Independent Age
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Independent Age

Connecting through art

Using creativity to bring communities together

In this guest blog, Maddy Mills, Director of Entelechy Arts, talks about how the charity used art to help older people struggling with anxiety during lockdown. The charity was able to rebuild its programme of support thanks to grant funding from Independent Age.

Maddy Mills, Director of Entelechy Arts. Lydia Stamps Photography.

Entelechy Arts is a charity based in Lewisham, South East London. We work with isolated older people, those living with profound and multiple disabilities, and those living in care homes.

“Our work sets out to make communities more cohesive through connecting people with others locally who they wouldn’t usually meet through creative programmes. We seek to challenge and change perceptions about what it means to be an older person. Often you find older people are defined by what they can’t do and can often be ‘medicalised’. At Entelechy Arts our members ‘own’ and lead our programmes, working alongside other communities to create cultural programmes in partnership with amazing artists.

“Before the pandemic we were able to offer a highly varied range of projects. We established programmes like Meet Me at the Albany, in partnership with the Albany theatre, ‘Meet Me on the Move’, which takes people to cultural organizations and galleries across London for artistic exchanges, our film club ‘Meet Me at the Movies’, and an elders theatre company too. The collaborative approach we take, with our artists working on an equal footing with our service users, makes for a truly community-centred service.

“As with all services last March, with the national lockdowns, our in-person activities had to stop just at the moment that the stress and anxieties around the pandemic were rising amongst our communities. Our first priority was to pause and check in with our community, to see how everyone was, to see what kind of technology they had access to, and we learned very quickly that many either didn’t have computers, or did not feel confident using them.

“When the first lockdown happened we quickly saw that people within our communities were going to be hard hit. We needed to find a way to limit the isolation and stress they were feeling, and so we worked to build a creative programme based around telephones, deliveries, and other remote methods, and it’s seen huge demand.

“We couldn’t do it alone though. As a small charity, the sudden increase in demand and the need to completely change the way we worked over night was tough. That’s why the grant from Independent Age was such a vital lifeline for us. With the £12,000 of Independent Age funding, we were able to expand our service to meet the rising demand from the wider community, welcome new members through social prescribing and provide a more personalised approach to help members who had additional access barriers to engaging with our programmes as lockdown cut off people’s social networks. It’s meant that we are able to reach not just the people that already know about us and would usually come to us, it’s allowed us to go further than that to the hardest to reach people.

“The support this has involved has gone beyond just hosting the sessions, instead we are now able to have someone check in with people in advance of sessions to make sure that they have everything ready to go, from reminding them to charge their phones to ordering pencil grips for those with hand mobility issues. The level of detail that we have been able to go into has meant that we’ve been able to keep people on our courses that might otherwise have slipped through the cracks and missed out on the support that they really need.

“The funding has also helped to support numerous other programmes. In September, we were able to send out 250 creative boxes, ‘Gnomes at Homes’, to our isolated communities, with a blank gnome and a set of paints for them to decorate it with, and a succulent plant so they can create their own window box display. We also developed boxes for those living with visual impairments or dementia based around vibration, rhythms and sound.

“The funding has touched all of our programs, and helped provide an increased level of support, and access to that support, for a wider range of people, which has been incredibly important for the charity and the people we serve.”

“As we emerge from what we hope is the most challenging period of the pandemic, at Entelechy Arts we are creating on new programmes that will help people deal with the challenges we now face. We know there is a real need to help people, many of whom have been shielding, have the confidence to get out and lead more active, connected lives once more. Working with local artists, our communities are coming up with imaginative, creative programmes to help those most at risk of isolation. To make all these programmes a reality though, we do need help. We are always looking for volunteers and donors to bring these programmes to life and help us reach more isolated people. If you would like to help, please visit our website to find out how.”

Take a read of the stories we have gathered from, Time To Talk Befriending and Haemochromatosis UK, two other organisations we funded. Find more on our Grants Fund.

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