A new project aimed at helping adults with dementia begins this week with a highly acclaimed play exploring the story of a woman coming to terms with her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease.
Art and Biscuits is a new initiative set up by the Arts and Disability Forum (ADF) to help support families living with dementia, aiming to reduce isolation and use the arts as a stimulus.
Chris Ledger, Director of ADF, said: “It is about using the ADF Gallery and our artists as a resource for people with dementia to attend with their partner, a friend or a family member, to share a stimulating and pleasant experience.”
To introduce the project, the ADF is presenting a one-off performance of ‘Let Me Stay’ by London-based theatre company, Vital Xposure at Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick on Saturday, June 20.
It is an autobiographical piece written by and starring South Bank award-winning artist Julie McNamara. The play is irreverent, funny and emotive. It focusses on Julie’s relationship with her remarkable mother, Shirley McNamara ‘Queen of the Mersey’.
‘Let Me Stay’ played to a packed audience, including people with Alzheimer’s, in the Lyric Theatre at last year’s Bounce! Arts Festival Weekender. It was described by one reviewer as ‘devastatingly honest, beautifully observed and incredibly funny’.
Julie McNamara, a Liverpudlian writer, comedian and performance poet, said: “Writing Let Me Stay has become part of my own grief in letting go. My mother’s been living with Alzheimer’s for ten years. She has been many people to me and I have always been on shifting sands with her, it made me think about who we are to each other in each space we travel, in each world we inhabit.”
The ADF devised Art and Biscuits with input from Alzheimer’s UK, Dementia Café participants and ADF members. There will be an advisory group for the project made up of representatives of age sector organisations and people with dementia.
The pilot will involve a small group of 16 people, eight of whom are at the early stages of dementia, meeting regularly at the ADF Gallery in Belfast to experiment with the visual arts, dance, music and creative writing.
Chris Ledger added: “We are particularly keen to work with participants who have an existing or newly developed interest in the arts and we will devise the activities around the interests of the group. Artists are undertaking training in relevant areas, provided by the Arts & Disability Forum. For example Julie McNamara will deliver a workshop for artistic facilitators this week.”
The Art and Biscuits project is funded via the Arts Council’s Arts and Older People programme.
Lorraine Calderwood, Arts & Older People Officer at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented; “The impressive Arts & Biscuits initiative will not only have a positive impact on those individuals that take part but it will also provide opportunities for artists to develop new skills. We know that engagement with the arts can reduce isolation, enhance wellbeing and promote physical and mental health. The Arts Council is proud to support such a wonderful project and wish everyone involved every success.”
Let Me Stay will have BSL interpretation, captioning and audio description. The ADF is running half price ticketing officers for groups of more than five people and running transport from Belfast to Downpatrick and return.