The UK residency took place at two care settings, St. Quentin Nursing and Residential Home and The Cambrian Care Hotel run by Choices Housing. The locations for the residency were established following some community mapping work in the Staffordshire region. During this process, the team became aware that there were significant issues regarding people’s involvement in civic life in the region. This is especially true for elder people and care settings were frequently overlooked in regards to their involvement in community-led civic engagement initiatives.
The care homes chosen for the project are part of Staffordshire Association for Registered Care Providers (SARCP), and they provide support and guidance for care providers in the region. They recognised that the Care Quality Commission had recently introduced new standards concerning the quality of recreational activities and the need for care provision to be connected to the wider community. SARCP recognised that amongst the many other standards (which care provision is assessed on) then these new standards were a new challenge and they were keen to trial new ways of achieving them. Research with older people also showed that they want to be acknowledged as part of the local community – and they felt they could do this whilst they still lived independently, but they felt this was more challenging once they were living in a residential setting.
Staff from the care settings selected a Spanish artist, Almudena Caso. Almudena is a photographer and an experienced community and participatory artist. Her proposal was to use a range of creative interventions, to explore whether photography could be used as a means to help the wider community change their perceptions of the people living in the settings and ultimately encourage more people to work and interact with each care setting. She was supported by a local trainee, Cathie Powell-Davies. Cathie who a trained as a community and participatory artist applied to participate in residency to help her develop her business skills to enable her to become a full time community artist. Her participatory practice focuses on craft and textiles. Staff from the care homes felt that together they offered a range of creative options to suit the needs and interests of the participants.
To work in a care setting, they needed an induction and information about the practicalities of working in such a setting. This included meeting participants and learning about how they felt about using care settings. They also learned about the practicalities of supervision, moving and handling and learning form staff about how to work with people who may be very frail or have limited movement and/or communication. This period of time also helped the artists emotionally adjust to working within settings where it can sometimes be upsetting or stressful.
In addition it also helped them begin to understand how care settings are also people’s homes. Therefore, undertaking groupwork or simply assuming all participants want to be part of the wider community does not take into account the individual needs and interests of each resident. Whilst residents were often influenced by each other regarding whether they participated or not, they still all wanted
to be treated as individuals and this had to be taken into consideration throughout the project.
Through these initial conversations, the theme of perception came up and Almudena and Cathie began to identify how the participants often felt they were wrongly perceived by the wider community. They talked about how people did not know about their skills, their life experiences or how they really felt about things. Through different creative engagement activities, they talked and shared their thoughts and feelings, and eventually began to feel comfortable in either taking photographs or having their photo taken. The sessions were run either as part of the activity schedule or as a drop in activity at the care home. This was challenging as participants were only able to work for short periods of time, and the residency was unconventional in the sense that the artist moved between different setttings. However, a portfolio of images and audio began to emerge, and this was used as part of a public exhibition depicting the stories and life experiences of some of those involved in the project.
One of the initial goals was to see whether creativity could be used as vehicle to build relationships between community organisations and care settings. They developed a series of pop up workshops to community groups and education providers, and attempted to use creativity to generate a conversation between community groups and the people in the residential settings. The response to this was interesting. The practicalities of trying to work with local schools became too time consuming, but engagement with local community groups was more forthcoming. This process helped the settings become more aware of the range of community groups and arts provision for older people in the local neighborhood, and broadened ideas about how and who they could connect with.
Work produced during the sessions culminated in an exhibition at Staffordshire University of the images and audio of the participants. Participants and representatives from the partner countries attended the launch, and during these final conversations, new project ideas started to be formulated. Both care settings are now committed and engaged to using the arts as a tool to help make their settings more participatory and community focused.
“We started to encourage doing things as a group because we could see people enjoyed seeing each other and it got them out of the house or room. We all enjoy craft and it keeps us busy and makes us feel good about ourselves – even on a bad day. We worked in small groups, but many people have got to know about us and now we have been involved in exhibitions, talks and projects like this. You start feeling part of something.”
Care Home participant