Being bold at the First Scottish Dementia Arts Festival – Blog 1

Once upon a time Ron Coleman sat in a café in Stornoway thinking “I am fed up with people using the word ‘suffering’ to describe me and others living with dementia, we need to do something different”. He then thought of how his friend and peer, also living with dementia, Ronald Amanze commented, “We are all artists!” and so the nugget of the idea of the First Deepness Scottish Dementia Arts Festival was born.

Ron went on to say “Mindfulness, I hate it, there’s nothing like getting dementia to make you mindful, you learn to live in the moment. Today we’re challenging the stigma of dementia by doing, doing stuff makes you feel better, this is my journey”.

And so it came to pass that on Monday the 13th of November 2023, Dawn Irvine, Magdalena Schamberger and myself from bold – Bringing Out Leaders in Dementia were listening to Ron’s anecdote at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness at the opening ceremony for the festival. A festival to focus on all that those living with dementia CAN achieve and create with not a ‘sufferer’ in sight.

Ron Coleman’s Welcome!

Ron then invited Jane Harlington, an artist from the Blue Pig Studio on the Isle of Lewis who curated the Art Exhibition at the festival to say a few words. Jane was inspired by a book she was introduced to the previous evening entitled ‘Sizzling Bacon’ by Anne Scott the Editor of the Deepness Dementia Media Newsletter who lives with dementia. Jane told us the story of Anne and her daughter Evie and how after diagnosis Anne’s whole life changed; she became aware of the lack of understanding about dementia and decided to write this children’s book to raise awareness. Jane was very touched by this story and moved the whole room with her heartfelt words inspiring her to buy a lion balloon to represent courage & hope which she felt resonated with Anne & Evie’s tale and the whole ethos of the Dementia Arts Festival and left us with the with the words ‘You Matter, We Matter’.

Jane Harlington’s balloon of Courage & Hope!

We were then treated to a festival of art in the form of music  with some Jazz from the amazing Sophie Bancroft and Tom Lyne. Sophie & Tom featured heavily in the Dementia Arts Festival programme running Jazz Singing Workshops. Sophie has also written some beautiful songs for Dementia the Musical and its stars Nancy and Agnes but more about that later.

Sophie Bancroft & Tom Lyne entertain us with Jazz.

After some refreshments and cake we all gathered again in the La Scala Cinema at Eden Court to be entertained and enlightened by a radio play called “What are we going to do about Mum”. At first you were aware of the cast and their microphones but as the tale unfolded you forgot the cast were there in front of you and listened to the conversation. The radio play is about 3 sisters and their varying degree of concerns about their Mum who is now on her own after losing their Dad. 2 sisters live on the island close to their Mum but another sister lives on the mainland and the dialogue consists of various phone calls between them all. It was a brilliant observation of the family dynamics that emerge with the possibility of a dementia diagnosis for a loved one. It covered concern about how to help, being too overwhelmed with caring  for young children to think about helping and complete denial that a Mum who was once so dynamic and capable could have any cognitive impairment at all. The thought-provoking radio play was followed by a rich discussion with the author explaining it was based on personal experience after her own Mum’s diagnosis and an audience member bravely sharing that this play mirrored exactly how it had been for her.

The cast of “What are we going to do about Mum”

And so we were off on the Dementia Arts Festival journey with our first very moving and informative day coming to an end with a delightful programme of arts to come. In the next blogs we’ll cover the amazing art on display, the 100/6000 Gathering and poetry, music, song-writing, jazz, excerpts from musicals, the bold partners we connected with and so much more that we enjoyed in our time at the First #ScotDementiaFestival in Inverness.

Links to find out more about all the organisations and people mentioned in this blog are below:

Deepness Dementia Media

Jane Harlington, Blue Pig Studio

Sizzling Bacon by A.F. Scott

bold – Bringing Out Leaders in Dementia

Sophie Bancroft