Bold is looking for all sorts of new and emergent leaders from all walks of life and from across the whole of Scotland. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing stories by people who are already making a difference in the ‘dementia world’ in lots of different ways. In this blog, Paula Brown, co-ordinator of the Cianalas dementia friendly community project at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, describes what leadership means to her and what this looks like in everyday practice.
A Day in the Life of… Paula Brown
Cianalas is a Gaelic word, which does not have a direct translation into English, but is associated with belonging and a warm feeling of the Hebrides as home. It relates to the Gaelic language, culture, music, dance, food, the land, sea, sky, the people and the heritage of this incredible place. The Cianalas project sits within this bilingual community.
Leadership, for me, in this role, means walking a mile in the shoes of the community. I moved to the Isle of Lewis only five years ago. Having never ‘carried the peats home for the winter’ or ‘split herring with my hands’, leadership is about getting to know the community. It’s about understanding island life, heritage and people and maintaining relationships in order to hear the voices of everyone, especially those without the use of speech and those seldom heard voices. Leadership comes from all of us, together. And I’m privileged to hold a position of facilitator for this community.
A Day in the Life of Paula Brown
The core team also comprises a freelance Gaelic Co-ordinator Maggie Smith, Artist Practitioner Duncan Mackinnon and Curator Jonathan Macleod. With massive support from technical support, marketing, finance, programming and management, we collaborate widely across the community with teams from the NHS, museum, library, care centres, day centres, Alzheimer Scotland, universities, individual artists and many more.
I thought it might be best to show you this project work through ‘a day in the life’ because just one day gives quite a good snapshot.
28th June 2019
9am: In glorious sunshine, we arrive at the Grianan Centre in Stornoway. Today ‘we’ comprises myself, a colourful group of four performers from the play ‘Curious Shoes’ and its Director, Magdalena Schamberger. I saw the play twice the day before in two care centres, but I’m looking forward to seeing it for a third time, not least because the audience participation makes each performance so unique.
There had been a quick change of venue the previous day because of a sudden venue closure but, thanks to the strong working relationship we have with different groups locally, it was possible to quickly pull together everything required for the next day.
As the performers put together the touring set and warmed themselves up, Magdalena and I chatted about the previous performances. I spoke about what I’d noticed over the past two days in people’s responses and facial expressions and that the opportunities to process emotion through the themes of the play, without words, is so very valuable.
Dance Scene from Curious Shoes
I also enthused about how the research aspect of this Cianalas project has been supporting personhood, communication, bilingualism. I talked too about how our recent work with Science Ceilidh offered time with neuroscientist Lewis Hou, giving everyone an insight into the benefits to the brain of bilingualism and music.
10.30am: As the performance started, musically and playfully, the audience engagement was immediate – and very exuberant! As the gentler sections unfolded, everyone remained engaged and followed the pace of the play, settling into more emotional themes and opportunities to handle objects. Each time music was introduced, there was a lot of leaping up out of chairs and dancing, and at times the audience became joyful performers too. The skill and experience of the cast was perfectly suited to seamlessly working with unexpected situations playfully, to include the person and still deliver the section of play.
Audience Members Join the Cast of Curious Shoes
Brilliant, brilliant work and just how we work in the community. We all received an enthusiastic thankyou from the centre manager and a hearty welcome back!
12 noon: As the Curious Shoes team packed up to catch the ferry to Ullapool, I made a quick dash to a local art supplier and to the supermarket to get what was needed for an afternoon art session for Care Home Open Day.
Arriving at a local care centre, I found artist Margaret Ferguson working with residents who were creating still life artworks. (Did you catch Margaret’s outstanding Iolaire 100 portrait project, where she painted the faces of 100 of the men on the Iolaire, which tragically sank on New Year’s Day in 1919?). While she worked, I spent some quiet one to one time painting and drawing with residents who needed more personal support. We begin Margaret’s next project today, drawing people’s portraits as she chats with them. We take quality arts materials and a pot of flowers to a lady who is in her bed at the end of the corridor. We had recorded her voice the last time we visited. ‘My father sailed with Captain Scott, on the Discovery’ she recalled. ‘I used to enjoy art, but I can’t grip so much now.’ I offered her a set of chunky oil pastels, a pad of nicely textured paper and a small canvas ‘for when you feel braver’.
