By Jennifer Jackson
Orb has recently obtained funding for a new project providing creative art and natural voice singing activities for those living with dementia and their carers. The sessions are free and are held at The Centre on Gracious Street from 2-4 pm on alternate Tuesdays.
I swapped a work shift to go along to one of the December sessions.
Luckily for staff, service users and volunteers at Orb, Leeds Arts University students Julia and Adeele were there for their first time as volunteers. They were so fun, kind, patient, friendly and enthusiastic that they fitted in straightaway.
Everyone really enjoyed their company during the teas and coffees at the beginning; and I had a good laugh with them during the singing when none of us could keep track of the actions and words to the songs! With the help of the service users who were much more familiar with the songs, we got there eventually and the whole experience was extremely uplifting. As is always the case with the group singing, we all managed to collectively produce a lovely harmony, and stand in singing leader Jenny (covering for regular leader Emma) was very good at keeping the harmony going even with Julia, Adeele and I getting stuck and alternating between singing and giggling!
The service users found Julia and Adeele’s patience when helping them during the art session to be a great comfort. Their artistic talent and ability to gently push them to ignore fears of their work “not being good enough” helped them to really enjoy the session and to produce work that they felt proud of.
Since it was their first experience of Orb, I asked them some questions about their backgrounds and how they found the session.
- What course are you doing at Leeds Arts University?
Julia: Visual Communication, specialising in film making.
Adeele: I study Visual Communication, which for me is essentially multi-disciplinary work, that is personal on one side and more focused on the community and giving back to it.
- How did you hear about Orb Community Arts and what attracted you to volunteering at the dementia group?
Julia: Adeele my housemate met Becky Mears during a workshop/event happening at our university. Becky told her about Orb Community Arts and the dementia group.
Adeele: We had a Social Enterprise workshop with Becky, who is one of the tutors at Orb. We got talking and one thing led to another. All I knew at that point was that I was willing to do any kind of volunteering, I wasn’t picky on that side. I do have a friend who does a dance session for people with dementia, which sounded very interesting, so this opportunity felt almost like the natural way of things.
- What did you enjoy the most about volunteering at the dementia group?
Julia: I loved meeting and talking to everyone. Chatting with members of the group was an opportunity to listen to their stories, members would tell me about their life, their past. It was so lovely and interesting. I had a great time! Seeing everybody enjoying themselves was heart-warming.
Adeele: I would have to say the conversations I had. The way people just accepted you as one of them without a second thought. One doesn’t have to work to be accepted, you are there so you are accepted. Something completely new to me. It felt like looking through a window to the future, with university life you are looking to the future, but not as far as the working life, there almost isn’t anything else past that. It is good to think about it sometimes, cannot dwell on it too much though. When it was time to say goodbye, that’s when the heart-warming hugs and kisses melted my heart. I had a sense of what it is like to make a difference to the life of a person who has just popped into your life for an hour.
- How do you find that art helps you to maintain good mental health?
Julia: I believe that art in all its forms helps us to express ourselves, especially when words don’t seem to be enough anymore.
Adeele: I was always perplexed by the idea of ‘expressing oneself through art.’ I didn’t experience that until a couple of months ago. The worst thing to do with issues or concerns is to bury them deep inside. They are out of reach and cannot be solved, and they can snowball into bigger problems. When working on a personal project you have an inner-investigation, you start to brace all sides of yourself and contemplate what is there and why, like exploring a dark echoey cave.
- Was this the first time that you’ve done any singing for a while? How was it to initially step out of your comfort zone?
Julia: It was indeed! I was a little apprehensive at first, but I quickly realised that we were going to sing as a group and it was a great community experience.
Adeele: It was the first time in a long while. It wasn’t too scary because the purpose of it wasn’t to sing well or to reach exceptional levels; it was rather to do something with people that was fun and, in some ways, challenging. It was about connecting and that we did.
- What skills did you feel that you utilised whilst helping at the dementia group?
Julia: Social skills mainly.
Adeele: In terms of skills, it was mostly letting yourself be vulnerable, letting people see you; listening and responding with empathy, accepting others as they are, and them accepting you as you are.
- In what ways did volunteering at the Orb dementia group match or differ from your expectations?
Julia: I was expecting a workshop where people would only paint and create things. It was more of a social gathering. People had tea at first, then we sang, and we finished by making greeting cards. It was really nice!
Adeele: I came in with very little expectations. I had no idea what to anticipate. I did think it would be a lot more formal and I’m glad I was very wrong in that. I also didn’t think we would have time to chat with the group and getting to do so was a great touch.
- Are there any other groups at Orb that you would also be interested in volunteering with when you have the time?
Julia: I would love to help at Orb again. I’d be interested in anything really, but with a preference for art related sessions.
Adeele: I am always ready to help. Right now, unfortunately I have a lot going on with the final year, so my options are a bit limited. I will definitely have a look at my schedule to fit in more volunteering. That is the only reason I find it a bit difficult right now, but I do think it is extremely rewarding and an unexpected way to learn about humans.
It was great to meet Julia and Adeele. Thank you both of you for coming!
If you or someone close to you is living with dementia and you or they are keen to do something social and creative, then please get in touch with Elizabeth or Andy at Orb on 01423 202028 to ask when the next fortnightly Tuesday session is. Don’t let thoughts of not being arty or musical deter you. I am neither and I have always found Orb groups to be so inclusive, welcoming and fun and I have even surprised myself with some of the things that I have managed to do or produce. You might too.