In June 2021, Balbir Singh Dance Company – BSDC – launched ‘Down Memory Lane’, engaging residents and staff from six of Leeds’ care homes through dance and film to address the isolation caused by the pandemic.
Funded by Leeds Inspired, the project engaged residents and staff of six Leeds care homes including the MHA Gledhow Nursing Care Home, Pennington Court, Victoria House, Southlands Residential Apartments, Headingley Hall. From a series of workshops, BSDC interpreted residents’ memories through dance and film, whilst addressing the issue of isolation emerging from the pandemic.
It wasn’t the first time BSDC had worked with care home staff, so they had some knowledge of challenges they faced. One BSDC project leader: “I could feel the staff didn’t know how to help more than they were already helping. There is only so much the staff could do and we were made aware that they were struggling on many different levels.”
So BSDC created virtual walks in response to the issues, the aim being to “capture their memories and gift them back to the residents and their families.” Residents answered questions such as “If you could take a photo of your favourite memory, where would it be?” Using the answers, BSDC created videos and photography of classical Indian styles of dance, including Kathak and Odissi as well contemporary, improvised and natural dance movements. Musicians and designers joined dancers in the project to help enhance and deliver it.
Whilst Dance Down Memory Lane gave care home residents an opportunity to share their memories, some residents did not have much to say, which of course was a concern. But the residents had a safe space to reflect and to engage if they so wished. Some of the contributions were moving. One resident shared thoughts on what nature means to them: “The beauty in nature is exceptional. The beauty that you feel in the flowers, in the trees, in the sun that glimpses through the leaves of the trees it talks and fills you with the love of nature, it’s very difficult to forget once you’ve experienced it.”
The project has helped forge stronger relationships and connections, so care home staff are able to help evaluate Artists involved in the project also gave feedback. A BSDC project leader described how: “There is a strength in the internal company relationships, we know that consulting artists in the writing of the [funding] bid works well, there’s a sense of ownership … feeding ideas into it.”
A member of a care home’s staff commented on the difference the connections and the sharing of memories had made to a visit to the park: “the memories [of the residents] being in the park with a loved one, or being with a dog, or a pet swan! It just all brought back a different perspective, it filled you with all these beautiful memories and you can see the park in whole different light.”
A BSDC project leader, as part of the ongoing monitoring of their artistic approach, said, “I was showing a video of one of our dancers to someone who is blind. I didn’t realise at first but of course there would be someone with this kind of impairment and it made me think, how can we adapt to make the videos accessible for this kind of resident.”
Sometimes, patience and noticing the smaller details have their own reward. A specific moment which helped staff realise why this project was important, was when a resident opened up in a way they didn’t expect, and this had a positive emotional shift. “After hearing the music and watching the performance they just changed. You could see them light up in a way I’d not seen. They later told us they used to be a jazz musician, and now we are going to gift them with a keyboard and our musician is going to make a track with him. It’s these moments when I realise … seeing them open up like that was really special, even magical.”
BSDC hope to continue the project, by encouraging newer residents to share their memories and care home staff to put on mini versions for the residents, who are such a mine of knowledge.
Understanding benefits for care staff has been a central theme of this project. BSDC listened to the concerns of care staff from the project’s inception; it’s the power — and transformative potential — of listening that has shone through as a key learning from Dance Down Memory Lane. The project was able to fulfil its purpose by listening to the concerns of the staff and then really hearing what the residents had to say, when many had stopped communicating altogether. A care staff member described how they could “be inspired by listening. We listen and then we are inspired to create. Some residents may have lost their sense of importance. By hearing them, we are giving that sense of importance back.”
This feature was written with help from Gareth Dakin and Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network, who aim to champion, connect and support arts that make a difference to health in Leeds.
Photography by BSDC
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