. She also highlights the important role played by the Live Age Ambassadors as volunteers in the sessions, especially given the size of the group and the fact that one-to-one support makes such a difference. Chloe offers an example to illustrate this point:
“...there was a participant that was really confused by an instrument and didn’t understand what it was, so one of the Live Age Ambassadors was able to spend that time showing her how to use it, over time, gradually, with no pressure, and then she was playing by the end of the session. And the staff were really wowed by that, which just shows what some slow patience, gentle teaching and gentle modelling can do...”
As well as supporting more isolated participants, Chloe also notes that the Live Age Ambassadors have enriched the sessions with their own musical knowledge which has provided “another kind of cultural exchange.”
Chloe is keen to continue to develop her work in care settings. She feels that the creative possibilities are wider in care settings than in hospitals where she has worked previously, and that the environment can be a more reassuring one for participants. Chloe has had some initial discussions with staff at Approach about exploring ways to further develop the work.
Chloe also notes that through her involvement in Live Age, she has also become “interested and inspired” about the challenges of evaluating arts work with people living with dementia, especially in terms of meaningfully understanding the perspectives of participants themselves.
Kate says: “the Friendship Group are a delight to work with: such a strong team and with many creative ideas. Although they have not undertaken anything like this before, they are full of humour and enthusiasm and bring so many positive ideas to the process. Gwendoline and Keith from Ages and Stages are proving great support and I really look forward to my afternoons in Meir.”
We look forward to seeing the group’s development!
Chloe emphasises the value of volunteering experience for those who are interested in community music or community work generally. She also sees taking a flexible and responsive approach in the sessions as “really important” and highlights the value of clear communication with a lead staff member from the outset in order to both reassure and to be clear about what support is required.
Kate Buttolph Case Study
Kate Buttolph is a voice artist working with song and spoken word. When she was beginning her journey to become an artist, Kate had little knowledge of community arts. However, through her experiences of living with ME, which made it challenging to continue her practice, she became increasingly interested in people “who were disenfranchised from creativity in some way”. Over the years, Kate has increasingly been able to manage her condition, until reaching the point where it doesn’t present professional barriers as it once did. She feels that her experiences have made her “far more aware of other people’s varying needs” and she is now passionate about supporting people to overcome their barriers to creative participation:
“I think working with older people there’s an awful lot of years of ‘I can’t’ sometimes. And it’s nice to be able to be part of that process of saying ‘you might be able to’ and ‘yes you can’.”
She also reflects on her experiences, along with her Mum, of caring for her Dad who was diagnosed with vascular dementia, which were distressing and challenging, but also eventually helped to shape her desire to work with older people. Almost a year to the day after her Dad died, she was contacted about a work opportunity on the Baring Foundation and Arts Council Wales cARTrefu project, which involves artist residencies in care home settings. The timing of this opportunity was just right for Kate:
“I had something to offer now because I have that personal understanding of dementia. It doesn’t frighten me anymore and though I have an emotional connection to it, it’s no longer excessive.”
The experience on cARTrefu was especially valuable: Kate describes the power of music, song-writing and singing for people living with dementia as “a bit of a revelation” and when the project came to an end, she missed it greatly and was keen to further develop her experience in working with older people. She therefore welcomed the call out for Meet Me at Live Age artists and made a successful application for one of the commissions.
For Meet Me at Live Age, Kate is working with a community group called the Tuesday Friendship Group in Meir. They rent a room at Rowan Village, an ‘extra care’ housing scheme run by Staffordshire Housing Association for people aged 55+. The Friendship Group is supported by My Community Matters, part of a nationally recognised Connecting Communities Network, supporting community development in a range of ways. The group is primarily made up of older people, including one (M) who is described by Kate as the “driving force of the group” and “a creative lynch pin” who keeps the group together and has helped to shape the outcomes of the project. There is a younger member (T), who attends with her parents. T is a wheelchair user and has severe disabilities affecting communication as well as mobility.
The sessions began in October 2017. The group play bingo regularly and are keen to also include other activities as and when opportunities arise. Their main focus to date has not been on arts and creativity:
“In terms of their experience of creative work, I’d say it’s pretty much zero. No-one’s owning up to having done much before! Very very keen, very open minded, but not really sure what was available to them or possible.”
