Memory Spinners: Dementia Arts Workshops

Memory Spinners Airdrie Town Hall

Light relief for those living with dementia is on offer at Airdrie Town Hall, with the Scottish Opera and CultureNL Memory Spinners art workshops, running Mondays from 29 January – 23 March (1-3pm).

Using music, movement and visual arts, the free of charge programme helps both people with dementia and their carers relax and form support networks.

Park Springs Care Home employee Rose Brennan said: “Our group – Ronnie, Betty, Margaret and myself – has been attending since the first session and I can’t tell you how much we have enjoyed it.

“When the group have been going back to the home they have been telling everyone about it, they get so excited; all their families and friends have heard about it and they all think that it is a wonderful idea.”

The Park Spring group are just three of around twenty six participants coming to the workshops on a regular basis.

CultureNL Arts Development Officer, Deborah McArthur, said: “It’s been really nice to see how large a group we have ended up having, and that shows the need and the want for something like this in North Lanarkshire; we have such a lovely bunch of people involved.”

Each session starts with a half hour lunch, where the group can get to know each other before the activities begin.

McArthur explained: “Having lunch at the beginning means that the group can bring the social aspect back into eating. I am a great believer in food bringing people together and I think that the time at the start, where we all chat, is really important.”

After lunch the group moves on to a warm up, which leads on to singing and acting activities.

McArthur said: “The exercises that we do allow everybody to take part at the same time; when you come to a session you get to see how much everybody laughs and enjoys it.”

Echoing this sentiment was visual artist Joe Gair.

He said: “When I was thinking of how to approach the project I wanted to bring a range of activities; some people enjoy colouring in and painting simple things, other people like to get a bit more creative, so I wanted to provide a bit of variety.”

He added: “The visual art aspect of the project is good, as people know what they are working toward, for example last week we did masks for the final show, and the group took a lot of care and time over them because they knew that they would be wearing them.”

All of the group’s crafted props and drama activities will be brought together at the end of the programme, in a show for their friends and family.

McArthur explained: “The Memory Spinners activities have no wrong answer, people can do whatever they want with the materials that we have. Then we make this fit into the end performance, and this creates a comfortable environment to work in.”

Beechwood Care Home worker, Emma Weir said: “The workshops are something new and something challenging, but they are very enjoyable.”

She added: “I came to bring Tommy and Jeanette, but I have been surprised how much I have enjoyed it myself. You get to meet new people; it welcomes anyone and everyone affected by dementia.”

Reflecting on the workshops, McArthur explained that no previous arts or performance experience is required.

She said: “I think sometimes people might be deterred by the idea of opera, or they might think that if a workshop is singing and dancing then it is not for them, but actually I would describe it as a group of people that are coming together to try different things and have fun.”

A Stitch Online

SIAS

Designer Iona Barker is known to many as the face of Say it ain’t Sew, Scotland’s free sewing classes. Hoping to expand this network Barker has launched a website to promote the craft’s physical and mental benefits.

She said: “Sewing can be therapeutic; one of the reasons I took it up was to forget my own worries.

“Before I started Say it Ain’t Sew I had moved up from London, after been made redundant from my dream job; so I was having a really crap time. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I wanted to do something to help myself, and others in the same situation.

“I did some research into Glasgow’s sewing movement and found that while there was a lot of ‘stitch -and -bitch’ groups there wasn’t any free classes. So I formed Say it Ain’t Sew and made admission free, so that anyone could turn up and get creative.”

Say it Ain’t Sew is a beginners’ class, where equipment and fabric is provided for students. Barker founded the class in 2010, at the Hillhead Book Club. Then after years of successful tutorials, she established a second class, in Edinburgh’s Cabaret Voltaire. Now the two run weekly (on Monday from 6.30 to 8.30pm in Edinburgh and on Tuesday from 6.30 to 8.30pm in Glasgow).

The classes’ success, Barker said, comes from student’s satisfaction in their finished projects.

She explained: “Making fun things for family and friends gives people a great sense of achievement. The distraction also helps people that suffer from mental ill health, such as anxiety.”

Another way the class helps those struggling with mental health is through philanthropy.

Barker said: “Every year Say it Ain’t Sew does an event for charity, last year it was a 22 hour stitchathon for SAMH (Scotland’s mental health charity). The stitchathon raised about a grand-and-a-half, and made two huge wall hangings.”

She continued: “This year’s stitchathon will be for Scottish Autism. We are going to create an interactive sensory floor map, with electronic components sewn in, which light up.”

This and other Say it Ain’t Sew projects will soon be documented on the movement’s website.

Barker said: “Say it Ain’t Sew is on a lot of social media channels, but they can be limited when it comes to hosting static information; for instance a lot of people ask me the same questions every day, so the website will answer frequently asked questions.”

She added: “The website will also act as a resource for those not on social media.”

It will do this via text and multimedia content, with Barker’s YouTube sewing videos taking pride of place.

She said: “The YouTube Say It Ain’t Sew tutorials are a new addition to the movement. They came as a result of a brainstorm in taxi, between myself and a film-maker called Grant Lynch.

“Grant wanted to produce edgy cooking shows; and I told him that I wanted to create something similar, but covering sewing instead of cooking.

“So we swapped details, discussed it again, and met to shoot the initial videos. Grant has since moved to Canada, but I am now working with a new filmmaker, Sean Gill, on the latest tutorials. As ever, the videos will be fun, short and sweet.”

As well as showcasing design innovations, the tutorials will answer viewer’s sewing queries.

Barker said: “We get a lot of requests from people who want to alter and repair their clothes. For instance, a lot of people manage to rip the crotch of their jeans when lunging, so I am making a tutorial to address this problem!”

Barker’s repair experience comes as part of her illustrious wardrobe career. Recently she worked as part of Glasgow SEE Hydro’s costume relief; prepping touring stars’ wardrobes before they hit the stage.

She said: “The most exciting project that I worked on at the Hydro was Beyoncé’s Mrs Cater tour.

“The show was crazy, it was so much fun, but very stressful.”

Talking of her time at the Hydro, Barker said: “I loved it, but it was very fast paced – for instance sometimes you would only have 30 seconds to repair things – after a while I was tired.”

She added: “I gave up working in Hydro wardrobe last December, after a very busy couple of months. I felt as if I had hit my peak in costume work, and I wanted focus on helping other people get to that level.”

Now Barker encourages anyone seeking sewing advice to contact her via the website.

She concluded: “I hope the website speaks to people who are stressed or anxious and looking for alternative relaxation; sewing really can meet that need.”