Language: Japanese, English (with Japanese and English closed captions)
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The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many older people into isolation, bringing the issue of how we provide care for older people, especially those living alone or in care homes, to the forefront of discussions. Arts and culture organisations in the UK have been pioneering creation of programmes that address issues around isolation and care of older people since before the pandemic. However, severe infectious disease control restrictions have made it difficult for them to continue delivering programmes in the same way.

On 18 March 2021, the British Council invited four speakers from UK arts institutions with close ties to Japan, to talk about how they have been responding to the various challenges posed by the pandemic at our online forum, “Connecting with isolated older people through arts – looking beyond the era of Covid-19". They shared how they explored new ways to provide support to isolated older people during lockdowns and examples of their adapted programmes. 

Baring Foundation: Creative ageing in the UK

David Cutler, Director of the Baring Foundation, spoke about the effect the pandemic has had on ‘creative ageing’ (collective term for creative programmes for older people delivered by UK arts and culture institutions). He said the biggest impact of the lockdown  is the move to online activities and the astonishing speed in which this was achieved—in many cases,  in a matter of weeks or less. 

What this change did was highlight another issue, the ‘digital divide’. Until recently, many care homes had limited digital resources and poor digital infrastructure which meant many residents were unfamiliar with using digital devices. So, what arts organisations did first was an audit of the devices that the participants of their programmes had access to. They then utilised many different online platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube to deliver their programmes, gradually encouraging participants  to become more comfortable with the technology and devices. 

One example of a programme that utilises digital technology is the ‘Armchair Gallery’, an app for virtual tours developed by City Arts. David also introduced examples of non-digital activities, including a project developed by Wales based Artis Community that involves sending decorated postcards through the post.

The strict infectious disease prevention measures imposed on care homes during the lockdowns caused a great deal of stress for the residents. After sharing a few case studies of how arts organisations worked with residents of care homes during this period, David reflected that "one of the most striking things from these case studies has been literally how much more arts organisations are offering to isolated older people in a time of crisis".

He also mentioned that the community arts sector was able to respond with adapted  activities quickly because of the connections it had built up over the years. He concluded by saying that there is no doubt that creative ageing programmes have been a lifeline for many vulnerable people and needs to be recognised as such. 

Scottish Ballet: enhanced online programmes 

Catherine Cassidy, Director of Engagement at Scottish Ballet, shared the programmes they delivered during the pandemic. Within two weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak taking hold in the UK, Scottish Ballet launched daily Facebook Live classes. The classes were mainly for people with dementia and those living in care homes. Behind the speed in which they got the classes up and running was their concern for the isolation of the community and loss of physical capacity and mobility. Their Facebook Live classes became popular globally, receiving over 655,000 views.

Other popular programmes included 'Health at Hand' for healthcare professionals, 'Restore' for those battling trauma and various evening classes for adults. 

The success of the programmes is clear, with one participant commenting their granddaughter joined them in the Scottish Ballet Sessions from London. 

Catherine felt it was important for people who could no longer see each other or had moved away to connect and to stay connected.

In addition to dance programmes, the organisation launched initiatives to make it easier for older people to connect with each other. One such initiative is ‘Social Café', a place for people to chat over a cup of tea online. Other activities include a newsletter with healthy recipes and personal phone calls with dancers who could provide digital support. 

‘Haud Close’, a multi-artform programme using poetry, was a major success with participants from all over the world. It brought together older people living in care homes, staff members, and those with whom they had established partnerships. Some of the footage from 'Haud Close' can be seen in the forum video.

Catherine spoke about a number of programmes in the pipeline that she hopes to implement once the pandemic is over and concluded by saying she hopes for more exciting initiatives in the future.

Manchester Camerata: adapting existing projects  for older people and carers

Lizzie Hoskin, Head of Camerata in the Community at Manchester Camerata, spoke about ‘Music in Mind’, a music therapy-based programme that has been running since 2012. The programme is aimed for people with dementia and their carers, allowing them to express themselves through group-based improvisation.

With lockdowns making it difficult to visit care homes, Manchester Camerata launched ‘Music in Mind: Remote’. It is an online music therapy-based training programme for professional care workers, where they can learn about the ‘Music in Mind’ methodology and how to incorporate singing and utilise online resources in the care of older people.

The programme has been a success and recognition of the programme has been rising, with the help of care workers who receive the training spreading the word to a wider audience.”

The programme leads to many benefits, including more social interaction with other residents and increase in confidence to express themselves through music.

Next, Lizzie introduced the music programme ‘Unlocked Voices’, a five-year initiative in the small town of Withernsea. They have continued to connect and make music online with the town's older people and care home residents despite the pandemic. 

In this project, video footage of members of the choir singing was recorded individually over Zoom. This was orchestrated together with music recorded with 14 Manchester Camerata musicians at Stoller Hall. The finished piece titled the ‘Withernsea anthem’ was premiered on Facebook.

The performance was made into a special DVD and has reached eight care homes. A trailer can be seen in the forum video.