Kate describes how singing and words are always her starting point for any project, and how one piece has become a particular favourite of the group:
“And then we did a piece from Namibia, a little call and response vocal piece, on the basis that I guessed that no-body would know it. And they’ve just really fallen for that piece and they sing it at any opportunity.”
In choosing an on-going theme for the development of the project, Kate made a suggestion based on the one thing that she knew about the group before she began: the importance of their bingo sessions to all involved:
“So I suggested to them that we use that as a sort of a theme, that we do things that were a bit random, and using chance and luck and fortune. And they were quite intrigued by that so I sort of sketched out a few ideas and things that we could do, and we ended up making a song about bingo.”
The theme of chance was further developed as the sessions progressed, and resulted in a CD called ‘Chance Encounters’, comprising various pieces created in the sessions which Kate has edited and supplemented along lines suggested by the group.
When asked what success will look like for the project, Kate emphasises the increased confidence and self-esteem of the group with singing and also “in their ability to use words”, noting that “they are actually very good with words but I don’t think they all know they are yet.” She is also very focused on the importance of “keeping on involving the whole group” including those with disabilities and those who are simply quieter and uncomfortable with being in the spotlight.
Kate planned the sessions with a particular focus on developing momentum early on, which she felt was particularly important as for the first few months of the project, she met with the group only once a month. In the first session, the group made a soundscape, which Kate edited after the session and then posted the CD to the group for them to listen to before the next time they met up. Kate commented that it was unusual for her to do this, but that “it turned out to be a rather good decision”. She felt that it was important for something tangible to be created early on, in order to build trust in both Kate and the process, and that it left the group “hungry to do a bit more”.
Challenges and Highlights
Whilst the room that is used for the sessions has great advantages in terms of accessibility and being the group’s regular meeting space, Kate feels that the layout of it (with the group around one large table) has presented some challenges for creative activities. It has not been practical to move the furniture around, due to both time constraints and the heavy lifting involved. Understanding the nature and the needs of the group has also required adaptability and flexibility. Some of the activities originally envisaged have proved infeasible, and so Kate has responded accordingly and designed new approaches that are more suitable for the group.
In terms of highlights, Kate refers to the group’s “sheer pride” in the first soundscape:
“I think getting that first recording back to them and seeing this absolute delight. I got a phone call and a little card back saying ‘oh, it’s lovely, it’s lovely!’ which was very unexpected”.
Kate also notes that a further highlight occurred when she introduced an iPad app which was used by T to generate sounds to be included in the group recording:
“We used a little bit of assistive technology to help her to make some sounds and record them, which was a wow for everybody.”
The whole group was proud of T’s achievement, and as part of the process they responded to the sounds that she had made by calling out words about the pictures it created in their minds. It was thus an important step in bringing the group together creatively, and as the group’s understanding and experience had developed by this point, they also had clear ideas about the way that they wanted Kate to edit the soundscape:
“So that’s been a highlight as a process, seeing that develop from showing them what was possible with the first one to how it works out second time around.”
In common with other Meet Me at Live Age artists, Kate emphasises the mutual learning environment in the sessions, and that this is the way that she likes to work. The approach challenges a more traditional ‘teacher and learner’ scenario, and makes the project “more of an enquiry”. She comments that the ‘bingo song’ is one example of this:
“I like to go in as the novice with them having the experience. I know nothing about bingo and bingo calling, so they had to tell me.”
For the group, Kate feels that they have really embraced doing new things and that they recognise the benefits in terms of creative development:
“Because I think the group’s done things where they’ve had people in to sing to them or sing them in the past, and various other activities, but it’s different when you’re inventing stuff.”
In particular, she feels that they have gained insights and experience into a creative process, which she describes as trialling an approach and realising that they won’t necessarily get the best results first time. Going back and editing and adding is all part of the creative process and “a great thing to do” and that success involves creating something that works, and then saying “right, let’s do it again and do it better”.
Being Part of Live Age
In reflecting on the experience of being part of a bigger project, Kate feels that it is valuable to know that there are other people working around the area, and that if there were any issues then there would be peer support available. She comments that the lead organisations have not been prescriptive about what is required, and that whilst she has found it “glorious” to be able to develop the project in her own way, she has also felt an element of uncertainty “every now and again” about meeting the expectations of the wider team. She has valued that several members of the team have come to attend the sessions, and particularly highlights the contributions of Live Age Ambassadors as being important:
“We’ve had two ambassadors along who’ve been great...I suppose the ambassadors above all have helped me feel linked in to the wider project, just because they are the connections really. So that’s been very useful.”
