AN innovative arts project working in three Washington care homes aims to tackle isolation and help residents explore their heritage.

Sunderland Culture commissioned artist Richard Bliss to work in Washington Lodge Care Home, Washington Manor and St George’s Residential Home in a project called Art School. The project is part of a wider Washington Health and Heritage Project, funded by Washington Area Committee and Public Health through Sunderland City Council.

Richard explained: “The inspiration for the Art School project came from the foundation year of university art courses, which gives students the chance to try a wide range of art-forms and approaches to discover what they really enjoy and have lots of fun. I wanted the residents to have this experience and to really enjoy the process of making art.”

Richard is running art sessions with the care home residents with the themes of place and memory.

Jennie Lambert, Learning Officer at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, explained: “More specific themes are also being explored in the sessions – including glass and light, the 1960’s (when Washington was founded as a New Town), shopping, the seaside, clothing from the past, toys and games and celebrations.

“Residents will be given objects and photographs from the Museum’s collection, then use sensory and tactile materials to create artworks inspired by the chosen theme. This approach helps all individuals to take part, regardless of ability. Residents’ families, care home staff and volunteers are being encouraged to take part to help build an even stronger sense of community in the care homes.

“The project has the dual aims of tackling social isolation among the elderly and supporting individuals to explore their history and heritage.”

To support the project, Sunderland Culture staff are working with Carla Raine, health and social care lecturer at Sunderland College, to engage a group of social care students to work as ‘intergenerational advocates’. The students are working at each care home to support residents taking part in the project.

Carla said: “This is an exciting opportunity for our health and social care students to further develop their knowledge and experience in reducing social isolation. It is a project in which they will gain an understanding of the importance of building relationships in order to promote wellbeing.”

Jennie added: “The students and residents will work together 1: 1 or in group conversations, helping residents with limited mobility to try different art activities and contributing their own memories and ideas relating to the themes. In this way the residents and students will develop new friendships while also developing their skills. The project will include an element of training for staff and students in the settings to share arts practice and build a legacy.”

The project will culminate in a series of celebratory events in the care homes in late January 2019, with completed work exhibited and family and community members invited along. Selected works and digital images of the project will also be displayed at Sunderland Museum, Library & Winter Gardens in February 2019 along with a celebration event to bring together residents from all three care homes.

Richard’s work complements another project ongoing in the same care homes. Respected portrait artist Andrew Tift has been working since early summer creating a series of drawn portraits of residents and audio recordings for display at Sunderland Museum, Library & Winter Gardens. Andrew’s work is in support of the Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing exhibition, from 1 February – 6 May 2019, and is also part of the Washington Health and Heritage project.

Cllr John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Sunderland City Council, said: “This is a fantastic project designed to bring people together at the same time as helping older people to draw on their vast wealth of memories to create artworks around the people and places they remember from when they were younger.”

* Next February, 12 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci will be on show at Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Gardens as part of a national tour to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.

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