“I wanted to find a way of encouraging communication between older people in care and young people.” An ambition that led Deborah Feiler to create Paint Pals – an intergenerational art project pairing school children with care home residents. Deborah is the lead Art Workshop Presenter for Alive!, a charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for older people in care by enabling their participation in meaningful activity.
Four years ago when the project was launched, seven older people were paired with seven junior school children and each became a Paint Pal. The pairs corresponded by painting postcards to each other and writing a little about their interests and experiences. Deborah says, “It is just wonderful to see how Paint Pals has grown.
As well as postcards, the project now includes three Paint Pals parties a year when the children visit their Paint Pals in the care home to paint and spend time together. The enjoyment for each group has been wonderful to see and most importantly, the project gives an opportunity for older people in care to be appreciated by children in their community.”
Emma Taylor-Moore, a teacher at St John’s Primary School spoke about the project, “St John’s is so proud to be part of Paint Pals. The school is near to our Paint Pals home so it feels really good to be involved in our local community. The children love the activity and have formed real attachments to their pals. It is a very special project. We have had so many positive remarks from other children, parents and teachers. I wish we could expand the project to take in more children and their pals.”
Today Paint Pals has expanded to nine projects spanning across three counties, Bristol, BANES and North Somerset. The focus continues to be on forging intergenerational relationships and community links that go beyond the art sessions themselves. For example, as a result of the projects that started in September, there are now school choirs, harvest deliveries and potentially some residents going into schools to hear children read. One school backs on to the care home, but they have never done anything together before Paint Pals. They are so excited about the potential of what the future will hold.
“I find it deeply moving every time I watch the joy that older people feel when they receive painted postcards from their Paint Pals, and when the children visit the care home to paint together. Some of the older people have no visitors and only a few of them see children. Paint Pals allows a connection between the generations that re-establishes what the rest of us experience everyday outside care homes.”
For Deborah however, this is only the beginning, “My dream is that in time every care home will be linked with a local school so that the different generations can meet, connect and flourish together.”
Interpersonal connections built through Paint Pals provide an important link to life outside the care home, but what about that individual’s connection with themselves? The connection with the passions and interest that have made them the person that they are.
Alive! uses an array of techniques to form these connections. For example, what do objects, music and smells all have in common? They play a key role in reminiscence. They have the power to evoke strong memories, to awaken parts of the mind and to transport us to another place and time.
Memory boxes and memorabilia play a vital role in helping trigger memories that lead to more meaningful conversations and deeper connections. Alive! will use items like old newspapers (particularly ones from famous days in history) to stir memories from years past – the Royal Family is always a popular subject. Old bars of soap such as Sunlight and Lifebuoy that people can touch and smell, will uncover a wealth of memories.
It is remarkable the effect that a memorable smell has on reminiscence. Try collecting memorabilia relating to the town you live in, charity Shops, car boot sales and eBay are particularly good for this. The best reaction is usually to the charity’s collection of green shield stamps. What’s important is that there is a story behind each person’s association with each item, and that’s where the treasure is.
Memories, anecdotes and stories are very often referred to as treasure by Alive! founder Tim Lloyd-Yeates, and this is because he has seen first hand the type of connection that can be built around unearthing these special moments from someone’s life.
Tim Lloyd-Yeates, Founder and Executive Director of Alive!
For the latest App recommendations visit memoryappsfordementia.org