Now half way through the second phase of Creative Encounters, there is a sense of familiarity but also anticipation in the Blue Lounge when the session starts, whether participants are new to the sessions or have been coming since the start of phase 1. There is a feeling that you can just ‘be’ from the regular attenders, which seems to transfer easily to newer members of the group. Personalities really shine through during the session today and, although traits may be exaggerated or suppressed as a result of living with dementia, they are still very present in how people engage in the sessions.
Just as with any group brought together by circumstance as neighbours or colleagues, everyone engages in their own way, getting to know each other, us and finding their place in the group. Some people need reassurance that they are doing well, or ‘doing it right’, others joke and look to entertain, enjoying the attention of the whole group, and others are more serious or prefer quieter one-to-one chats. Some talk quietly and enjoy side by side activity, looking at a magazine or quietly exploring an object or instrument. Other people enjoy dancing, playing the drum, singing, being the centre of attention for a while. Some people prefer to mostly observe and then join in with a perfectly pitched comment or gesture when they feel the moment is right. Some are anxious and need calming or soothing. Some people are definite about what they do or don’t want to do; others happily ‘give it a go’. And most of us switch between all these things, depending on how we are feeling at the time.
A crucial aspect of Creative Encounters sessions is that all kinds of participation and engagement are equally valued and all personalities given time and space to emerge. We try not to have expectations of how people should behave in a session, which applies to the artist team as well as the participants. We invite everyone to enter the space as they are, enjoy some creative and playful time together as a group, exploring and engaging completely ‘in the moment’. Surprising, enriching, joyful, searching, funny, risky, energetic and exhilarating are just a few words that could be used to describe interactions I have witnessed in recent sessions. Writing this has made me wonder how often most of us get to experience these kinds of feelings in our daily lives, whether living in a care home or not.