Kate's Future Plans
When asked about the potential impact of Meet Me at Live Age on her future work, Kate comments that “it’s reinforced the idea that working with older people is what I really want to make a big feature of my work”. She also feels that the project has led her to experiment more in terms of the use of technology within her work, and this has made her more aware of new creative possibilities:
“Because I have a specific way of doing it which uses technology but essentially it’s a very low-tech approach. I don’t come with a huge number of microphones, I do everything off a field recorder and then edit it at home…I’m starting to get a sense that I can do more of that than I thought and more with it than I thought. So it’s a bit amorphous at the moment but I would say that it’s having an impact perhaps on my own creative work and how I bring the techniques backwards and forwards between my own output as a composer and what I do in the community.”
Kate's Top Tips
In suggesting ‘top tips’ for artists looking to develop their practice with older people, Kate emphasises:
“Let them tell you what they know” I think would be an essential because older people have a life time’s worth of experience to bring to the project.”
She suggests that artists let people come to them with their ideas:
“Start from their interests and their comfort and then add yourself to that as a partner...so that’s what I would say - start from the people”
She goes on to emphasise the value of singing with people:
“...even if the project is not necessarily song based, just to get people breathing together and I think it’s one thing that pretty much all older people can benefit from is doing that deeper breathing. And I have had that feedback from members of the group as well that they’re finding that helpful, which is good. And I’d certainly say to anyone who’s doing anything performative, get that breathing involved if you can!”
Letting in the Light
Established in 1997, Letting in the Light are a participatory arts company based in Stoke, working across the West Midlands and beyond. Their main activity is working with different community groups or agencies to devise creative projects that meet a need, explore a question, promote development through training, result in site specific art, and through this process ensure exposure to a high-quality art experience.
Each project is bespoke and is carefully designed to engage and promote participation with the specific group whether it is the community of Stoke-on-Trent, young people with learning disabilities, adults with mental illness, older people living in isolation with dementia, education settings, care workers, market traders or a young person's hospital forum. They collaborate with an ever-growing number of associate artists and practitioners to feed our development and the breadth of our projects. We are experienced in working in a variety of formal and non-formal education settings and have worked with many hard to engage groups in these settings.
Recent prominent projects include working with sculptor Wolfgang Buttress to engage the Tunstall community in the creation of the sculpure Golden: The Flame that Never Dies. Read more about that project here.
For Meet Me at Live Age, lead artist Anne Kinnaird worked with artist Brent Sutton and the Approach Men In Sheds group in Newcastle Under Lyme. The group is for men who are living with dementia.
Anne had originally proposed to work towards creating an animation with the group, but adapted the project in response to the needs of the group.
Anne Kinnaird Case Study
Anne Kinnaird is a visual/digital artist and one of the founding members of Letting in the Light. Established in 1997, Letting in the Light is a Stoke-on-Trent based participatory arts organisation working with people of all ages and with a particular focus on arts for health and well-being. Anne’s involvement in participatory arts with older people began back in 1990 when, following her graduation as a mature student, she volunteered at the newly opened West Yorkshire Playhouse, helping to deliver an extensive programme of community activities. She was soon offered a paid role, and her work included being part of the team that set up Heydays: now the largest and longest running arts programme for older people in UK theatre.
“It kind of opened that world up to me I think...their ethos was just get somebody in through the door and have a cup of coffee, and that was a success, because that person end up going to the theatre. I was much younger then and perhaps had more preconceived ideas of older people and what they can do. But that enabled me to take stock and realise that they’re like anybody – they can do all sorts of things.”
Anne has since worked on many projects involving older people, including projects in care homes. Prior to Meet Me at Live Age, she was on the Live Age Festival Planning Group from when it was first established, and has contributed to each of the festivals since the inaugural event in 2014. Her work is strongly driven by her desire to reduce people’s isolation, including groups who come together primarily due to a particular health issue or disability. Through working with these groups, she gains insights into people’s interests, skills and talents and looks for ways that they can share these with wider communities for mutual benefit. In terms of her own work, Anne is very clear that she neither wishes to ‘teach’ nor ‘preach’ to the group: “I see it as sharing my time. We share time together”.
