There is a wealth of community, voluntary and social enterprise organisations in east Kent supporting our communities.
This month’s focus is Bright Shadow, a specialist arts organisation that is inspiring dementia positive communities…
When Gill Ashington received her diagnosis of dementia via an online meeting during the Covid-19 pandemic her world suddenly changed.
The first lockdown was in full force and Gill donned her facemask to meet health professionals in hospital car parks to ensure social distancing.
Until the onset of her symptoms Gill, 48, had been working in the NHS and knew the importance of taking care of mental health and wellbeing.
Looking for ways to boost her mood and stimulate her mind in the light of her diagnosis, Gill began taking photographs while out walking with her dogs. She shared her results on social media.
Around this time, Bright Shadow, a Kent-based organisation which develops creative activities to enable people living with or affected by a dementia diagnosis to live well, contacted Gill.
They introduced Gill to photographer Jen Holland and in a series of one-to-one sessions Gill began building a body of images that expressed how she was feeling about her diagnosis. These practical sessions gave Gill the tools to get the best from her photos, taking into account difficulties with sight and a hand tremor.
She said: “Photography wasn’t a hobby I’d tried before my diagnosis, but it’s become a way of life. And it helps with other things. I can look through my pictures when I go home, and I can share them with others. It’s a way of connecting.”
The result is a beautiful and thought-provoking exhibition of Gill’s photographs in the Front Room at Canterbury’s Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.
To bring the exhibition to life, Bright Shadow brought together a print maker, film maker, musician, photographer and writer, all of whom worked closely with Gill to ensure her vision was presented as she wished.
People have already been responding to the images and describing how these pictures have made them think about the experience of having dementia in a new way. An important part of the exhibition is an interactive board where visitors can learn something of the experience of having aphasia, which Gill has along with her diagnosis.
Bright Shadow was established in 2009 and has developed a wide range of creative activities in response to the needs of the community. Their workshops led by expert artists cover music, poetry, photography, art and much, much more in recognition of the diverse interests of people with dementia. They are passionate about the difference creative activity makes to wellbeing, enabling people to remain active and connected to a community, reducing isolation and preventing crisis.
One of the most recent projects has been Picture This, a combined photography and writing group that has seen people with dementia sharing stories of their lives, creating poetry and learning new ways to get more from photography, be they mobile phones, tablets or traditional cameras. Gill attended this group and some of the photographs in her exhibition were taken in response to prompts from these workshops.
Creative Director and CE of Bright Shadow, Clare Thomas, said: “The impact of a dementia diagnosis on the whole family’s mental health and wellbeing is often profound and we know this has a knock-on effect on their physical health too.
“We have collected robust evidence of a sustained positive impact on the mental wellbeing of our participants and have seen the health benefits that come from creative activity, often in unexpected ways. Through experience, we have co-designed specialist activities that enable people to live well, reducing loneliness, isolation, lack of stimulation and activity and their associated health risks. It’s wonderful to see people with dementia coming together to enjoying high quality arts activities that have a life changing impact.”
When it comes to receiving a diagnosis of dementia, Gill is very clear on her advice to others.
She said: “You’re still you. You still have loads to say and do and give. You’ve still got a contribution to make. And you can still learn new skills. You can still enjoy life. There is still so much to experience. Don’t give up: keep on keeping on. We’ve all got something to do, something to give, something to offer.”
Gill’s exhibition, Refocus: Out of the Shadows is on at The Beaney, Canterbury until 21 May.