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Dementia support through craft

24th September 2019


The theme for Dementia Action Week this year was ‘inclusion’, which has been entirely embraced by Beamish – the Living Museum of the North. Jill Brewster, PhD Researcher at Northumbria University has set up a project at Beamish aiming to establish a sustainable craft-based social enterprise, working with people living with dementia.

Caption:Craft group at BeamishThe workshops were originally run in partnership with the weekly Men’s CREE group – a community project in County Durham, set up to reduce social isolation and improve wellbeing. Following this, Jill worked with the Health and Wellbeing team at Beamish to set up a 10 week pilot project, with the aim of establishing a small-scale social enterprise.

Jill recruited participants from groups already attending Orchard Cottage at Beamish’s 1940’s farm. Orchard Cottage is full of familiar sights, sounds, smells and tastes, making it the ideal place for groups of older people and those living with dementia to enjoy with family and carers. From these participants she was able to establish her dementia friendly design team.

The team’s first project was making hand-printed tote bags, which went on sale in the Beamish museum gift shop during Dementia Action Week 2019. The group took inspiration for their designs from various collections at Beamish, exploring the whole site, transport and iconic buildings.

They have now started working on their next project – making North East crackets. The cracket is a small stool which was originally used in the mining industry to support a miners head whilst working underground.

Choosing a project-theme with a link to the local area gives the team a sense of belonging and distinctiveness within the community, placing an emphasis on the social and historical meaning that a product has for local people.

The work of the team has been a great success and Jill said she is “regularly stunned and inspired by the outcomes of the sessions, especially the work produced by individuals.”

According to the Alzheimer’s society there are around 850,000 people living in the UK with dementia. The condition effects 1 in 14 people over 65, with this number increasing due to people living longer.

The work carried out by Jill and the team at Beamish has helped to improve the lives of those living with dementia by starting conversations and raising awareness.

Malcolm is a member of the Beamish Mindset Group, set up for people living with dementia and other long-term health conditions. He said he had thoroughly enjoyed his time working on the tote bags, adding: “I was amazed at what I had achieved. By the end I felt like a professional and it inspired me to do more. I feel more confident about doing things. I’ve really surprised myself.”

Tanya Wills, Health and Wellbeing Coordinator at Beamish, said: “The profits from the sales of the object will be used to keep the group running, so it gives the participants a real sense of achievement. It has been a lovely project to be involved in and shows just what someone living with dementia can still achieve with only a little support.”

Jill is supervised by Associate Professor Justin Marshall and Professor Jayne Wallace whose research include exploring the value of craft-based approaches to critical social issues. More broadly, Jill is a member of the CoCreate design research group, based at Northumbria’s School of Design, which works to explore and investigate societal challenges through participatory and design-led research. Jill developed the programme of meaningful craft workshops with Senior Lecturer Colin Wilson, also from Northumbria’s School of Design.

Find out more about Northumbria University’s School of Design and the work of the CoCreate design research group.
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