I was recently invited to ‘do a creative activity’ with some nursing home residents who were living with dementia
On my way to the resident’s lounge I can see piles of sad-looking floral arrangements in the conservatory. The previous day these had decorated tables for a wake, now they are ready for disposal. Many of the leaves are wilting but the majority of blooms are still good, I ask if we can use them for our activity.
We spread the flowers and foliage on a large table in the centre of the lounge. Jars and vases are discovered, residents who were not going to join us are fascinated by the preparations and help to lay out the ingredients. When we have everything necessary we sit ourselves around the table. We pick up stems that interest us, examine them, try different combinations, some of the arrangements go into vases, others stay on the table for reconfiguration.
We become a performance, there are periods of intense concentration, the quiet atmosphere encourages people to speak when they feel like it – the flowers bring out knowledge and long-forgotten memories. We consider the blooms, feeling their texture, smell their perfumes and we listen to each others offerings of gardening knowledge, poetry and stories of all sorts. A blind resident identifies many more of the specimens than the rest of us and someone recites beautiful snatches of Shakespeare.
As nursing home staff and visitors stop by to watch, listen and join in, the line between audience and performer is blurred.