A diary of the BOLDart Ballifeary Adventure by Fenella Kerr

Monday 8th November

I am getting my supplies together in preparation for my BOLDart Ballifeary workshop next week. I have been to the local art shop and bought the best quality materials. I want to value the residents and give them pens and paper which add to their experience rather than hinder their progress as some cheap materials can do.

After such a wait I’m excited and daunted – I have a vision and I don’t want to disappoint. I hope that the joy my Mum has experienced when she and I have created together will be the same for the other residents.

I think working one on one has the potential for the best experience. We can chat as we take pleasure in the way the materials feel on the page. We can make our indelible marks and be in the moment. I will then wait in anticipation, as they are turned first into a design then into a beautiful fabric and then a useful object, a napkin. Something to keep us tidy and clean. Something that wipes away the mess

Tuesday 16th November

The journey to Inverness is over 3 hours and I needed to be at the home by 09.30 so it was an early start. Arriving at the home I felt good. I was more than a visitor; I was a facilitator, someone who will provide the means for the residents to be creative.

Anna, the facilities co-ordinator greeted me, and we set up the dining room. She had a list of folks who might like to take part. We had a table for Anna and one for me. This allowed us to work in smaller groups, which would allow us to have chats together.

We were slow to start but soon we both had our first clients. Anna helped Margaret and I helped Helen. Margaret insisted she wasn’t good at art and could even remember the 27% she received for her artistic efforts whilst at school. She looks after her husband Ian who lives with dementia. Ian wasn’t taking part so sat at the window watching the world go by. Margaret enjoyed a very concentrated 40 minutes filling a page full of shapes and little houses. No one judged or marked her work. We all admired it. She returned to Ian relaxed and I hope feeling good.

Helen sat down next to me. I met Helen the first day we visited the home. An ex- nurse she is always keen to help. I see her when she is happy and helpful. Today she was both and we got stuck into the business of putting pen to paper. We swirled and twirled together. She used all the pens I offered her, all the paint too. She was so intent on her creation that the time sped by. We were both delighted by the art she created. And as a bonus she enjoyed a good night’s sleep that night.

Chrissie came next to join us. When encouraged to draw a line hers were straight. They joined up to make a grid of triangles. She fully engaged in the process and once her grid was finished set about colouring in the shapes. Again, she enjoyed the process and the chat. I know myself that lovely feeling of being in the zone. It felt like we were all there.

Ina, a lady with impaired vision, joined Anna. Anna encouraged her by guiding her pen across the page. I could hear them chatting, discussing colour and texture. Ena finished her drawing with a free-flowing circular pattern created using a soft oil pastel. Such a lovely feeling to let the pastel just flow. I encourage anyone to put a pencil on a piece of paper and close your eyes. Then let the pen move. It’s very freeing.

Chrissy with a Y joined Anna at the end. She drew sheep and hills and worked up an appetite for lunch with her efforts.

The session went well.  I felt energised and full of joy. It was so good to work together and also know that our collaboration was going on to become something more.

I packed up my supplies and went to have lunch with Mum. She wasn’t in the best of places, but we tucked in to our fish and chips, we listened to music and we enjoyed being together. Mum then fell asleep, so it was time to leave. I’ll be back again on Thursday to do this again.

Thursday 18th November

I arrived at the home at 09.30 ready to meet Anna and set up our workshop space. Uh oh. Anna’s daughter had to self isolate due to the pandemic so Anna couldn’t come. I was on my own. Matron suggested Olivia, one of the junior carers, would help me so I briefed her.

We decided we could run the workshop in the big sitting room getting organised after prayers. Two long tables were arranged in the middle of the room ready for action.

It was lovely to welcome back some residents from our last session. They obviously enjoyed our creative time together and wanted more. We were joined by others including a reluctant Anne. Along with Brenda, Chrissie, Chrissy, and Helen we were six in total. I explained to the newcomers what we hoped to do, and they were off. It was a delight to see the old hands getting stuck in.

I noticed that Helen had difficulty in holding a pencil. I had devised something to help her. A hole through a tennis ball held a pencil and meant she could manipulate the pencil without it causing her pain. A great result.

Let me tell you about Anne. She was sitting in the room when we arrived. She hadn’t signed up to take part but I thought it might be worth seeing if she could be encouraged to take part. I showed her the pen and told her they were excellent pens and perhaps she might want to try one out for herself. Once she had the pen and paper, she was off. She had complained at the start that she was in too much pain to be able to do anything. Imagine my delight when I realised she had been engaged in the creative process for well over 45 minutes with scarcely a peep. It really shows the power of being in the moment and concentrating on something to the exclusion of everything else including possible pain.

We had Kelman with us during the session filming the workshop. He was able to capture some special moments with these wonderful ladies. I wanted to document that I got a huge amount from this event. The ability to be able to share my skills and see people getting so much from this is a treasured feeling. My Mum wasn’t really engaged in the process, but we did manage to make some marks together. Perhaps just being there with the others and being in a group was enough for her. I have the memory of sharing with her. Since lockdown we have been unable to do very much in a group. I felt very lucky to be able to do this.

