I spend Thursday afternoons with a group of people four times my age. As part of my University placement with Wyldwood Arts, I’m waltzing, learning and storytelling with the residents of Monica Wills House in Bedminster.
Wyldwood focuses on intergenerational arts projects. Through chatting, games, dance and copious amounts of tea, we spend our time with the residents building them as storytellers.
Working with older adults of varying abilities puts small troubles in perspective. Walking in, you shed your worries and time stands still for a while. You’re immersed in their jokes, stories and chatter. A few weeks ago, two of the residents were chatting about age. “How old are you?” one resident asked another. “92!” he replied proudly. “You see,” she turned to me. “I’m only in my eighties. I’m so young!”
We’ve formed a theatre company, this group of older adults and us younger ones. We’re working towards a play that will be performed to the public at the beginning of June.
There is occasionally a tension between ensuring the group are comfortable and trying to move forwards with the creation of the show. But the happiness of the residents is the priority, and if that means we don’t get any further with the development of a story or the creation of a character that week and instead spend the time talking about their memories of family or friends, that’s okay. The process is created to be flexible to their needs, and it is fantastic to know they feel they can share personal stories with us. It is a safe space to share. With sixty or so years between us, there are undoubtedly differences of opinion, but open-mindedness is key, in both directions.
“I not only now know how to operate an electronic wheel-chair … I am also learning life lessons about love, loss and carrying on.”
It’s a reciprocal process. Together with the other artists, I’m learning so much from the residents. I not only now know how to operate an electronic wheelchair (and after being allowed to play in it I reckon I could challenge anyone to a race in one) and how to move conversation on when someone with dementia gets frustrated with their inability to remember, I am also learning life lessons about love, loss and carrying on.
It can be tough when they’re ill. Attachments are formed quickly and seeing someone who one week is bouncing around laughing the next week bed-bound and pale is tough.
But to see their growth in self-confidence is unbeatable. Their self-belief has sky-rocketed over the past few months, and at the same time so has my own.
It is a joy to be doing my University placement with Wyldwood Arts, and each week I look forward to spending Thursday afternoons with my new friends. Or rather, my old friends.
Kate Wyver is a Theatre and Performance Studies undergraduate at the University of Bristol, hoping to move into journalism. Kate is part of Chat Back, a Learning for Life Together project, funded by Bristol Ageing Better.
Wyldwood Arts is a community arts organisation, producing participatory performance projects. They believe everyone, regardless of age and ability should be able to engage in high quality, professional arts experiences.