Canterbury Uncovered

‘Choice is important’ – Arts and Culture for Older People

Christopher Stibbards, Performance and Impact Manager at Age UK Canterbury, has spent the past week speaking to arts practitioners and residents within the Age UK community in order to find out their experience of culture in our cathedral city. 

There are a great number of things that can affect well-being and social inclusion – from health to family, independence and access to community services and of course, arts and culture. Recent research from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has compounded and confirmed the popular assumption that arts and culture are a vital component in achieving wellbeing.

With this in mind, is Canterbury a good city for arts and culture engagement with older people? I asked a number of our older members and arts practitioners the following questions in order find out whether they felt Canterbury had enough accessible and engaging events for our ageing population:

How important is engaging with local events to wellbeing and social inclusion?

It isn’t just attending events that may be having an impact on wellbeing, but simply the fact that they exist. The wide variety of people I interviewed almost all made the same point – it’s a matter of having the choice. “Sometimes it’s just nice to see something’s happening in our community,” our Care Navigator tells me – “Choice is important, particularly in later life when opportunities can become more and more limited”.

Engaging with local events often brings with it other benefits – such as socialising with people who have similar interests, being able to share expertise and experience and getting involved with the local community but also can have  complications when you get older in terms of accessibility. One suggestion put forward by an older member of Age UK, who often finds transportation difficult, was that arts providers and events organisers could work together more closely with volunteer transport schemes and other services to ensure older people can access events.

What was the last event that you attended in Canterbury?

The majority of people I interviewed told me that the last event that they had attended was one of the installations at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge. The Beaney often hosts exhibitions, events and workshops that cover a broad range of categories that appeal to a wide variety of people.

If you could organise your ideal event in Canterbury, what would it be?

Community-based projects were the most popular answer here – with a lot of people indicating that themed events might also attract a younger audience, making for a fantastic intergenerational opportunity.

Do you feel cultural events are accessible for older people?

“Crowds are too much” answered one of the interviewees, “and Dementia-Friendly events can be contrived or focus too much on the condition”.

Judy Ayris, our Dementia Outreach Manager is working hard towards adding more Dementia-Friendly, but not dementia-focussed events to the Age UK Canterbury calendar, including a party on 25th May 2017. The event is aimed at people with Dementia and their carers, but the party does not focus on Dementia, nor is the word used anywhere on the day. “It’s about joining together socially over a light mood followed by music and dancing”.

Has Age UK Canterbury helped you to engage with events?

Through organising mental health alert training programmes for artists in the area with our LAPWING project, Age UK Canterbury have been able to facilitate projects with local artists and students from Simon Langton Girls Grammar School and Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys such as the ‘Talking Trees’ project, the opening of the Westgate Parks ‘Tree Trail’ on Sunday 21st May 2017 and the upcoming ‘Postcards from Precious Places’ project.

Our Wednesday art group has allowed some of our members to express their creative side. Hosted by a mother-daughter duo for the last four years, the group has helped provide a consistent outlet for our members interested in painting and drawing “People from all walks of life get together here, there’s no sense of hierarchy, it’s almost like an extended family”. One of the hosts of the art group recalled one of our members, a keen member of the art group, who unfortunately passed away last year, and his input into the group. Usually one of the more reticent members of the group, he found his voice when painting – “his memory lives on through us speaking about and remembering his work”.

Our Saturday Morning singing group, Songbirds, part of the Carer’s Create project, which also includes other aspects of creativity, including a creative writing session with Charlotte Firmin last February and a drumming workshop to be held on the 15th July this year is aimed at people with Dementia and their carers, without a focus on dementia itself.

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