For the Meet Me at Live Age programme, Anne and her colleague Brent Sutton work with a ‘Men in Sheds’ group, which is part of Approach Staffordshire: a Stoke-on-Trent charity providing specialist support for older people living with dementia. Whilst some of the men enjoy outdoor activities such as woodwork and gardening, the winter months can be difficult, as not everyone can cope with the cold weather. During this time, the group usually tend to play pool and dominoes. Anne and Brent began working with the group on Thursday mornings, beginning in [check month?]. Up to twelve men take part in the sessions, and they vary in age from early 60s up to early 90s.
Whilst the original plan for the project was to engage participants in animation workshops, Anne’s approach is always to be guided by the interests and needs of the group: she refers to it as “experiential but with a creative edge”. Each week, she takes something into the session – “objects or pictures or equipment or ideas” – usually prompted by the previous week’s discussions. She describes how this leads to conversations, and identifies the essence of their approach as “interrupting the space and the atmosphere”. This responsive approach requires constant reflection on new ideas and possibilities, and the confidence to be really flexible and accommodating.
“We’ve had to accept that it’s never going to be this really cohesive project that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Although we are aiming for things, it’s a very fluid project. And each week it’s different...we can go, and do nothing that I’ve taken with me. I’m happy with that, as long as the session works.”
The artistic and creative content of the sessions is thus incredibly varied, and usually emerges from conversations. It often involves photography: in one session the photographs were developed into cartoon portraits and, following a discussion about dialects, some of the men incorporated bits of dialect into their portrait. Another session involving old games led to one of the men recalling sitting by a fire making rag rugs. The following week, one of the volunteers brought in a rag rug and there was an opportunity to actually ‘have a go’ at making one. Anne admits to being ‘amazed’ that most of the men had been involved in making a rag rug before, and that one of the group had also taught his wife to knit, embroider and crochet.
Reflecting the diverse interests, skills and experiences of the group, there was also much interest in opportunities to try out different machinery and equipment. Anne describes a session in which her husband – a theatrical sound engineer – took in reel to reel tapes, along with sounds and images from the local mining and steel industries that really resonated with participants. The group did some recordings “which they loved” and “everyone went very quiet and listened while someone was talking on the microphone”. The session led to conversations about the local theatre and the shows that people had seen.
For some of the sessions, and with the support of staff and volunteers, Anne has organised trips out for the group including, for example, a trip to the British Ceramics Biennial Exhibition. She carefully planned the visit to incorporate a range of activities, including visiting the cafe, seeing parts of the exhibition, attending a pottery demonstration, and taking part in a more practical ‘hands-on’ session using clay. Again, Anne describes how the social aspects of the visit are really significant, especially opportunities to interact with other visitors outside of the group.
Challenges and Highlights
As we have seen, the diverse interests and abilities (and indeed age range) of the group necessitates a flexible, responsive approach. Communication can be challenging; members of the group don’t always interact with each other very much, and they don’t always wish to work on the same activity. Other challenges that Anne identifies have included the fluctuating size of the group, and the fact that the space that they use is shared with another group at other times of the day, so they are unable to store equipment, display things on walls, or leave anything out when the session ends.
Nevertheless, Anne says: “I love working with this group. I’ve become attached to them. It’s a fab roller coaster”. She was delighted when the lead staff member told her how much the group enjoyed her and Brent going in each week, and how much the men felt they had learned about the things that they could do. When asked about other highlights, she responds:
“I think it is when the room changes and you suddenly go ‘oh, it’s not the room we walked into’ – something’s happened. And that’s been very positive. And it’s when individuals react perhaps differently to what you’ve expected. And particularly if they do something the staff notice that’s different to what they would usually do. They’ve participated, or they’ve found out something about them that they didn’t know. So those are really nice moments.”
Involving a younger colleague as a key member of the project team is a valuable way to share learning and to contribute to professional development. Brent Sutton – a photographer and graphic designer in his twenties – regularly works with Letting in the Light but, prior to Meet Me at Live Age, had limited experience of working with groups of older people. Anne talks enthusiastically about the way that his confidence seems to have grown, and how much the group clearly values his involvement:
“I can’t describe how comfortable he is with that group of people now and they really love him being there. He’s now instigating things.”
Anne is also quick to highlight the key role of the Men in Sheds project staff and also the volunteers in contributing to the success of the project:
“I think the staff have been very important to this project...we really got them on board. They’re very supportive and when they can’t be in there, we miss them.”
