Play to win: Using creativity and imagination to boost wellbeing

We report on a drama group that is providing meaning and value for people with dementia.

A man with dementia interacting at a drama group.

At the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, people with dementia are ready to recreate the city’s greatest footballing triumph. 

They are members of Living Well, a drama group tailored for people with memory problems or in the early stages of dementia

Nine of the theatre’s youth and community groups are contributing to a large-scale ‘promenade’ performance titled City Final, which takes the audience through stories covered by the area’s iconic Coventry Evening Telegraph. 

Made up of short performances and digital installations, City Final will take place across multiple floors of the newspaper’s old building, just across the road from the theatre. The Living Well group have chosen to tell the story of Coventry City’s famous victory in the 1987 FA Cup final. Their contributions will be recorded and played as part of the installations. 

Sing together 

The group sit in two lines facing each other, replicating the tunnel that links the changing rooms to the football pitch, and a microphone is placed in the middle. 

In previous weeks, they have discussed and scripted the sort of thoughts that might be going through players’ minds before the game, and today it’s time to record. 

Natalie Russo, the Drama Workshop Leader who plans and delivers the sessions, encourages everyone to think about the emotions the players might be feeling at this point, before leading the group through a final rehearsal. 

An additional staff member, John Bennell, dressed for the occasion in his Coventry City shirt, is on hand to offer additional support and encouragement. 

When the recording starts, each person delivers their line in order. 

‘We’ve made it!’ says one. 

‘I hope I score a goal,’ says another. 

‘Let’s go and win the Cup!’ 

When everyone has spoken once, people begin to say their lines repeatedly, creating a cacophony as the atmosphere builds and builds. 

Next, they record a new set of lines celebrating their team’s victory. 

‘Bravo!’ 

‘We won!’ 

‘Well done, boys!’’ 

To finish, everyone gathers closer for a rendition of Let’s all sing together – a classic Coventry City song, which is rounded off with a burst of applause and cheering. 

Something new 

Tony Kavanagh used to go to Coventry City matches, and he attends the drama group with his wife Irene. 

‘I enjoy it, I think it’s marvellous,’ says Tony, 73, who now has dementia. 

‘We have fun and enjoy ourselves – it puts me in a good mood and makes me want to come back the following week,’ says Tony.

‘You meet a lot of people from different parts and make friends. 

‘We have fun and enjoy ourselves – it puts me in a good mood and makes me want to come back the following week.’ 

Irene says the sessions have inspired Tony. 

‘He loves coming here, it’s something we look forward to,’ she says. 

‘It makes your brain work – makes you think. It’s a godsend, this place.’ 

Mhari McLintock, now in her early 50s, was diagnosed with dementia a couple of years ago. 

‘The group gives me a focus for that day and something to look forward to,’ she says. 

‘I have made new friends and taken part in activities that I have never been part of before, involving imagination and elements of play.

‘I feel as though I have risked things and am willing to have a go at something new.’ 

Another attendee, 68-year-old Lyn Jones, doesn’t have dementia but cared for both of her parents who did. 

‘I needed something to stimulate me, take me out of my comfort zone and make me feel better about me,’ she says. 

‘By the end of a session, I’m on a different level. I’m happier. 

‘You actually see a change in other people while they’re here too.’

People with dementia interact during a drama group.
The sessions are tailored to meet the needs of everyone involved

Removing barriers 

The sessions are tailored to meet the needs of everyone involved. 

‘We try and stay away from reminiscence, which looks purely at the past, but make it creative so that everybody can connect to the story,’ says Natalie. 

‘We’re creating something memorable that takes the emphasis off needing to remember.’ 

As well as their football recordings, the Living Well group has also dressed up for photographs recreating 1960s adverts from the Coventry Evening Telegraph. 

Attendees with dementia are treated the same as any of the theatre’s other community groups. 

‘We never want to create something that’s good because they have dementia – we want it to be high quality anyway,’  says Alice.

‘Rather than putting people in a box, we don’t care. In this room, everyone is equal,’ says Alice Williams, Project Manager for Arts Gymnasium, the project to which the Living Well group belongs. 

‘We’ve taken measurements for a costume fitting and used professional wardrobe people. We had to adapt it, but there’s always a way you can remove the barriers to provide a similar experience. It gives their participation meaning and value. 

‘We never want to create something that’s good because they have dementia – we want it to be high quality anyway.’ 

Alice sees the group as a safe space for members. 

‘A diagnosis of dementia can be overwhelming but coming here gives people a chance to forget what is going on outside of the room,’ she says. 

‘It’s had a massive impact on people’s confidence and ability to own their diagnosis.’

From the Dementia together magazine: Aug/Sept 18

Dementia together magazine is for everyone in the dementia movement and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for everyone in the dementia movement and anyone affected by the condition.
Subscribe now
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