This interview is part of our rapid review project, The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021.
Small Things Creative Projects is a social enterprise using creativity and creative engagement to fuel social change. A key part of their work is creative work with people living with dementia called The Storybox Project. This work takes a creative approach, using imagination and in the moment participation. This work was delivered in face-to-face groups, led by artists, meeting weekly or monthly in community settings, care homes or hospitals.
We spoke with Small Things Creative Projects’ director Liz Postlethwaite in November 2020 to learn more about how they have adjusted their work during lockdown.
Adjusting to lockdown
The first stages of lockdown in March 2020 was a concerning time for Small Things Creative Projects, work was cancelled but they still had commitments to freelancers they had employed. Small Things Creative Projects were also conscious that the people they work with are vulnerable and would be among the last groups coming out of lockdown, meaning there was a need for activities to continue.
Two things helped Small Things Creative Projects to move forward. First, a grant funder contacted them quickly after lockdown was announced, saying they wanted the funding to be used to support people, in whichever way they find most suitable.
The second key development was collaboration with Empowered Conversations to run activities online. Empowered Conversations had run online sessions before, and were able to support Small Things Creative Projects with the technical side of things:
It was really good, because Empowered Conversations, they were already working through Zoom, so everyone was already familiar with that interface, so we didn’t have to worry about skilling up people.Liz Postlethwaite (Director, Small Things Creative Projects)
In addition to running sessions via zoom, Small Things Creative Projects have now set up a YouTube channel and built on their online content through The Storybox Project At Home. Both of these have resources and activity ideas that people can use at home.
Positive aspects from delivering activities to people living with dementia remotely
Small Things Creative Projects had not planned to deliver activity sessions online before lockdown. The work they deliver is tactile and builds on personal contact and responding to attendees. They were also aware that that online engagement doesn’t work for everyone, particularly for some people living with dementia. Nonetheless, in the lockdown they decided this approach was worth pursuing, and have found it largely a positive experience, with several benefits:
Reach and cost
Delivering sessions online has meant not only supporting local clients but has enabled delivering activities for groups beyond their geographic area, as well as being able to work with care homes during lockdown. This has also been a cost-effective way to run the activities.
Attending from home can be easier for carers
Another benefit from remote sessions is that it can be helpful for family carers. When the activities are run in community venues, each person living with dementia would need to have a family member or other carer with them. When the activities are run remotely, the person with dementia is at home with their carer, which can give the carer bit of free time, if the person with dementia can do the activities on their own. This also gives the person with dementia independence to attend the session on their own should they choose to do so: in face to face sessions logistics make this difficult.
Different type of connection
A big difference from doing activities remotely has been that it has created a different type of connection and intimacy, than being in a community venue. Liz from Small Things Creative Projects described this:
There’s something weird about being on zoom to someone’s front room. It’s so personal and so lovely, like if you talk about something, someone might run and get a picture of a wedding or a holiday, there’s something really intimate about that, which is kind of, it’s quite a privilege and it can be quite moving actually, and quite a special experience.Liz Postlethwaite (Director, Small Things Creative Projects)
The workshop leaders have found ways of creating moment of engagement remotely, such as passing a hug;
One thing that they do is they pass a hug at the end of the session. You hug yourself if you’re on your own, and then you pass it to someone else on zoom, and like, you’ve got couples at home and they hug each other, they might not do that all the time, and there’s just something really nice and personal.Liz Postlethwaite (Director, Small Things Creative Projects)
In addition to delivering activities online, Small Things Creative Projects delivered Creative Calls, befriending and poetry sessions run over the phone. In these sessions a facilitator reads a poem with the person, and works with them to write a poem over several sessions. This engagement has created personal connections, leading to writing very personal poems.
Learning from these experiences
The advice Small Things Creative Projects would give to other organisation are:
- Just try it, even if it doesn’t totally work it doesn’t matter, it’s better than people being isolated and not participating in anything.
- Use other organisations’ expertise: ask questions, learn from them and collaborate with them.
- Doing things online is different than in person; you might need to adjust the activities you are delivering.
You can find more about Small Things Creative Projects on their website.
You can read more about our project “The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021”, and interviews with other organisations here.
We want to hear from other activity providers. If you work or volunteer with an organisation that delivers activities to older people, you can fill our survey here.