Spent the morning at the Acorn care home in Redhill, where Sharmilla has been working with the residents on a reminiscence project for the last few months. It was a fascinating morning.
My first revelation was how much care is now put into care. The home is full of activity and the residents have plenty of options about how to pass the day. Some were writing, some painting, another group were reading the newspapers together and debating. I spoke to the head of dementia who told me that theatre has a really important role in stimulating memory and in allowing residents the imaginative opportunity to play and pretend. A box of hats is constantly emptied and staff have to retrieve them from the private rooms at the end of the day.
Sharmilla's show had a full house and most enjoyed it - joining in with the songs and smiling as they saw their pasts rejuvenated in front of their eyes.
One resident became agitated and shouted at the actors to leave. In the end her interventions became so loud, that a carer took her out of the room. With her shouting that the play made fools of all of them. It really showed the students how in control of the material - particularly the personal material - you have to be to avoid causing upset and hurt. Perhaps we should have stopped and let her explain what we'd got so wrong. I felt very uncomfortable about just taking her away and sad we didn't have a chance to talk to her afterwards.
At then end I asked Eileen, who was sitting next to me, whether she'd contributed any of the memories. As a sixteen year old she'd worked fitting up and repairing Wellington bombers. I asked her if she ever got to fly them.
'Oh yes,' she said 'I'd always go up on the test flights after the maintenance had finished, to prove that the planes were safe. It made me laugh all these brave men who'd run the bombing raids but were too scared to trust the work of a sixteen year old. I had to show them that I knew what I was doing!'