Tales Of Together: Creativity In A Pandemic

We’re delighted to join forces with Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust on this pilot project for 2021, designed to reduce isolation and increase wellbeing among older individuals during the pandemic by encouraging participation in creative activity.

We’re working with approximately 20 older people in East Birmingham, previously identified by Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) Speciality Services on their Creativity in a Pandemic project. Built around the needs of each individual, Tales of Together encourages participants to engage with creativity during the pandemic in order to reduce isolation, increase wellbeing and make a difference to their lives during this challenging time.

We will connect participants with a Creative Project Manager to produce a Creativity Gift Box with professionally beautifully produced activities, and offer both online and in-person workshops (subject to COVID restrictions). The project will also involve the creation of an online exhibition of their work, whilst increasing the skills and knowledge of BSMHFT care professionals and artists about working with elders at risk of isolation.

Chai & Chat on the Telephone

Our Creative Project Manager will liaise with the Care Co-ordinators to talk through individuals referred to this project, and will call each one for a Chai and Chat – asking them to get themselves a cup of tea and settle down to have a relaxed conversation with us. We will explore their history (depending on what they would like to share), what they enjoy doing, where they enjoyed visiting prior to COVID-19 or when they were younger, what creative activities they enjoy, what do they enjoy eating; who are their friends and what have they missed most during the pandemic. This will help us to build a picture of them and their lives, and inform the next stage of the project.

Creativity Gift Box

We will work with artists to create bespoke activities for the individual people taking part in the project, by designing and printing beautiful cards with prompts. These could be a poem or song postcard, with an incomplete poem for them to finish, an illustration that we have started, a simple recipe card, or a prompt such as “What can you see outside your window?” We may include watercolours in the box, along with something for them to paint such as a garden gnome or a nightlight holder, or include rainbow coloured yarn for knitting. All instructions and materials will be provided. We will get the ideas for the gift box contents from the Chai and Chat phone conversations, and tailor them to their individual needs (e.g. if someone is unsteady with hands, we will explore other items that might bring joy and spark creativity).

Workshops and telephone support will also be offered alongside these, so that participants can take part together if they wish. We will ask, if possible, for designs to be sent back to Little Bromwich Centre, so that these can be displayed in an online exhibition.

Group Workshops

When restrictions allow, we will offer a range of practical workshops at the Little Bromwich Centre. A programme of one workshop per week, over six weeks (regularly reviewed to ensure security under COVID-restrictions), will be led by artists who speak a community language alongside English. We will offer a range of workshops, including song; dance and movement tailored to different levels of mobility; spoken word such as poetry call and response; painting; Ajrak screen printing, and writing. We will also consider a Show & Tell element, where participants and staff share hobbies and interests they are passionate about.

We will work closely with the Little Bromwich Centre team, ensuring they are aware of our activity so that they can encourage and support participation and involve people wherever possible. We will also create a skills sharing programme for staff and artists. Throughout Tales of Together, we will run three workshops for staff and artists, discussing the best practice in creativity for this specific group. This opportunity will also give staff and artists a platform to share knowledge, experience and learning together, as well as to gain an insight into what has worked nationally and internationally. There is much we can learn from each other.

Staying Connected

Chai & Chat on the telephone will be crucial way of staying in touch with the participants, and we plan to do this weekly or fortnightly throughout the project. Depending on access to technology, we may also explore group telephone conferencing or WhatsApp calls, to enable participants to also connect with each other.

Spring Postcards

We will send the participants regular postcards, designed with an image personalised for them, to update them on the project’s progression and to thank them for taking part. A final evaluation and report will be created to share learning with the wider sector.

What Will We Achieve?

In order to reduce isolation, we hope to achieve weekly contact with the participants via telephone calls or online platforms, and to increase their engagement with the arts and creativity. At its core, Tales of Together is about increasing connections with others during a time of isolation.

We also hope to develop skills amongst staff and in specialists working in the creative sector, as well as amongst service users – particularly skills in creativity and in digital activity. As a pilot study, this will result in sharing learning in the wider sector.