Partners in paint

From the October / November 2017 issue of our magazine, we visit an art project that's bringing people with dementia and schoolchildren together.

A Paints Pals party with schoolchildren and people with dementia.

Four local school pupils have taken a break from lessons to visit Meadowcare Home, a care home in Bristol. The 11 and 12 year-olds, all from the same Year 7 art class at Redmaids' High School, are joining a group of residents for a painting session.

This is a Paint Pals party run by Alive!, a charity that organises meaningful activities in care homes across south and south-west England, as well as training staff. Much of their work brings people with dementia and young people together.

Through the Paint Pals programme, which launched in 2012, students and residents paint and exchange postcards to learn more about each other before meeting in person. They then work together on pieces of art, all on chosen themes.

'We were struck by how rarely, if ever, we saw children in care homes, and how our culture separates the generations by caring for many of our older people away from their communities,' says Simon Bernstein, chief executive of Alive!

'We were inspired to create a project to bridge the generations with a goal to create meaningful and lasting community connections, improve the happiness and wellbeing of care home residents, and increase their social interaction with younger people.'

Bringing a smile

It's the last session of this Paint Pals partnership, so the pupils pair up with residents for a final time to work on today's theme – the city of Bristol.

Resident Andy is working with student Jasna on a picture of a boat sailing on the sea.

'I enjoy doing it,' he says. 'You have got to really concentrate.'

Andy says this sort of picture is his favourite to paint, and he talks through the various components of the piece.

'I'm open to seeing the pupils at any time,' says Andy.

'This is OK – it's coming on,' he says.

Andy agrees that it makes a change to have younger people come and visit him in the home.

'I'm open to seeing them at any time,' he says.

Jasna was glad that she could help bring pleasure to the residents.

'It's nice because normally in care homes people don't do art,' she says. 'Doing it with people who love art is really good.

'Older people in care homes can be lonely and in pain, but we can bring a smile to them.'

Enjoyable time

The students interact confidently with the residents, making conversation and taking the lead in guiding their partners through the session.

Disha has joined forces with Arthur to create a landscape scene.

'Everyone here likes art – it's nice working with the older people and seeing them have loads of fun,' she says.

'It's not just with people our age, so you get to see things from another point of view,' says Eloise.

'They're all really nice and happy to help, and keen to do different things.'

Eloise, who worked with Margaret on a painting of a bear in Bristol Zoo, enjoyed getting to know the residents during the project.

'It's not just with people our age, so you get to see things from another point of view,' she says.

'We get to talk – they talk about themselves. It's quite fun.'

Another student, Chloe, feels she has benefited from spending time with the residents.

'They might be frail but they do know quite a bit,' she says. 'You can learn just by talking to them.'

Chloe found it relaxing to work on a landscape painting with Catherine.

'You get to have an enjoyable time with older people,' she says.

A pupil and person with dementia paint together at a Paint Pals party.

Fear factor

Karen Holley, who helps run Meadowcare, says a project like Paint Pals suits the culture of her care home.

'I try and make life as enjoyable, stimulating and interesting as possible for residents by bringing them these opportunities,' she says.

'Everything we do with residents is borne out of an activity. Even getting dressed – that's an activity.

'The older generation love to see children. It makes them feel more alive and they forget their surroundings. I think it's absolutely wonderful.'

Karen sees tangible benefits for all involved.

'If residents are stimulated they aren't so subject to falls,' she says.

'The project also takes away the fear factor and stigma of a care home for the children.'

At the end of the session, the children and residents share their completed pieces. They exchange compliments about each other's work before posing proudly for photos and celebrating a job well done.

Next steps

Subscribe now

Further reading