by Lucy Hill

The Storybox Project

October 2019 marked the beginning of a collaboration between Small Things Creative Projects and a Lancashire based charity, introducing The Storybox Project, a creative approach to working with dementia patients, living in small communities throughout Greater Manchester

Lucy Hill reports  

“My Grandad is such a special man. It is so sad to see him getting robbed of his independence to this truly awful disease. Dementia is horrific and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone’s family.”

“Obviously, it’s been difficult. It’s not nice to see any kind of family member change through illness.”

Emma Rosemurgey, 23, from Durham was 18-years-old when her grandad started to show signs of dementia.

She now lives in Manchester and she explained in detail, how much this illness has affected him.

Raymond Rosemurgey, 85, also from Durham, has been suffering from vascular dementia for around two years.

“It all started when he was getting forgetful and certain behaviors started to change. He soon wasn’t quite himself. As a family, we knew that something wasn’t quite right because he started to become forgetful over the smallest of things. It soon got to the point where he was forgetting different people’s names and there would be moments where he would get these bursts of anger and get frustrated for no reason. If he lashes out or has a fit of anger now, I never take it personally because that’s not him, that’s his illness. It’s a case of separating them from the illness which can be really tough at times.”

The Alzheimer’s Society explains that “there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. This will soar to 2 million by 2051.

In North West England there are over 80,000 people with dementia, and it is predicted that this figure will rise to just under 100,000 by 2021.”

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Recently, there has been an increase in the number of charitable organisations and focus groups embarking on a range of different dementia friendly activity sessions, with the aim of improving the lives of those affected by the life-limiting disease.

One group in particular, has been going one step further in introducing the concept of Storybox Sessions: A set of dementia friendly activity sessions, for carers of those suffering from dementia, with the aim of evoking memories linked to ‘home’ and the ‘community.’

Liz Postlethwaite is the Director of Small Things Creative Projects, a social enterprise, based in Bury, North Manchester and has been running the Storybox sessions for over ten years, beginning the project in 2005, as part of the creative dementia project at The Library Theatre Company.

Recently, she decided to collaborate with Cartweel Arts, a charitable organisation, based in Heywood, Lancashire, and run free training for those caring for people with dementia.

“I set up the project in 2005 as at the time there was very little creative provision for older people, in particular those living with dementia. And there was no work for people living with dementia that used theatre and performance as a foundation. I wanted to explore the way that creative participation could improve wellbeing and reduce social isolation for people with dementia. I also wanted to see how creativity could be incorporated into the day-to-day care of older people and to promote the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to try new things and be culturally active throughout their lives. I was committed to promoting positive images of ageing and demonstrating the scope of possibilities for working with older people.”

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and as part of the Overspill project (a creative heritage project which focuses on the stories of people who moved to the six original ‘overspill’ estates across Greater Manchester during the 1950/60s from slum clearances; with a main focus on Darnhill in Heywood, Lancashire and Langley in Middleton, Rochdale); The Storybox Project ran a practical training session at D’Oliveira Court retirement homes in Langley on 21st October.

Around ten people from different parts of Greater Manchester and the North West who work within the care industry, attended the morning set of workshop activities.

One specialist in the field, Nicky Rowlands, an older person specialist, from Liverpool, attended the morning of fun-filled activities and explained how much of a difference the workshop would make to many of her patients.

“Today has been really interesting and eye opening. A key part of my job is looking at wellbeing projects for people who are over the age of 55 and in need of extra care. We have been focusing a lot lately of thinking of different ways in which we can help to provide stimulating environments for our dementia patients.

My favourite part of the Storybox workshop session today was getting to create our own cut-out paper houses, decorating them and creating our own miniature community. You can imagine just how thought-provoking these sorts of activities can be.”

The Storybox Project workshop session included a range of different activities; from craft sessions to word and singing games.

Michelle Schofield, a Scheme Manager at D’Oliveira Court also attended the workshop.

“I have taken away quite a few pointers that I can use in my delivery to my tenants. I quite enjoyed game where we had a game with everyday objects in and one of us had to describe the object while the others guessed what the object would be. It was good fun and engaging. There are definitely things from today’s session that I could incorporate in my daily work.”

Rachel Watson and Jenny Harris are Storybox Facilitators and led workshop in Middleton.

Rachel explained how important it is to hold these workshops as a way of evoking memories for dementia patients, exploring the importance of creativity and using the imagination.

“By applying a multisensory approach and providing a comforting and warm atmosphere, we think that this is vital when it comes to allowing space for memory and reminiscence but focusing on the present and on imagination.”

After hearing about the Storybox Project, Emma Rosemurgey, who’s grandad is currently suffering from dementia, reflected on the memories that she has of her grandad from when she was younger.

“We have an annual fair that comes to our village back home every year, with loads of rides for the kids and my grandad used to make us a buffet tea ready for when we came home from playing on the rides. I will always hold on to those special memories that I share with him.”

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