Volunteers have included one person who regularly volunteers with Letting in the Light, and two ‘Live Age Ambassadors’: members of the Ages & Stages Theatre Company who regularly give their time to support Meet Me at Live Age activities. The volunteers offer “one-to-one support and conversations”, helping to ensure that everyone can be included and involved. This has been particularly important when the group has visited different places. The volunteers have also clearly recognised and supported Anne’s way of working:
“They’re both very good at joining in. Judy has brought things – she brought a morse code machine and a rag rug. So they’ve really picked up on things...”
Moreover, part of the emphasis of Anne’s work is on the contribution of everyone to sharing their experiences, skills and learning. This very much includes participants themselves – “it’s not just about us sharing things with them, it’s them sharing their skills with us as well”. As well as sharing skills, Anne also expresses her feelings of being “constantly amazed by people: the things they have done and what they have achieved”. She feels like she has learnt a great deal from people’s resilience and the fact that “people can face profound difficulties and adversity without giving up”.
Being Part of Live Age
As a keen contributor to the Live Age Festival since its inception, Anne is positive about its role in bringing people together and involving older people:
“We’ve always really supported Live Age and I love the idea of it because I really think that anything that brings people together, keeps people motivated to do things in the city and North Staffordshire is great. I really like the energy around Live Age...and I think it’s key [for the area] to have something that’s really aimed for older people.”
She also emphasises the valuable role of the Live Age Ambassadors, and the way in which the partnership with researchers “helps to endorse what we do”. She comments that Meet Me at Live Age “feels like a well supported project, but without feeling like someone’s checking up on me every five minutes. I feel that we’ve been allowed to just get on with it as well.”
Anne is keen to find opportunities to continue to work with this group in the future, and can see mutual benefits in doing so. She would like to instigate skills sharing sessions – for example, involving the group in sharing woodwork skills with local artists.
Anne’s advice to artists looking to develop their practice with older people is “not to have preconceived ideas of a group, go in as open as you can”. She also emphasises how important it is to “remember that when you go in, you’re you” and to be prepared to show your own “vulnerability and foibles”. She feels that this helps people to feel more comfortable, particularly when you are asking them to drop their guard and to take creative risks. Finally, Anne emphasises what a difference it makes to work with other artists rather than alone:
“If someone’s just starting out, I’d say go in with somebody else. I would also say ‘don’t do it on your own’. I really would. I have done it on my own and that’s really hard, whereas it just reduces the pressure on you and you can be a bit more relaxed. And if you’re more relaxed the session will be more relaxed. Having Brent there has been just brilliant.”
FRONTLINEdance are a North Staffordshire-based integrated (disabled and non-disabled) dance company who have been enthusiastic supporters of the Live Age Festival since it began. Under the Artistic Direction of Rachael Lines, the company seeks to break down the barriers for people to engage in dance participation and performance, playing a positive role in integration and community cohesion. They aim to create the same access and progression routes into dance for disabled children and young people that exist for their non-disabled peers. Whilst striving for disabled dance artists to be viewed in the same professional light as mainstream dancers, choreographers and facilitators.
They state that they exist to create a more visible culturally diverse society – positively celebrating disability and older age, a brilliant fit for the Live Age project. FRONTLINEdance support local and national strategies such as ‘Creative Case for Diversity & Ageing Well’ – to make a positive social impact. They have a solid reputation for sensitive work specifically with disabled people, older people and people of all ages in healthcare settings, and in particular hospitals.
From the beginning, we’ve been choreographing our own work, making FRONTLINEdance one of the first integrated dance companies in the UK to do so.
FRONTLINEdance was co-founded by Rachael Lines and Michael King in 2000, and officially became a not-for-profit company Ltd by guarantee (no shareholders) in 2001.
Visit their website to learn more about their community projects, performances and campaigns.
Rachael Lines Case Study
Rachael Lines has been a regular Live Age Festival contributor since it began, contributing to the Planning Group, creating several opening performances and running dance workshops that have attracted a wide range of participants. She is Artistic Director of FRONTLINEdance, an integrated (disabled and non-disabled) dance company based in Stoke-on-Trent, which she established in 2001. Rachael has a long history of working with older people (mainly aged 80 and over) ever since she started dancing. She describes how some of the work involves people who live independently at home and come to the sessions in community settings, whilst another strand takes place in hospitals and involving patients with mental health conditions and dementia. All of the work is highly participatory.
