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How do you reach the people who are difficult to reach?

Damian Hebron discusses some of the challenges around reaching those with dementia to enable them to engage in arts-based activities.
London Arts in Health Forum is an Arts Council-funded organisation which supports the connection between arts and health in every iteration of that. So we work with artists. We create opportunities for them to engage with health across the life course. And obviously, a lot of that takes in dementia, as well. A lot of the challenges about the change that’s happening in health and social care more generally and the pressures that particularly, the social care sector is under and a lot of people are living in isolation and experiencing loneliness, often people are living with dementia alongside other health conditions.
And feeling a disjoint between their own situation, the wider community, and feeling like they are part– people feeling a bit like they are part of a health process rather than agents in their own health and well-being. And so a lot of what we try and do is create more opportunities– often, in quite a local way for people to engage with the arts- but also, to support artists who are trying to do that work. To help artists find ways into being funded to deliver this work. Trying to lobby for the benefit of it. And trying to engage with policymakers, with funders, with other organisations that might support more of this. It is patchily provided around the country.
So the arts are very difficult to access for people who don’t live in urban areas. And there are lots of reasons for that. Our transport system is– I would say– kind of prejudiced against older people who live in rural communities. I think a lot, traditionally, the arts infrastructure in society was geared around big buildings and a very traditional sense of what the arts was. And also, I think a lot of people, perhaps, almost stop themselves from accessing the arts because there is a preconception that it’s not for them. And they might not, therefore, be welcomed or made comfortable. And I think also, a lot of mainstream arts provision doesn’t always make people welcome.
It’s not geared up to make everybody welcome and everybody feel that they can access these opportunities. I think what has happened over the last few years and particularly in the field of arts for older people and particularly around dementia, is a sense of a critical mass emerging of artists, and organisations, and practitioners working this area. Sometimes that critical mass is only local and there are certainly parts of the country where there is less activity than there is in other parts.
But I think what starts to become apparent when there is a certain amount of work and it’s to do with progressive funders and progressive clinicians engaging with this work and the role of certain care providers in really supporting this work, you start to get to a point where people come to expect it. Where people living with dementia, their families, their carers come to start to look for what the provision is. And then that demand starts to fuel more activity.

In this video Damian Hebron, speaking on behalf of the London Arts in Health Forum, continues to discuss some of the challenges around reaching those with dementia to enable them to engage in arts-based activities.

Damian presents some of the pressures on social care, and how the provision of and access to arts-based practices for people living with dementia is patchily provided throughout the country.

He explores how people living with dementia often have preconceptions about the arts and how it is not for them, and how many programmes are not adequately geared up to welcome people living with a dementia diagnosis.

Are you able to share some of your own experiences about the challenges you’ve had in accessing dementia friendly arts-based progammes? Or are you able to share your experiences around why a group or programme (which does not need to be named) was not adequately equipped to welcome people with dementia? Please share your experiences in the comments.

CREDITS We would like to thank the Cambridge University Hospital Dance Project for providing the supplementary images (stills from video) for this video.
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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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