The ‘Withernsea anthem’ was also broadcast on local radio and has had over 26,000 views on Facebook since its premiere in December 2020. To end her presentation, Lizzie shared a quote from one of the choir members that sums up the reason Manchester Camerata delivers such projects with the community: ‘One of the lines in the song was about “breaking through” and I think it did, [the choir] broke through loneliness didn’t it?’

Entelechy Arts: remote programmes during Covid-19

Maddy Mills, Director of Entelechy Arts, says that their work during the pandemic began with phone calls to local people to identify those who needed support. This was because the organisation is based in a deprived area where the phone is the only way to contact many older people. 

Their principle is to work ‘with’ (not for) their communities. Community members are involved in the designing, production and decision-making. Maddy added that they especially wanted to ensure their members could build up confidence during such a challenging time. For example, their ongoing radio programme 'Meet Me on the Radio', in collaboration with a local arts centre, is entirely produced by members of the community.

The ‘Creative Cluster Groups’ are weekly art programmes delivered over the phone. 532 sessions were held between April and December 2020,  and they have continued to expand capacity as demand grows.

Maddy shared many other examples of Entelechy Arts programmes, including its ‘Care Packages’, which delivers painting materials and small plants; ‘Elder Theatre Group’, a theatre company for older people; ‘Befriending’, which delivers letters and cards to spur connections; and ‘Creative Calls’, where a musician phones someone and plays music or sings to them. 

Maddy concluded by saying that their programmes have created connections and joy, which has had an impact on people’s lives. They have given people things to regularly look forward to, and also a sense of escapism and relaxation in their day.

During the Q&A session that followed, the group discussed the necessary considerations when organising online activities. Catherine replied that safety is important, as well as finding platforms that are easy for older people to use. Lizzie, referring to online choirs, suggested having technical support in place and giving that support before rehearsals begin. Maddy said that although they use phones, which are relatively accessible, it is best to have people in place who can deal with technical problems if they arise, such as dropped calls.

Speaker Profiles 

David Cutler (Director of the Baring Foundation) 

David Cutler is Director of the Baring Foundation, one of the UK’s best known independent grant-makers. The Foundation works within a human rights framework to challenge discrimination and disadvantage. Before this, David worked in local and national voluntary organisations devoted to social justice and in local government in London.  He has studied at Oxford University and the London School of Economics and has served on a number of boards including Amnesty International UK. David leads the Foundation’s arts programme which for the last ten years has focused on creative activities with older people, including isolated older people, those with dementia and those living in care homes. As well as directly funding arts activities, the Foundation has published over forty reports, including a short report on creative ageing projects in Japan and around the world. 

Catherine Cassidy (Director of Engagement at Scottish Ballet) 

Catherine Cassidy has over 20 years’ professional experience of using dance in a wide range of community settings, including health, education and reformation. In her 10 years as Director of Engagement at Scottish Ballet, Catherine led the company to become specialists in dance health. SB Health includes three projects for people living with neurological conditions, including Dance for Parkinson’s Scotland, dementia-friendly Time to Dance and Elevate for people living with multiple sclerosis. Other projects include dance projects exploring themes such as identity, diversity and LGBTQ, aiming to improve the wellbeing of young people. Catherine graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1998 and has worked both nationally and internationally as a choreographer, dance artist and producer. Catherine has undertaken the role of Specialist Advisor for organisations such as Arts Council England and Creative Scotland.

Lizzie Hoskin (Head of Camerata in the Community, Manchester Camerata)

Lizzie Hoskin started her role as Head of Community for Manchester Camerata in January 2020, having previously been a radio producer for national BBC daytime programmes for over 15 years. Since March 2020 and the pandemic, Lizzie has been working from home in Manchester but has been enjoying developing and producing online content for schools, older people and carers for people living with dementia. As Manchester Camerata is a registered Charity, Lizzie is in charge of fundraising to ensure the continuation of their work. In her spare time, she is also a volunteer producer of Music for Dementia, a UK nationwide radio programme. 

Maddy Mills (Director of Entelechy Arts)

Entelechy Arts develops participatory arts projects that are deeply rooted in the local community of South East London. Over the past 30 years, through working with people of all ages and walks of life, she has developed a unique approach to making a difference in people’s lives. Entelechy Arts’ emphasis on listening and empathy, from which artistic expression is derived, is highly regarded as a way of connecting and unleashing the creativity of community members who might otherwise be isolated. Maddy was appointed Director of Entelechy Arts in October 2020. She has over five years' experience as a producer at the Southbank Centre.

A female dancer in a blue T-shirt teaching ballet surrounded by women of different ages.
Scottish Ballet, which used to run classes for people with dementia and people living in care homes, has started online classes during the pandemic. Image: Workshop for older people by the Scottish Ballet
Two online screen images of two women playing musical instruments.
Manchester Camerata launched a music therapy based programme for people with dementia and their carers remotely, during lockdown.  Image: "Music in Mind: Remote" by the Manchester Camerata

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