Sandalwood Care Home – Corby

Sandalwood Care Home

Location: Corby

Partners: Made in Corby, Shaw Healthcare, Museum Development East Midlands

Lead Writer: Kevin Fegan

Shadow Writer: Azma Dar

Museum Visit: Kettering Manor Museum

Sessions took place between May and July 2019

Participants worked towards a showcase of their poetry performed for them by the writers and other professional poets.

Sandalwood Sharing
The creative sharing session at Sandalwood, with Lead Writer Kevin Fegan
Azma Dar says:

Taking part in Elder Tree was an important step in my development as an artist moving towards working with communities, so thanks to Kevin for being patient and inspiring, and to Writing East Midlands for letting me be involved in this project. Personally, there were moments that were challenging, revealing, emotional, funny and rewarding. For me the highlights of this project were the humorous moments, probably best summarised by fragments from the poems…

Mint sauce; Jim Davidson; the thatched cottage; enter at your peril; Drop the gun, fat boy. There were also moments when someone would have a surprising burst of ideas and these were really nice. The museum visit was lovely, and important. It was really nice to see the ladies enjoying being in a different place, and being with them in the glamorous cafe, in a relaxed atmosphere.


Lead Writer, Kevin Fegan says:

Although I had worked before as a writer with older people, I hadn’t worked with people with dementia. I knew this residency would be both a challenge and an opportunity for me to extend my practise. The participants were selected by Sandalwood’s Activities Champion, Janet, as individuals who might benefit from the experience. There were seven participants in total, the average group size per session around five.

In the first session we created a group poem on the topic of “the future”. I deliberately chose this topic to avoid the cliches of reminiscence when working with an older group. The cut-up technique I use lends itself to individuals who find it easier to contribute smaller amounts of work with the support of the group. The session worked well.

In the second session I tried a “Life Graph” exercise, looking at the Highs and Lows of their childhoods up to the age of 16. The graphs worked well enough but the follow-up exercise of writing about one of their Highs or Lows didn’t work for most of the group. I realised that the participants could not work on their own, especially if it involved the physical act of writing. Therefore all the remaining sessions involved group work around a give topic, which involved me writing up their contributions, as they were offered, on a flipchart at the front of the room. At the end of each session I would take the flipchart home and edit and shape their work, being careful to use only their words. The following week would start with me giving them a copy of the finished work and reading it aloud so they could experience what they had jointly created.

I deliberately chose topics that would stretch their imaginations and engage them in thinking about things they might not ordinarily consider. For example, we discussed the Voyager spacecrafts travelling through inter-stellar space, each with a gold record detailing life on earth. We discussed how we would represent life on earth if the content of the gold records was our decision.

One session was a trip to a museum in Kettering.There were only three participants on the day, with myself, Janet, Azma and care worker Becky. The museum artefacts and the experiences of being out and about in Kettering prompted comments from the group, which I made a note of as they happened. The highlight for me was three wheelchairs taking over the front room of a trendy cafe bar. Before the next session I edited and shaped the comments and observations and presented them to the group.

One of the most successful sessions combined creative writing and singing. Our topic was “Place” and we interpreted this in different ways. We discussed the care home at Sandalwood and daily life there. We talked about the singing sessions they enjoyed and they sang me their favourite songs. I decided to create a piece of work juxstaposing their comments about “place” with their favourite songs, which worked well in complementing each other and as a spoken word piece, capturing a sense of what it is like to live in Sandalwood.

During the residency, two of the participants died. I found this reality difficult, especially in a year when there have been so many deaths in my own family and circle of friends.

I think my working method succeeded in no small part due to the role Janet played in the sessions. Her knowledge of the participants and their abilities meant that she was able to support us in reaching people and teasing out their contributions.

Our penultimate session was an open rehearsal with invited performers of the material we had created during the residency, in preparation for the final showcase session. The showcase took place in the same room in front of other residents and staff and invited family members. We created a celebratory atmosphere which valued the work created by the group.