In 2016, Rachael took a new approach by deciding to work with an older dancer over the age of 60, and to take a performance into hospitals, “so I was combining the art side of dance and the performance side with the participatory”. Since then, however, much of Rachael’s work has been health and exercise focused, and in applying for a Meet Me at Live Age commission she was seeking an opportunity to work more choreographically, “as an artist more than as a facilitator”.
The title of the project led by Rachael for Meet Me at Live Age is Moving Stories. Participants include some members of Stoke Older LGBT group; some members of Art Link (a Community Arts project offering professionally led sessions in dance, drama and singing), and some residents of Bradeley Village (a retirement community). The sessions have taken place at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery: some have been half days and some full days. This built upon Rachael’s previous work in this venue: in summer 2017, she led a residency there with disabled and non-disabled dancers, and she has also developed performances there as part of previous Live Age Festivals.
For the Meet Me at Live Age project, the group moved around the museum, responding to the exhibits:
“It’s using the Museum's spaces to think about what of their own lives connects them, what they can see. Also, describing sculptures, photographs and paintings; how they feel within a space, their own personal connections to each of them, what’s attracted them to certain things that they’ve chosen, and use them, and the words that they’ve chosen in particular to describe, to then start to make a dance, and explore contemporary dance work.”
“So going through different words and changing your body language and really feeling what those words are. And really experiencing it. But also really focusing. I did lots of work on looking and seeing. So really look at one object – what’s the form? What’s the texture? All the things from that.”
The results of the workshops were developed into a final performance which took place at the Potteries Museum on 27th February 2018, and also at the ‘Making a Difference? Working together to better understand the impact of the arts’ conference on 15th March 2018.
One of the key aspects of the approach that Rachael has taken is that it is highly improvisational. Moreover, participants have freedom of expression to move the way that they wish to and to choose the words that they want to use, which are then documented into poetry spoken word and a song. This has involved a process of deep connection and reflection:
Challenges and Highlights
The main challenge was in bringing together participants with varying levels of experience and confidence in relation to dance. Even for the more experienced members, from Art Link, Rachael knew that she was going to be asking them to do something very different to their usual approach. She was also mindful that the non-dancers in the group could be intimated by the Art Link members. In several different ways, therefore, Rachael needed to change people’s preconceptions:
“And for me, the way I did that was to keep them really busy, to keep their minds busy throughout on the task I wanted them to do.”
In terms of the highlights, Rachael explains that this “would be really just what the participants have given me, in terms of their openness and the way that they’ve been able to articulate their experience.” She feels that the combination of creating a safe environment and sharing positive experiences contributed to this exceptionally open and honest level of interaction:
“And I don’t know whether that was partly because of what they’d just done, because they felt so comfortable they could express themselves because they didn’t have any inhibitions. And it was quite joyful so they were really wanting to say something. So that was a massive highlight to get that response about what you’ve just done and being thanked for having that experience, is just massive.”
As well as clearly finding it rewarding that participants responded so positively, Rachael also speaks enthusiastically about the personal impact of the sessions on herself as an artist:
“The outcome and the results was one of the highlights I’ve had in my career, feeling ‘gosh, I’m really glad I’m alive because this to me is what life is about’. A lot of people have said to me in the past that once they’ve done a workshop or a series of work, they feel more alive again. And I thought ‘ooh, that’s lovely’, or watching a performance and they feel more alive. But I’d never actually experienced that myself until that point. So it helped to connect everything and go ‘ok, now I get what that was’ because I just felt it...it was such a special experience.”
The project involved a new approach for the participants and also for Rachael herself – which has clearly impacted on her thinking and practice:
“I just thought it would be nice to do some site specific work as well as performance based, and really focusing in on the arts side. And it’s been the first time I’ve used improvisation in this way with the age of the dancers, and being completely blown away at their response.”
For some participants, their previous experiences with her had previously been more focused on health and exercise than artistic expression, and for others they were more used to highly choreographed group performances rather than individual responses. She describes how many participants had inhibitions at the start of the project and did not see themselves as being able to dance. However, Rachael praises their willingness to be open-minded and describes how as the sessions progressed, through improvising and “just going through it” and with really clear and constant support and direction from her, they rose to the challenge and exceeded her expectations: “it was an experiment that worked a thousand times better than I thought. And that then shaped the whole direction of the consecutive weeks after that.”
