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Arts festival looks into dementia

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Sir Richard Eyre, whose film Iris movingly tells the story of novelist Iris Murdoch and her experiences with Alzheimer’s disease, is taking part in a unique dementia-friendly arts festival in Nailsworth from April 28-30.

Featuring music, poetry, art, yoga, walks and talks, as well as film, the festival is open to all, with sessions adapted to ensure that those living with dementia, their families and carers are able to join in as much as everyone else.

Sir Richard will introduce a screening of his 2001 film capturing the relationship between Iris and her husband John Bayley. Other events include a concert by world-class tenor James Gilchrist, accompanied by Anna Tilbrook on piano. James, a qualified medical doctor, is a supporter of Mindsong, a Gloucestershire charity providing music therapy to people with dementia.

“There’s a dual function to the festival,” says co-organiser Dr Ros Mulhall. “One of our major aims is to promote dementia awareness, and to provide inclusive and accessible activities for people with dementia.

“At the same time, we wanted to put on events of the very finest quality. This festival will be a real celebration of life.”

Ros – a retired GP – and Clare Janik, a healthcare professional, run Nailsworth Dementia Action Alliance, a volunteer group helping make the town aware of dementia issues, and creating a supportive environment for those living with the condition. As a result, many local shops and businesses now display dementia-friendly stickers; other initiatives include information days, business-training sessions, and guided walks.

“One of the issues with dementia is that staying in reinforces isolation and lack of stimulation,” Clare says. “For a few years now, we’ve been organising walks for people with dementia and their carers, accompanied by trained volunteers. But we wanted to do more. One day, Ros and I started to brainstorm: we began to plan a day of nice things – we both love the arts – and the festival just grew from there.”

Also taking part are professional artists such as Fiona Owen, Jilly Cobbe and Susie Walker, who will run workshops and demonstrations. There are poetry and creative writing sessions for all abilities; yoga and simple meditation; and a guided sensory walk, with specially trained leaders, through Ruskin Mill. Dance music, with five-piece band Honeymoon Swing, aims to get audiences on their feet; and a Mindsong group will bring fun with a sing-along of old favourites.

Information lies at the heart of the festival, with talks by experts, and a showing of ‘Those that we love’ made by local film-maker Pip Heywood, highlighting the experiences those with dementia can go through.

Many of the events are free, but booking is advised.

“Just about everybody knows somebody affected by dementia,” Ros says. “The number of predicted cases is staggering. Not everyone needs to be in a care home; many people are quite able to live at home, so communities need to make adaptions.

“This festival is full of lovely events for people to enjoy, to bring their relatives to; to show the town that, with a few adjustments, you can make these events inclusive.”

The Dementia-Friendly Nailsworth Arts Festival takes place at Three Storeys, GL6 0JE, the town’s multi-functional creative venue. For more information, visit threestoreys.co.uk; call Ros on 07967 176630 or Clare on 07805 758090.

Tickets can also be booked through Eventbrite, by searching for Create Together – Dementia-Friendly Arts Festival

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