Starting in the coldest months of our lockdown, nineteen of our TDS members living with Dementia picked up the phone to a stranger and wrote a poem...
“They said we’re going to write a poem, and I said ‘write a poem? I can’t write a poem!’ and it just seemed…this is going to be hard. And I couldn’t believe it when she read it out to me that that’s what we’d put together. It was amazing, it really was. I was quite surprised…Before you know it you’ve written it, without even picking up your pen.”
Since January nineteen members living with dementia have taken part in the ‘We’ll Be In Touch Project’, a poetry writing programme in partnership with the Royal Exchange Theatre.
The programme saw each of our members partnered with a volunteer from the Elders Company at the Royal Exchange Theatre. The Elder would ring their TDS partner each week and spend 25 minutes talking on the phone with them. In each call the Elder would share a piece of poetry, or text taken from a play or musical. This acted as a stimulus to spark the imagination and creativity of our members and start a conversation with the Elder over the phone. From this ensued a variety of creative conversations, where our members shared their memories, reflected on the places they were in, or discussed ideas about topics that were inspired by the texts. Their words were written down by the Elders and shaped into verbatim poetry. At the end of the call, the Elder read back the poem that our member had written with them during the call.
“You are writing it and you just get taken away, in your mind. It wonders, and comes up with all these images. That’s what you put down in me writing. Images I can see. Brilliant.”
These poems are each beautifully individual, and give a wonderful snapshot into the lives, experiences, thoughts and imaginations of each member that took part. In total the project saw 58 different poems being written by our members, each totally unique and personal.
The poems have been shared with member’s families and friends, and several of the members described their pride in being able to show their poetry to others.
“I was very apprehensive about it, as I say, I don’t do things like that. I automatically thought I couldn’t do it. It’s amazing if somebody guides you in the right direction. In fact, I keep writing little ‘billy does’, a couple of lines now. I quite like it really!”
The Royal Exchange Theatre and Together Dementia Support were invited to share the project as part of the Disrupt Arts Festival in July. This saw the production of an audio outcome, which sees eight TDS members share their thoughts and experiences of the project, and sees their poetry read by actors from the Royal Exchange. The Royal Exchange Theatre and Together Dementia Support also made a film to celebrate the project, which was premiered as part of the Disrupt Festival in July. Three of our members- Helen, Lillian and Rob (who each took part in the project), joined a live panel for the Disrupt Festival, to share their feedback on the programme, and did a wonderful job at articulating what they got out of the project. For our members they described the benefits of being able to connect with a stranger in a really meaningful way over the phone as being a great benefit of taking part. They also described a sense of achievement at creating poetry, something many of them never dreamed of being able to do. Helen described the experience as very enjoyable, adding that “Things come into your mind from the past, it’s a good memory jogger.”
Rob’s words really summarised the long-lasting impact of this project on him:
“It’s made me think about poems. This has been beneficial to me in the fact that I’ve now got something to do when I have nothing to do- I can write a poem when I feel like it- that to me is important.”
Rob’s wife Carole shared insight into how the project has made an impact on Rob, saying:
“For Rob it’s been very good actually, he’s engaged well with it. He’s done really well. He’s got involved and participated in everything they’ve asked him to do. He even sat down and wrote a poem after the phone call. Which was amazing. I was really surprised. I offered to help him write it, and he said ‘no I’ll do’, he wrote it all by himself. I think he enjoyed it because he’s talked about himself, the things he used to do and things he used to enjoy. For me and Rob it’s been a successful.”
Together Dementia Support is very thankful to the Royal Exchange Theatre for their partnership, and for making this project happen. We are delighted that this relationship is able to continue, and that more of our members will have the opportunity to be involved in this project into the future.
You can listen to the audio outcome, watch the film and view the panel from the project at the RET website here: