Writer Maggie Sawkins will be talking about working with people suffering from dementia to create new poems that illuminate their experiences as part of the Speaking Out project.
Working alongside fellow poet Chris Bennett, Maggie spent three months conducting workshops at three day centres run by Age Concern Hampshire, giving people the chance to speak out about their experience of local health care services.
The challenge was to try to get the people to talk about their experiences, but in a way that wasn’t too didactic – too preachy – I had to try to find the right poems to use as a stimulusMaggie Sawkins
A number of poems were created in these group sessions, and Maggie later also created her own poems in response to the project, all of which are now compiled in a short anthology.
Maggie explains: ‘The idea was to try to catch the experience of people with dementia and their carers and try to help make some positive changes to the services they receive. The idea was to do it in a creative way.
‘I’ve been doing a project in Basingstoke called Finding The Words, so I’d already been doing something similar. That was doing it with people as an activity, so this was a bit more challenging.
‘With this particular project, the challenge was to try to get the people to talk about their experiences, but in a way that wasn’t too didactic – too preachy – I had to try to find the right poems to use as a stimulus. I tried to find poems that approached dementia and memory and read them to the group and used that as a starting point for discussion.’
Despite the difficulties, Maggie is pleased with the results.
‘Part of the project was to get them to be creative,’ says Maggie, ‘and to create a poem within the session, which went quite well.
‘We got everyone talking about something – is there something positive about getting older and losing your memory? We tried to get them to look at things from a different angle.
‘Some of them had their carers with them, and part of the project was to get the experience of carers and how life can be a bit difficult for them. One of the carers brought in a poem she’d already written and read that to the group, it was actually quite angry, but feisty, about how hard it is. That’s going in the booklet.’
‘A common thing was people saying: “When am I going home?” I wrote a poem about that – that was another element of the project, I had to come away and write my own poems in response to it.’
The resulting 16-poem anthology is half works created in the sessions, and half by Maggie.
‘I’m glad I did it, if you don’t say yes to these things, you never know if you can do it. I could empathise with some of the carers’ viewpoints as I’ve had experience caring for a daughter with mental illness, so I know what it’s like to be with someone who’s not the same as they were.
‘I like working with different people though – it’s all about being human. And because we’re all living longer one in four of us will end up with dementia.
‘The other thing that struck us from the project is that people are lucky if they’ve got someone to care for them. Not everyone does.’
The scheme was supported by Healthwatch Hampshire which backs the Better Life Chances team, part of Hampshire Cultural Trust, to help improve wellbeing and gather feedback of mental health users.
MAGGIE SAWKINS: SPEAK OUT
The Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham
Friday, January 13, from 1pm