I had to dash away to meet a reporter from the local Gazette newspaper, but I received this gorgeous email later from Margaret: ‘I’m attaching photos to give you an idea of what I’d like to use for the project. She (the lady) was amazing, sat drawing flowers for 20 minutes. The staff are going to forward them to her daughter on the mainland. The power of art!’
And the images were gorgeous too!
Drawing of Pot of Flowers
I make my way to a quiet room where the interview with the reporter can take place, rushing past the vinyl on the wall, a ‘window’ onto Stornoway Harbour put in place through a ‘DEEP’ grant that enabled us to work with a local man to share his story of ‘Lazy Corner’.
3.30 pm: As I chatted about the project to the reporter, I suddenly became aware of how much is happening as she scribbled furiously in her notebook, trying to keep up. I didn’t even get to mention the recent ‘Eyes As Big As Plates’ international photography project we were involved in as part of the Luminate Festival, as we were so busy talking about what is coming up. This includes a play production for September, Travelling Gallery for Barra and the Ben Nevis Ensemble for the hospital. Mostly I spoke about how we share the arts programme, festivals, evening classes etc. with people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access them.
We also spoke a little about working with PhD student Lucy Robertson from Duncan of Jordanstone, and how we will be ‘craft bombing’ An Lanntair and East Lothian in July. This will serve to maintain friendships between the two dementia friendly groups, and to recognise that dementia isn’t just about our pasts, and we all have a present and a future too. To showcase the project, we are creating interactive arts pieces for the public of all ages to engage with that play music, light up and change colour using soft circuits, local textiles and marine waste.
We finished the interview by talking about the geographic spread of the project, including the Woven Communities work we have carried out with the University of St Andrews in Uist (we have contributed to an academic book coming out shortly with Bloomsbury about this work), and the work of Duncan, our Artist Practitioner in Barra. Duncan is a Ceilidh musician and photographer who offers local traditional music to the communities of Barra and South Uist. He has been working on a men’s group and a transport memory box initiative to join the four memory boxes we have already created as a community, distributed by the mobile library service.
4.30pm: Then I was driving across twenty miles of moorland to a community centre in Borve to meet choreographer/ dancer Louise Davidson to talk about her part in a new play that we are working on with a local writer. The play is showcasing the research that a man has undertaken to manage his own cognitive impairment through AI, specifically with ‘Alexa’. Louise is choreographing a dance section of the play, and we plan the next two meetings and read-throughs on stage.
6pm: Arriving home, I go through my emails to keep everyone on track and informed about the play, then do some social media work on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook before uploading recent images to our blog server to include in a newsletter later. I note down the numbers of attendees at the recent sessions for a forthcoming spreadsheet, due to my line manager by the end of the month, and start on a blog post for the main An Lanntair website. I read and answer emails about the future funding of the project and complete the planning and booking for my next work travel, which will be on the ferry, and a tad challenging because it’s around ‘HebCelt’ Festival time, when the ferries are busy.
To wind down in the evening, I find myself knitting socks – a skill taught to me by several local ladies, mostly Mary Kate, a Harris woman now living in a care centre in Leverburgh. My early attempts were met with quiet encouragement, but my latest offerings have been met with hearty approval! I’ve graduated to the Hebridean Sockmaker’s dizzy heights of craftswomanship (well, almost!).
I hope this snapshot has given you an insight into the Cianalas project and the work we do. It’s busy, but we achieve a great deal with a small team. It’s not your usual nine to five!”
The Cianalas project is funded by:
Looking for all sorts of leaders
Are you a leader in dementia? Why not tell us about about what leadership means to you and the work you do, perhaps by describing a day in your life.
We’d love to hear from you!