Isn’t this the best ever party cake you have ever seen?
The cake was based on a glass picture designed and made by ‘Fred’ who is over eighty years old with early stage of dementia, a reference to the years that he had worked as a miner under the sea off Sunderland. This delicious cake was made for the end-of-project-party at the National Glass Centre (NGC) where I have been working with glass artists, staff and volunteers and a group of people with dementia and their carers. My role as writer was quite small, as the main focus was to give the participants opportunity to make glass objects, socialise with others and enjoy a mainstream cultural venue without feeling that dementia might be a problem. However we did produce small pieces of writing with most individuals as well as a group poem in response to one of the exhibitions which included over one thousand glass ‘teardrop’ shaped pieces hanging in a beautiful sequence of waves and curves.
Many of the conversations centred on the topic of work; this was more than just reminiscence as it is our work which often gives us a sense of identity. Most participants of the project remembered the site of The NGC as a place of engineering on the banks of the River Wear; a reminder of other industries on the riverside and in the Sunderland area: – shipbuilding, mining, rope making-as well as other jobs such as teaching or caring. Many of those industries have disappeared now and replaced with smart modern buildings – the University, the National Glass Centre- and riverside walkways with manicured lawns. But for some of the people who wad worked in those areas, they saw the developments as a step backwards, they would have preferred to see the bustle and muddle of shipbuilding because there were always jobs for local people.
Feedback at the end of the project from all the participants was overwhelmingly positive; the weekly sessions were described as a chance for socialising, being creative but also an important opportunity to return to making something, being productive. Families and friends can now see their dozens of glass objects on exhibition at the NGC, challenging the stereotype that people with dementia cannot create or make a significant contribution to the cultural life of the community.