Over the past year, Central’s Dr Nicola Abraham has been working in collaboration with Dr Lotty Lance, Head Dementia Nurse Jo James and her team at Imperial Hospital Trust on an Intergenerational Project involving five primary schools and two hospitals in London.
The project, originally conceived by Jo James, aims to reduce agitation of patients on wards in order to allow for treatment to be administered, to improve wellbeing through intergenerational collaboration, and to provide moments of joy and discovery for all participants. The interventions designed by Dr Abraham are part of a bigger offer of many multi arts projects, however this one is unique in that it uses process drama workshops to encourage intergenerational interaction, communication and play.
As a part of the project, participants have “adventured” to various places including: to 1913 to solve a mystery in a hotel for Halloween, to help a rather haphazard elf find their lost stories just in time for the winter season, to an ancient star, and to the skies with the help of woodland elves. They have saved the beta quadrant with defenders of the universe and have travelled through time to find a map with a prophecy on it that will save the future.
An important part of the experience for patients and children is their interaction with Central students who have worked with Dr Abraham as peer facilitators and who support sub-groups made up of children, patients and a dementia nurse. This encourages communication and collaboration between the generations. Students have also played roles as elves, detectives, agents and time travellers in order to help keep the fictional worlds alive.
That the aims of the project have been accomplished are visible when patients report moments of happiness which they have also shared with family, friends, ward nursing staff and other patients in adjacent bays. The team has witnessed patients who are living with dementia no longer worrying about losing their words and instead laughing along with the children as they create their own stories within the fictional world.
In turn, the children the team worked with were identified as experiencing anxiety at schools, ADHD, or ASD in addition to holding fear of hospitals. The project aimed to address this fear, too, allowing children to feel calmer within a hospital setting and not perceive it with a sense of dread should they ever need to visit.
MA Applied Theatre alumna Myrto Papoulia, one of the team’s co-facilitators, said:
“Collaborating with current students feels refreshing and builds confidence! It reminded me of the many discussions and projects I would like to pursue. After we graduate, we tend to focus on finding jobs and getting into the field, sometimes forgetting where we would like to focus. Current students have an amazing energy that has a great impact on the people working around them, and this also provided a link between Central and me… Listening to the students talk about their courses and assignments, as well as asking me about the actual work in the field, made me feel much closer to the Central community. When I left the building after the project, I realised that it's still there and we can still be a part of it!”
Current MA Applied Theatre student Alison Green recounted:
“Thanks so much for letting me be involved in the project, it was such a brilliant experience! Getting to work with highly experienced facilitators was wonderful. I also really enjoyed getting to know everyone better and learning about everyone’s different experiences of working in theatre from around the world.”
The collaboration of everyone involved in the project is vital to continue the important work of the wider intergenerational project. Head Dementia nurse Jo James explained:
“We have received 100% positive feedback from these sessions, and whenever they are on there’s a real energy in the room. We see such joy and playfulness from everyone involved. Some of our patients who have attended have been stuck in hospital for months, and as a consequence they have low mood and low self-esteem. The sessions give them a chance to escape for a while and to feel that they are part of something fun and joyful. We have seen a positive impact from this which has lasted long after the session has finished”
Knowledge exchange amongst the Central’s growing network of Applied Theatre practitioners, both current students and alumni and with points of connection within the wider Applied Theatre field, are important – and such collaborative work helps to facilitate these exchanges.
We have received 100% positive feedback from these sessions, and whenever they are on there’s a real energy in the room. We see such joy and playfulness from everyone involved.
Jo James, Head Dementia Nurse at Imperial Hospital Trust