Participants in the Noticing Nature project give us feedback on their involvement in a number of ways. Each session is a mixture of making and talking, so we are aways exploring and sharing our relationship to the rest of nature, whether through words, actions or images. Then there’s an additional, more formal evaluation at the end of each block of sessions too, when participants have the option of posting written feedback direct to CAW (Celebrating Age Wiltshire).
One of the questions CAW ask participants, is whether the project sessions have contributed to their wellbeing, and if so, how. One man that was involved in September’s sessions wrote how the sessions had shown him that he was still seen and valued – “Not being forgotten. I thought I was past it.” A keen amateur painter in the past, changes in his physical health meant that he was unable to do what he used to, so together (with fellow artist Rachel Heard) he experimented with new media and techniques, to find new ways to paint and draw.
It’s a regular feature of Noticing Nature sessions that the older people with whom we work are dealing with changes in both physical and mental health. Their sense of who they are and what is possible often changes too, the strengths and skills that helped shape their sense of self can seem lost, alongside an increasing reliance on others for care and support.
Going into people’s homes, whether a house where they have lived for decades, or some kind of residential care home/supported living, I meet the person as they are now, but also aim to provide opportunities for them to remember and share something of themselves from the past. Holding a freshly emerged conker, one woman laughingly shared with Rachel her memories of an Autumn walk with a friend, and almost being hit on the head by one. Another wrote a poem, after drawing some leaves from her garden, a poem that she had read years before and didn’t realise she still knew.
People often talk about the playfulness of the sessions, perhaps at first feeling a little self conscious, as though play is something we should have left behind in childhood. But it’s this openness to experimenting with materials, to chat, laugh and sometimes even sing in response to the objects we bring and share (such as at a recent session with residents from Goodson Lodge), that makes room for people to bring their full selves to the activity.
Whether participants were artists long ago and are finding ways to reclaim that part of themselves, or whether the art materials and processes give them an opportunity to share a memory about a place or a loved one, I hope that what we are offering is an opportunity to be seen and heard, to feel that they are not forgotten, and that they will always have something of value to share with the world.
Images included in this post were taken by myself, artist Rachel Heard (whom I am mentoring as part of the Celebrating Age Wiltshire trainee artist scheme), and staff from the Goodson Lodge Care Home in Trowbridge, with whom Rachel and I worked as part of National Day of Arts in Care Homes on 24th September – #AICH2022