ART sessions aim to bring the past alive for dozens of South Tyneside pensioners who are being inspired to explore their creative sides.
Reporter TERRY KELLY and photographer TIM RICHARDSON saw elderly people, some suffering from dementia, successfully putting their artistic instincts in the frame.
RON Thompson once travelled the world as a marine engineer.
His mechanical and technical skills were in demand on ships which voyaged to all points of the compass, from China to Russia and across most of Europe.
But although he is now a resident at Windsor Care Home, in Victoria Road East, Hebburn, his imagination is being inspired to travel just as far as during his seafaring days.
Mr Thompson, 83, is one of the many elderly people at the home taking part in regular sessions organised by Equal Arts, a Tyneside group, which brings together artists, the cultural sector and care and health professionals to enhance the lives of older people.
Mr Thompson was busy sketching a ship’s propulsion system when the Gazette called in on one of the sessions.
He said: “I was at sea for 22 years and I helped keep ships’ engines running. My drawing shows how we powered the vessels.”
Sitting opposite Mr Thompson during the art session was John Chamberlain, 89, who cheekily signed his bright pastel study of a dog as “Claude Monet”.
But rather than being a famous French Impressionist, Mr Chamberlain spent most of his life at sea and and as a toolmaker at the former Reyrolle engineering factory in Hebburn.
“I enjoy drawing animals and other dogs, I don’t know why. Since I had my stroke, I can’t remember much, but I do enjoy my art,” Mr Chamberlain said.
Cathy Scarratt, activities co-ordinator at Windsor Care Home, said: “The residents love their art. It’s great to see the way their faces light up when they have made something.
“It’s a great stimulation for them and we plan to stage an exhibition of residents’ work.”
Pensioners, aged 70 to 97, take part in the creative sessions, led by visual artist Sam Goodlet, from Equal Arts.
She said: “We do all kinds of activities with the residents, including creating moulds of their hands with plaster of Paris, which they then decorate.
“This is both creative and therapeutic – they love the feel of the mould on their hands.
“The sessions are about tapping into the residents’ memories and allowing them to explore their creative natures.”
A visual stimulus technique called ‘time slips’ sees old folk being shown a simple object, like a book or a calendar, which can then trigger a wealth of artistic ideas.
“This is all about leaving behind a legacy after the sessions,” Ms Goodlet added.
Staff enjoy interacting with residents during the sessions, and there are plans to create an arty tea trolley at the home, which will include music, helping to trigger memories and inspire more creative expression.
Carer Christine McNulty was working with 89-year-old Marie McDowell on a plaster of Paris hand mould.
There was much joking and laughter, with carers complementing the work of residents with their own drawings.
Music is another way to inspire often frail residents.
Although confined to a wheelchair after suffering a heart attack, former electrician Geoff Bully, 70, breaks out into a broad smile when he listens to pop music from the 1960s on his headphones.
Andrea Rowe, manager at Windsor Care Home, said: “It’s great to see the facial expressions on the residents during the art sessions.
“Instead of sitting in their chairs, they are creating something and most of our 43 residents are taking part.”
Equal Arts, based in Gateshead, is a registered charity, running arts projects throughout the North East.
In 2011-12 alone, the group organised 19 projects involving more than 850 people, developing partnerships with more than 10 local organisations.
Equal Arts, which is running eight art sessions at Windsor Care Home, has previously worked at sheltered housing complexes in South Shields.
In 2011, the charity was awarded a Big Lottery Project grant, allowing it to develop music and dance groups for older people in South Tyneside and Gateshead.
This helps support people with dementia and underlines the importance of music and dance to the lives of older people.
* For more details, call Equal Arts on 477 5775 or visit the website www.equalarts.org.uk.