After the workshop

I was given lunch with Mum. It’s been a long time since we have eaten together. Such a simple thing but so missed.  These are the moments that keep us connected.

November 2021

I had the designed scanned and sent off to the designer. Now I must wait to see what comes back.

February 2022

I met with my designer and discussed what I wanted in terms of the look. We have decided on 3 designs, which feature the work of one, or two residents and one design which features the work of all the residents’ designs including a border created by the Matron. Metaphorically she is looking after everyone and keeping them together.

 After a bit of toing and froing Isla completed the design and it is now at the printers in Glasgow. I am waiting for the test piece to be printed and then I will go ahead and get the main fabric printed.

Tuesday 15th March

I got word that the sample of the napkin’s fabric was ready, so I decided to head off to Glasgow to collect them. The staff knew a little about the project, so it gave me such a buzz to explain some more about what the designs mean. They look amazing. I was so overcome that something that someone drew in a workshop in a care home could become something so beautiful and meaningful.

I chatted to the staff and as I talked, I became quite emotional. This project is so much more than napkins for a home. It is the idea that everyone, no matter where they are in life, have the potential to create something beautiful and worthwhile.

We made a few changes to the design and how it is placed on the fabric. Next step is to get the main length of fabric printed. We are slowly moving on.

I am heading off to Ballathie House tomorrow for the BOLD Sparks project. I am going to take the sample with me and hope that the folk there feel the same way about it as I do.

Thursday 17th March

I had a chance to show my fabric sample to the BOLD Sparks group today. I was delighted that the design and the idea and execution meant something to other people too. They could see the value in the project and the joy I felt in seeing the design brought to life. I am so keen to get the next stage up and running.

 Tuesday 29th March

I decided the project needed a brand so I have designed and ordered some labels for the napkins and other items I will have made. This is at my own expense, but I want to make the items as professional as possible.

 Friday 1st April

I went to Glasgow today to collect the final printed fabric. It looks amazing. I shared the link to the BOLD film we made at Ballifeary with the staff at CAT, Laura, Janice, and Vicky. They were touched and emotional about the whole project and told me they felt the work I was doing was most important. It was a good feeling to know that my idea can connect with other people outside the BOLD community and touch them as much as me. CAT are keen to support the project and may feature it on their website. I want to get the napkins finished so that they can see the final product and can share those pictures too.

Monday 12th April

I got the train to Dunfermline to meet up with Adam at Kalopsia. They have moved from Edinburgh into a new warehouse, and it was great to see the place where the next part of the process will take place. Adam and I discussed how to use the labels to secure the foam hair roller, which will secure the napkins in a neckline. I was pleased that he understood the marrying of the design aesthetic whilst still providing something useful.

We worked out how to produce my “Coat of Conversation” and how to use the strip of fabric down the side to make extra items, which I will pay for. It feels like it may nearly be time to put the kettle on for the tea party.

Saturday 16th April

Got the train to Inverness to visit Mum. I told the care staff that the napkins are nearing completion and so we might think about the tea party to celebrate their creation. We are hoping it will take place on Thursday 5th May, in the afternoon. I was saddened to hear that 2 of the residents who took part in the project have died. I feel that their spirit lives on in the beautiful work they helped to create.

Monday 25th April 2022

The labels finally arrived today, and I sent them off immediately to Kalopsia to add to the napkins and bags. It’s really lovely to see the real things instead of just an idea on a website. So close now…

Wednesday 4th May

I got the train over to Dunfermline to collect all the goodies. It’s amazing to finally see something that started as an idea and a conversation become real. The napkins look fab and the label works well as a tab for the hair roller to go through to secure them. The purses and pencil cases are lovely. My “Coat of Conversation” is a thing of beauty and delight. I am already planning when I am going to wear it. I want it to be often. It’s important to keep the conversation moving along.

Thursday 5th May

On the train heading north to Inverness. The tea party is tomorrow afternoon. Invitations were sent out yesterday which makes it so special. I have wrapped a napkin for every resident, and I think they look splendid, a rainbow of colour. My outfit has been chosen to set off my coat, including a piece of jewellery, which my mother gave me. I have gifts for the staff too so it really will be a grand party. The press are coming to take a photo. Good to share our story with Inverness and perhaps the rest of the world, who knows.

Friday 6th May

Today has been a busy day. Firstly, I went in Eden Court Theatre for my BOLD Cohort 6 zoom session. Great to connect with Lucy (from BOLD cohort 1) again. She helped me out with the space and the Wi-Fi connection.

Off to Ballifeary to set up for the tea party. The dining room was being prepared when I arrived.  Bunting, fine china, invitations sent out. Everyone invited and most attending.

I set out all the original artwork and all the wrapped napkins. They looked inviting and I hope showed the care I took to make it all look professional.

The guests started to arrive and soon the room was buzzing with residents, family, friends and staff. My Mum arrived in her fancy frock with the help of our carer Carolyn. A photographer from The Inverness Courier arrived right when we were about to start. He took some hurried photos of Mum, the napkins and me. I am keen to share this story with a bigger audience so let’s see what happens.

