TEAMS at Arts Centre Washington and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens have gone above and beyond to maintain arts groups for people living with dementia.

Last year the museum, supported by Arts Council England, set up a Creative Age group to help those living with dementia, and their carers, take part in arts activities. Creative Age groups have been meeting at Arts Centre Washington since 2016.

The Museum group worked with artists Richard Bliss and Michael Davies in weekly sessions to explore its collections through different art forms including textiles, clay modelling, resin casting and printing.

This work culminated in exhibitions and a Creative Challenge event in February half term where the group supported a family printing workshop and sold printed tea towels they had made to raise funds for the group.

However, since the lockdown began in late March several members of the Sunderland and Washington groups have been shielding and have been unable to leave their homes – and so Creative Age has become a phone project.

“Members had really enjoyed taking part in the Creative Age groups and we didn’t want to lose the momentum they had built up. Our work was clearly having an impact so we wanted to find a way for them to continue,” said Rebecca Ball, Creative Director at Sunderland Culture.

Art packs were posted to participants’ homes, including colourful papers and art materials. Since then participants have been sent instructions by post or email for a creative art or craft activity linked to the museum’s collections.

Museum and Arts Centre staff call the participants each week to check in for a social chat and offer support with the activities, encouraging them to send in photos of completed work by email.

Creative Age is the name for the overarching project set up by Equal Arts, a creative ageing charity, several years ago. Its aim is to support adults living with dementia, and their carers, to participate in arts activities to improve their wellbeing.

An extra activity the Creative Age groups have all enjoyed is Equal Arts art packs, posted out monthly with extra activity ideas to complete at home. All activities have been funded by Equal Arts, Arts Council England and Sunderland City Council.

Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, Councillor John Kelly, said: “The project is currently planned up to the end of July but we anticipate it will continue until the requirement for shielding is over and groups can return to venues.

“I’d like to thank the teams from the Museum and Arts Centre Washington who have gone above and beyond to ensure members of the Creative Age groups can still be engaged in, and inspired by, arts activities.”

Arts Centre Washington has two Creative Age groups, the Have-a-Goers who were meeting on Thursdays, and Singing in the Rain, who were meeting on Fridays before the pandemic lockdown.

Professional artists lead the groups’ sessions and they have explored a range of different mediums such as drawing, textile, glass making, animation, singing and performance. Artwork created by Creative Age participants has been showcased in several exhibitions and events at Arts Centre Washington.

The groups have staged a performance held in Arts Centre Washington in 2018 as part of their event, The Creative Age Celebration, during which they also unveiled a textile banner they created thinking about their identity, their local area and its history.

One of the most recent projects the groups have been involved in is the Coat of Arms exhibition in collaboration with artist Betty Hill, which was officially opened during Creative Age Open Day in February 2020.

More information can be found here: