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Published on 15 November 2017 12:00 PM

An arts participatory project involving 122 care homes across Wales (nearly 20% of the overall total) has brought significant improvements to the well-being of participating residents. This was one of the key findings of an evaluation of Age Cymru’s cARTrefu project.

cARTrefu, which means to reside in Welsh, was set up to increase opportunities for care home residents and staff to take part in creative activities. It also aimed to develop and mentor artists so they could deliver creative sessions for older people in care settings.

Funded by the Arts Council of Wales and the Baring Foundation, the project is thought to be the largest of its kind in Europe and involved more than 1,500 residents and more than 300 care home staff who were encouraged to become involved in a variety of art forms including performing arts, music, visual art and words. The creative sessions were led by 16 arts practitioners who were in turn supported by four expert art mentors.

The evaluation, undertaken by Dr Katherine Algar Skaife from the Dementia Services Development Centre Wales at Bangor University, found that the project significantly increased the well-being of residents, improved their social skills, and even helped some of them regain long lost abilities like using a knife and fork.

David Cutler, Director of The Baring Foundation, said: “In our view, it is one of the most inspiring examples anywhere of work of creativity in care homes, as well as one of the largest programmes.”

Phil George, Chair of Arts Council of Wales, said: “The arts offering to residents has been rich and varied and has clearly had a major impact on well-being and personal expression. The importance of these activities for those living with dementia is hard to overstate. The triggering of memories and the reclamation of personhood is powerful and deeply moving to witness. Artists have been humbled, challenged and stimulated by their encounters with residents.”

Residents’ response

The evaluation found that resident’s well-being increased in all art forms but it appeared that the greatest change was found in the words sessions followed by music sessions. Here’s a sample of some of the residents’ responses:

“I’d forgotten you were coming today. I was in my room feeling a bit down; then they came to get me. It was a wonderful surprise.”

“My hip was giving me a lot of pain this afternoon, but I started colouring and I went to a place away from the pain.”

“I think, now this has made my strength all the better for being able to talk to someone like you… Thank you for talking to me.”

“I was having a perfectly horrible day today until we did this. I feel completely different now.

“I am blossoming like these flowers.”

Impact on care home staff

The evaluation found that the project had a positive impact on the care home staff with many reporting improved attitudes to residents, especially those with dementia. One carer said “It made me realise residents are more capable than one might give them credit for.”

The report also found that after working with the artists, that care home staff felt more confident to lead creative workshops in the future. To help develop the long term sustainability of cARTrefu, the project commissioned specially designed activity pack containing workshop cards that staff could use to help kick start creativity in workshops long after the artists have left.

The bi-lingual cards contain handy tips on a wide range of creative activities such as using apps, writing poetry as a group, performing stories, using large canvasses and working with materials such as clay.

Equipping the artists to work in care settings

The evaluation also found that the project developed a group of artists who are now better equipped to work with vulnerable older people in care settings and that the lives of the residents are more like to be reflected in future work undertaken by the artists. As one artist said: “I feel more fulfilled as an artist through having been challenged both to explore new ways of working and my own emotional responses…I want to continue this work.”

Moving forward with cARTtrefu Phase II

Following the huge success of cARTrefu, a second phase has been funded by the Baring Foundation and Arts Council Wales until 2019 which will have a greater focus on sustainability and equipping care home staff to continue to engage residents with creative projects long after the artists have left and push the boundaries of arts in care homes even further.

Notes to Editors

1. For more information about cARTrefu and how to get involved in cARTrefu II please contact Reg Noyes, the project’s coordinator, on reg.noyes@agecymru.org.uk or call 029 2043 1576

2. Interviews with Dr Katherine Algar Skaife, the artists, care home staff and some residents can be arranged upon request with the Communications Manager.

3. To view the evaluation report in full and other cARTrefu documents please visit www.ageuk.org.uk/cymru/health--wellbeing/cartrefu/

4. We have included three photographs from the evaluation with this release. However, if these are not suitable please call the Communications Manager as there are a wide range of other photographs available from the evaluation depicting a wide range of scenes.

About Age Cymru

1. Age Cymru is the national charity for older people in Wales.

2. We are the force combining Age Concern Cymru and Help the Aged in Wales.

3. We work with local Age Cymru Partners across Wales to improve life for older people.

4. Age Cymru is a registered charity 1128436.

5. Company limited by guarantee and registered by in England and Wales 6837284.

6. Registered office address: 13/14 Neptune Court, Vanguard Way, Cardiff, CF24 5PJ.

7. Age Cymru is funded by donations from the public, corporate partners, our trading enterprises and the Welsh Government.