“The past is a foreign country…and they do things very differently there”

By September 17, 2015 Features No Comments
Sarah and her group of participants at the workshop in Devizes

The newest member of the Superact team, Matilda, reflects on her first experiences of Superact and our work in the community…. 

Superact Project Assistant Matilda Kay

I feel mildly rude, as an outsider, stepping into these bubbles of…. Bubbles of what?…

…Bubbles of pure exhilaration? Of total happiness? Genuine surprise? Creativity? Gratefulness? Laughter?… The list is truly endless. These bubbles – of exactly what, I’m not quite sure – are Superact bubbles. Created by the wonderful glue that are Superact practitioners.

For a couple of weeks now I have been attending a whole variety of Superact projects. Walking in as a stranger, not only to the practitioners but to the clients. And walking out smugly, feeling as if I have been let into a wonderful secret. Never did I think that these few hours would bring me such happiness and surprise!

 “That’s a nice bum!” “Oh yes.”

My journey started with Willow Weaving in Trowbridge one Friday afternoon in early September. Sarah Le Breton, our willow practitioner, is running three sessions each at three different residential homes in Trowbridge, Bath and Devizes as part of the Creative Times project, curated by Guinness Care & Support with the aim of providing opportunities for their residents to get involved in creative activities and celebrating the artistic contribution of older people.

From the outset Sarah was almost out of breath jumping around with excitement. The mood was infectious. All the residents who had come to the session were ready!

Sarah Le Breton, willow weaver and workshop leader

In the first session, Sarah had shown the residents how to feel the willow, and understand how it moved and worked. So they were all one step ahead of me already!

In Trowbridge the residents were preparing early for Christmas, making reindeer for the front of the home. Whilst in Devizes… although a much kept secret and fierce competition between the two… they were making sun dials. Both willow masterpieces are set to be showcased in Bath in October.

Divided into three groups, each set about building their reindeers from four piles of 17 sticks of willow. Sarah, firm in her belief that everyone must believe in themselves and that everyone has the ability to visualise and be creative, banned photos or images of reindeers. And true enough… a couple of hours later, along with lots of demonstrations and careful guidance from Sarah, there stood in the room three reindeer. Well, three reindeer bodies. No, I’d probably get told off for that. Two stags and one female reindeer. Trust me, there was a lively debate on whether they were a stag or female – the female having the better bum! The J-Lo bum, as one resident put it.

A resident of the Guinness Care community in Devizes enoys weaving A participant from Devizes Guinness Care community weaves a basket A resident of the Guinness Care community in Devizes makes a basket

It was not only a sight to see these tremendous proud animals formed from willow, but also a joy to see the residents, with average age of about 70, bending, kneeling, stretching, pulling and weaving the willow and themselves without a worry in the world!

If the smiles, compliments and air of excitement wasn’t enough – they’re set to set up shop!

“Right, I think we’ll go into business!”       “We can use my room!”

Sarah and her group of participants at the workshop in Devizes


As I sat in the armchair in the living along with three residents from the Knowle Guinness Care & Support residential home, I can truly say their guess was as good as mine as what the afternoon would hold.

Just as everyone was sat comfortably, tea in hand, in bounced Stu and Kevin for the afternoon of ‘heightened chat’.

“Why?” was the first response by Philomena.

“I have no story” chimed in another.

“Human beings have been doing it for year and years-” explained Stu Packer, Superact’s resident storyteller and actor. “-around a fire!” added Philomena. “Around Stonehenge!” Stella proclaimed.

Clearly this group wouldn’t be struggling for speakers, I noted. Both Philomena and Stella were right. For generations we have told stories in groups, and in ancient times most likely around a fire and probably even around Stonehenge at some point, as Stella pointed out.

No matter what culture, religion or language you speak, insight to life has always come from our elders. In a time when everything is digital and can be shared instantaneously via social media we sometimes forget the ancient benefits of basic, face to face, storytelling.

Stu got stuck right in, asking each person questions about times in their childhoods that stuck out to them, or an experience or moment that effected and affected them. It is surprising how one question can trigger a human being to open up about their stories. Even the quieter members of the group, who clearly began with apologies about not having a story, or not liking the sound of their own voice, ended up filling the room with their tales.

All being roughly in the same age bracket, and all having been born before WW2, their childhoods centred on daily life in the war, their personal war stories. One lady remembered how her bedroom had been used as an Anderson shelter and the night her house got bombed. Her mother coming in crying. And the days following, clearing up bucket by bucket. Other stories centred on childhood evacuations and the profound effects this uprooting had throughout their adult lives.

What was evident in this session was that, although these memories were sometimes painful, the participants were happy and comfortable in sharing their stories. Stella, who was just 11 during the war, vividly remembered cycling home from school and being shot at by machine gun from a German aeroplane. Running home into the arms of her brother in law, she still remembered those vivid memories and images today. It has been 73 years since that day, and Stella had never told that story to a group before. It was amazing to see each individual open up, express themselves and talk about the lives they’d lived.

It was a true privilege for everyone there to hear one another’s stories. I felt like I could have stayed there for hours listening to the tales. The stories of Philomena and her husband David growing up in India, the stories of Mabs learning arts and crafts at the Queen’s coronation that got her started in the art she still does today, or listening to the enchanting, contagious laughter of Sylvia.

If you would like to share that privilege and be enchanted by the tales from these sessions as digital stories please come along to the Guildhall in Bath to view the Creative Times exhibition on 13th and 14th October – admission is free and there will be refreshments and activities for all.

As we packed away, I was kindly invited to see Stella’s ‘penthouse’ view over Bristol. On the way up, Stella firmly took my arm and stated, “I’ve been here five years and never been so happy.” And it was clear.

Stu with his group of story sharers at their Guinness Extra Care residence in Bristol

For more information on the Creative Times exhibition visit www.guinnesspartnership.com/creativetimes , follow @GuinnessCare and #CreativeTimes2015 on twitter or contact ursula@superact.org.uk