Rachael feels that these new creative experiences have made a real impact on participants:
“And that impact of going ‘oh wow’ I’ve just done something that’s taken me away from who I thought I was. And I was not conscious of ‘me’ as a person. And I was just dancing and moving... the sense of feeling alive, losing inhibitions, that achievement of doing something that they thought they would hate and they wouldn’t be very good at.”
She goes on to say that she feels that participants have experienced ‘the art of dance’ and that they have connected with each other in powerful ways, both verbally and non-verbally.
Being Part of Live Age
Rachael identifies several ways in which being part of Live Age has impacted on the development of her project and her artistic practice. Some of the participants who took part in her Meet me at Live Age project came to a performance that she had created with members of Breakthrou’ Dance for Live Age Festival 2017, which had also taken place at the Potteries Museum. She feels that such experiences can open doors to people as they connect with the sense of community and with the other activities that are taking place:
“I think what happens is that it draws people to the space for whatever that personal reason is and then it allows them to explore. And I think the museum is a good place for that because it allows you to hide in a way, and to escape into these little pockets of creative things. And there’s been such variety, it’s allowed people to do something totally different but then to explore something they enjoy as well.”
Rachael also feels that being involved in Live Age has helped to build the profile of FRONTLINEdance, and has also enabled her to work with people and to build partnerships with people and organisations that she may not have otherwise connected with. For example, through being part of the Live Age Festival Planning Group, she was also able to develop a strong partnership with Staffordshire Housing, as well as the Potteries Museum – as both these organisations were also represented on the group. This has resulted in further work and also in access to the valuable resource of a central and high quality venue:
“We’ve got this free open space that they want us to use whenever we want to. And that, living in Stoke, and being a dance company in Stoke, where there’s nowhere ever to go, especially what’s accessible, is brilliant. And that’s what Live Age has been able to provide for us.”
The project is set to have a long-term impact through the establishment of an Elders Group – the idea for which has developed and evolved during the course of the project:
An elders performing group that meet up once a month in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and that becomes our continuous group where people who want to express themselves and perform; or not even perform, but just come and work in this way can do....it’s something that I wanted to do initially, but it looks totally different now. It’s completely unexpected in terms of how it might look and being really highly improvisation based, which I wasn’t expecting.”
Rachael describes how when people are starting out as dancers working in community contexts, they need to be as open minded as possible and to see each person as an individual. She notes that this is particularly important when working with people with disabilities, as well as older people, and that it can be challenging when starting to work with new groups. Rachael also strongly emphasises that safe practice and knowledge of injury prevention is important, even in seated dance. She points out that “a twisted spine in the same place for a period of time will be felt later on” and the importance of practitioners making sure that they are aware of any medical conditions that people have, including risk of falling and episodes of fainting. As Rachael says, “you have a responsibility to keep people safe”.
Effective communication is another area that Rachael sees as being critically important, particularly because dance is virtually always a participatory activity. Moreover, it can clearly be a challenge in cases where participants’ ability to communicate is restricted, for example through strokes, brain injuries, and other conditions. Communication is important when providing creative guidance and support to participants, but also in terms of having the confidence to ask for feedback and respond accordingly. In this regard, Rachael also emphasises how important it is to be flexible and responsive:
“Always go in with a plan but have x, y and z. I always have a toolkit of things that I know work. So I can stop and try something new and not be afraid to say that if things don’t work with one group, just throw them away and think of something else. So don’t be so prescriptive or structured – be open minded and make sure that you’re enjoying it too, because if you’re not then the participants won’t too.”
Being able to communicate effectively is also important in relation to gaining the support and co-operation of other professionals in the various contexts that people may work in – for example, managers, care staff and hospital staff. Rachael comments that she has become increasingly aware of how vital it is to have this support, and also to have the confidence to articulate what is needed from people in these roles.
Finally, Rachael reflects on how as she ages herself, she has been able to use her own life experiences to enhance the way that she works:
“I’m less precious, I think. And also a bit kinder to myself as well. I think you learn to let things go more, but also you have a maturity, you have more life experience that you can use within the sessions as well. So I feel that I can give more, connect with ease, and I can explain in greater detail - I’ve had the opportunity to work and meet so many wonderful people who I have learnt so much from, and been enriched by.”