I said a few words, we watched the BOLD film then said grace. I was so touched that the home had made me a cake to thank me for all my hard work. Then I gave out the napkins and we ate sandwiches, drank tea, and celebrated in style. I am not sure how many of the residents understood the project or what the napkins were all about. This project was never really about the napkins; it was about the process of creating and making something more than expected. I had used the extra fabric to make purses for the staff. I wrapped them and handed them out once the party was closing. The staff were delighted, and I think touched by this unexpected gift. Something useful and beautiful that they could keep as a reminder of their Ballifeary family. I didn’t really expect such a reaction so was really moved by their emotion.

I showed everyone my “Coat of Conversation” which I had made from the test piece of fabric. It is truly amazing, and I hope will give me the chance to start conversations about dementia and how we can flourish with a diagnosis.

Mum, Carolyn, and I spent a bit more time together in Mum’s room before it was time to leave. Matron Helen accosted me on my way out thrusting a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates in my hand. A thank you for all the work and care I had put into the project. I was touched by the kindness and support shown to me by the staff. I am interested to see what the long-term impact is on the home and where we go next.

 Sunday 8th May

I went to meet Brendan McCormack to give him his napkins set. As he heads off to Australia, I hope he can use them at a future dinner party and tell the BOLDart tale. I decided to give my “Coat of Conversation” it’s first outing. It conversed with flying colours. We had a conversation with a staff member who admired my outfit. She asked about the design and showed me her book “What Artists Wear” by Charlie Porter. I was able to share my story of the group of emerging older artists I had been working with in a care home in Inverness. She then shared that her relative was in a care home and could she take a picture to share. I was so delighted.

After heading off home I popped into a tourist shop on the Royal Mile. There I was accosted by 2 American tourists. They proclaimed loudly about my splendid coat and once more I was able to share my story. This coat is boldly going places.

And here is a quote from “What Artists Wear”

“Most of us live our lives in our clothes without realizing their power. But in the hands of artists, garments reveal themselves. They are pure tools of expression, storytelling, resistance, and creativity: canvases on which to show who we really are.”

A statement from the Matron Helen Jennings at Ballifeary.

As part of this process, I thought it would be useful to ask Helen how she felt the project had been received in the home and so here is her statement.

“Hello Fenella,

Many thanks for your lovely email, we are so glad that you enjoyed the tea-party. We felt that it was such a lovely event, and it has been our first major occasion, after our last Covid outbreak, so to have it centred around the BOLD project and have you as our guest of honour, was very special indeed, and such a delight!

Regarding the impact of the project in the Home, from conception to completion, it has been such an exciting experience for us! The thought that our residents’ artwork could be used to make such useful, visually pleasing products makes us so proud!

We feel that the whole process has been beneficial for both residents and staff in many ways. I think that the initial conversations about doing an art project were very inspirational and encouraged the staff to think creatively and positively about the project and it was important to ‘think large’ initially, and have the opportunity to explore a range of ideas when we were in the initial conception stages. This, as I say, encouraged creativity and helped staff to view residents with a sense of ability, not disability, which is so important when caring for older adults who are naturally and inevitably declining.

Residents come here to live out their latter years and, ultimately, die, but we should always be focussing on preserving and maintaining residents’ abilities as much as possible, which this type of project allows.

During the actual ‘hands on’ days, where residents and staff were able to use the materials, it was interesting to see how the creative process of applying pen to paper encouraged impartiality and both residents and staff alike were the subjects of the process; there were no obvious differences between residents and staff. Thus, the process removed barriers and we were all equal, so to speak, in that we all just had the pens/pencils and blank piece of paper – we were all encouraged to approach the task in our own way, and face (for some of us) our fears and explore our creativity which was a huge bonding activity for residents and staff. I just wish more staff could have been involved!

It was lovely to hear how the project had an impact that lasted more than a few hours, and how one of our residents, as you mentioned in the video, slept very well the following night. Clearly the activity had therapeutic benefits that went beyond the immediate time spent using the materials and producing the work.

Despite the many benefits gained by the hands-on experience, when you took the art work away, admittedly, I did go off feeling quite sceptical, wondering how these abstract pieces might be used to make the napkins and what the designer might do with them. When we were using the colours that you provided, I have to admit that some of them seemed quite ‘drab’ and I had my doubts; nonetheless, I must admit that when the time came for the ‘big reveal’, we had much anticipation, which was beneficial for both residents and staff. It was exciting and built in a sense of eagerness. We (and none more so than myself) were all so surprised at the outcome of the products, and when I saw how the designs had come together, I thought that the colour scheme looked so sophisticated and pleasing to the eye! In retrospect, I think that you chose the colour palette well.

In summary, we have been delighted to be involved in this project, and apart from producing attractive and useful products that have such sentimental value, for staff and relatives of residents, the whole process has encouraged us to remember that whatever your age or ability, you are capable of contributing to and benefitting from a project like this – all you need is an open mind!

I’m sure your ‘coat of conversation’ will be a continual talking point for years to come!

I wish all the best in securing more funding so that you can support other homes with this super project!

Hope to see you soon.

Many thanks,

Helen Jennings (Matron)