Three stories, all the same words
Northbourne Care Home in Gateshead has become the home of artists Claire Ford and Kate Sweeney. You can read all about it at movingintocare.blogspot.co.uk - below is a brief extract from Claire and Kate's webspace that explains the project.
"Over a one month period they (Claire and Kate) will live and sleep at Northbourne in order to work creatively with residents, families and care staff. The project seeks to challenge the conventional 'workshop' structure that artists are restricted to in care home and institutional settings and aims to develop more immersive practices and create space to experiment the types of activity, processes and outcomes that could be possible."
I am very grateful that Kate and Claire invited me into Northbourne to make a shirt with residents. It has been magical. I've met Joe, Florence, Hazel, Elisabeth, Peter, Evelyn and lots of other residents. It has got me thinking about conversations.
Many of the residents have dementia. They often repeat the same words, phrases and stories from their lives, but the way they talk is filled with so many different emotions. It is hard to capture how this feels in the dryness of a written blog, I guess that's why I'm trying to make a shirt that captures those stories better than words can. But I can give you an example.
Florence sat with me whilst I sewed a shirt by hand. The fabric is brightly coloured with pictures of London. I explained to Florence that I had chosen the fabric because I met a man who told me that in the 1970s, his girlfriend had made a shirt from leftover material she had bought for their children's curtains. At first he hadn't wanted to wear it, but then he tried it on and it had made him feel really playful.
Florence exchanges her story of sewing dresses.
She uses her public voice, calm and straightforward; "Whit week, they would all want little dresses. They would knock on the door, 'Can Flo make a dress' they would ask. My mother would say, Flo you should charge them, all that work. But I loved making them so I didn't charge. 20 dresses I would make in Whit week".
Later in the evening Florence, Joe and I start laughing at something Joe has said about my glasses.
Florence tells the story again. This time, it is her story to make us all laugh. "Whit week, they would all want little dresses. (Florence laughs to mark her full stop, then her voice rises as she talks through her laughter) They would knock on the door, 'Can Flo make a dress' they would ask (she laughs even more and we laugh with her). My mother would say, Flo you should charge them, all that work. (Florence laughs again, we all start laughing more heartily, and Florence wipes the laughter tears from her eyes). But I loved making them so I didn't charge. 20 dresses I would make in Whit week" (Florence laughs again, this time at herself).
As the evening draws on we all become quieter, our conversations more intimate.
Florence reaches over and puts her hand on mine, to halt my sewing. She looks straight into my eyes. I feel she wants to tell me something that is especially for me; "Whit week, they would all want little dresses (I smile at her as she starts to tell the story). They would knock on the door, 'Can Flo make a dress' they would ask. My mother would say, Flo you should charge them, all that work (I nod in agreement). But I loved making them so I didn't charge. (She smiles gently) 20 dresses I would make in Whit week" (We smile at each other).
Three conversations, all different, all the same words.