Over the course of five weekly sessions, Smoking Apples, an award-winning puppetry and visual theatre company, worked with those living with dementia and attend the day care centre at Wood Street, Tunbridge Wells.

Funded by the Gatwick Foundation Fund which is administered by Kent Community Foundation, the project aims to engage those living with dementia to recall stories and experiences through the medium of shadow puppetry.

Alongside its traditional day care, the Wood Street centre provides a safe, peaceful place for those living with dementia who enjoy socialising in small groups, while also allowing respite for their carers and loved ones. The youngest are in their early 70s, and the oldest in their early 90s.

This puppetry project, a first for the centre, is an exciting addition to its programme of creative activities that foster interaction and wellbeing. Joanna Marks, service support manager, says, “During these sessions, we have plenty of laughter! They encourage our guests to socialise and reminisce – they will remember episodes, and the trick is to tease them out. Some may simply enjoy watching others taking part. The evidence shows that creative pastimes improve the mood of people living with dementia.”

The final session took place last week and will result in the creation of a 30-minute film which will be screened by invitation only in October this year and also at the 2019 Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival.

Molly Freeman, co-artistic director of Smoking Apples explains, “While we recognise the participants may struggle to form connected memories, shadow puppetry works very well with fragmented ideas. We aim to uncover some of the participants’ stories using music, photographs and films as stimuli to get the ideas flowing. We will then use these ideas as a basis for the group to create and design shadow puppets.”

Hattie Thomas, co-artistic director of Smoking Apples explains the aim of the project, “Our main aim is to give the participants good emotional memories so that at the end of the day, even if they don’t remember why, or what they did, they feel good, or know that they have felt good that day. We do of course have artistic hopes for this project – we want to make a beautiful documentary and film – but the experience our participants have is far more important.”

The estimated number of adults living with dementia in Kent and Medway is more than 25,000 so projects like this are crucial to develop a sense of engagement, prompt discussion and reminiscence and improve the mood of people living with dementia.

Charities, social enterprises, community groups and voluntary organisations working in the boroughs of Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge & Malling should apply now to The Gatwick Foundation Fund, before the deadline, Friday 31 August.

Further details on how apply to Kent Community Foundation can be found at www.kentcf.org.uk/apply or call 01303 814500.

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