Launched in the summer, Lighthouse Academy is already having a major impact on the way Lighthouse works, as Creative Engagement Manager Martha Earley explained to Jonathan Smith.
Accessibility for all is core to this work and Lighthouse is working to grow what is available for people with dementia, their families and carers. All of this is made possible through the support of our members, donors and sponsors.
“We want everyone across the Dorset community to be able to get involved with the arts, theatre and music experiences that Lighthouse provides, in ways that support their needs, to enjoy the best experiences of events and to participate creatively in ways that enhance their quality of life,” says Martha.
“Many of us understandably fear dementia – for ourselves and for our loved ones and although sometimes dementia-friendly work is arts organisations can lead to specific funding for one-off projects, that can be a missed opportunity for deeper understanding of the issues and to short-term initiatives.
“We have to be wary of making programmes like our dementia-friendly support separate from our core programmes, we have to make it integral across all that we do.”
For Lighthouse, it is vital for our growing older audience and as the population ages, to provide it with the same standard and safe access to our programme.
“It’s part of our wider Academy programme,” Martha explains. “There’s an assumption that learning, skills and development is only to do with young people or professionals, but we’re trying to embed these as long-term projects that affect and service our community broadly.
“It starts with training ourselves, training young people and our arts professionals – the people that are going to be creating work – to strive to do things better and to look at how it integrates with our community’s needs.”
It’s not just about delivering amazing work, but about making Lighthouse and this geographical area that it serves this area a leader when it comes to quality and accessibility for all.
“There are building blocks to get there, just like we developed better access for disabled audiences. To elevate our dementia-friendly programme and move it forward we need the skills and training. Our professionals and artists need to think about how they design for the aging population, and we need to innovate to develop our building, services, and our arts practice.”
The next steps are being taken already. The dementia-friendly film screenings have proved popular and Lighthouse recently trialled a gallery tour of the Quentin Blake: Illustrating Verse exhibition.
“It went really well, something that we can more easily roll out across what we have coming up,” says Martha.
“It’s a big undertaking and it’s not always possible on shows that come in from external producers, but we can be a leader, a venue that truly considers this audience and provides more opportunities for them to get involved in all we do.
“It’s a long term project. It hasn’t been widely embedded in the industry as yet, but if we are to consider ourselves as leaders that would be our ambition.”
People with dementia aren’t necessarily seen as an obvious audience by organisations, but there is every reason for the individuals, their carers and families to share important moments with their loved ones, not only for respite, but for wellbeing.
There’s a lot to overcome and to do that a greater level of understanding, training and care to provide safe spaces for the individuals and carers is needed, so that they trust what Lighthouse is doing, that it isn’t just a one-off, it is sustainable and they are considered.
“With music, it can be easier to adapt to avoid triggering people, it’s more difficult with visual stimulus,” adds Martha.
“Loud noises, high drama, conflict, violence, heightened emotions, are more triggering, which can be more difficult to adapt for people’s varying conditions. We can’t change for every user, but we can be clearer to audience members about what the content is and how it’s been adapted so they can decide for themselves.
“There’s a lot that we don’t know about what people are experiencing, why something is distressing or what we can do to alleviate it, but our dementia-friendly programme is beginning to grow our understanding.”
People with dementia deserve the same access to things that make them happy, to bring joy. It’s proven music can bring back memories – Martha has seen “breath-taking” moments when it’s brought people back to lucidity briefly.
Carers don’t get a lot of respite either, so time when they’re not directly looking after someone can give them space, peace of mind, and the chance to meet others socially, alleviate isolation and for understanding.
As Martha says: “If art and music can bring some joy to a carer and person with dementia, or potentially bring people back for a moment, for 20 minutes, an hour or a day, a familiar glint in their eye, to remember who the carer is for a moment, you can’t put money on that, for people who are having a really difficult time.”
Find out how you can help support Lighthouse Academy and its work here.
(by Jonathan Smith)