On The Road With That Creative Thingy Wotsit CIC

That Creative Thing Wotsit is a Community Interest Company whose vision is to improve the quality of life, health, and well-being of people living with additional care and support needs through engagement with the creative arts, whilst creating meaningful employment opportunities for new and emerging artists. Emma Windsor spoke with Stephen Barrie Watters about his involvement, his hopes post-Brexit, and the new mobile puppet theatres that they have recently built.

Can you tell us about yourself, your background and the work you’re currently involved with?

I am Director & Company Secretary of a creative arts organisation called That Creative Thingy Wotsit CIC. We work to improve the health, well-being, and happiness of people living with dementia or other care need through engagement with the creative arts. During the past five years we have visited residential care and nursing homes across North Somerset using music, movement, and a range of creative arts to make connections with people at all stages on their dementia journey, and those who love and care for them.

We partner with creative artists, theatre makers, and holistic therapists to deliver health beneficial creative care through engagement with the arts to a community who face some the highest barriers to accessing those arts. We want to change that. People living with dementia get enormous health benefits from engagement with the arts, probably more so than any other cohort of our community, and we believe they deserve to have the very best access to arts we as a creative community can give them.

Our flip-book contains some details and images from the past projects we have worked on, including our intergenerational activities and theatre work.

The thing I enjoy most about my work are the theatre shows we put on, as I am a stage manager by trade and have worked at most theatres in this area, including The Wardrobe Theatre & BIT in Bristol, as well as on many festivals and street theatre including Puppet Place carnivals. I spend a great deal of my time raising awareness of dementia and helping to make North Somerset the most dementia friendly community it can be.

Most people don’t know that North Somerset is the most dementia friendly place in the UK. That is something we can all be very proud of, and probably something more people should know. There are many things we can all do to help us stay number one in the UK, and one of the best is to become a dementia friend. It only takes a few minutes online and will greatly help improve life for people living with dementia.

You can sign up at: www.dementiafriends.org.uk/register-digital-friend.

You’ve been busy building two mobile puppet theatres! Can you tell us how you came up with the idea, what facilities these have and how you intend to use them once lockdown is over?

Thanks to a small grant from the National Lottery Community Fund, we have been able to upgrade and modify our theatres. We have owned our theatres since we started our CIC in 2014 and have used them once or twice a year to put on shows on the beach, in parks, and other public spaces. However, in our work in residential care homes, we specialise in what is known as person-centered care. That means getting up close and personal, holding hands and making eye contact, so theatre projects such as the Brave Bold Drama dementia sensitive production of Wonderland we helped deliver in 2018 worked well as an indoor event.

Putting on a show in the garden of a residential home is a much more difficult and challenging thing to do, but it is something we can do safely, being socially distant, and in all likelihood much sooner than we can return to indoor performances. Our theatre has much the same capabilities other theatre and performance spaces can offer an artist. Programmable lighting, high quality sound system and head mics, scenery changes, special effects, props, and a wardrobe and puppets department. However an artist needs the theatre to be dressed, or the genre of puppetry planned, we can make our theatre accommodate it.

There are 116 residential care and nursing homes in North Somerset, most of which have a safe enclosed garden space for their residents. Some 15,000 people live, work or visit relatives in these homes each week. Our intension is to take our theatre into the gardens of these homes to put on high quality puppet and theatre shows, and we are looking for artists and theatre makers and invite them to consider our theatre as a venue when planning future performances and tours.

We can pretty much guarantee a full house made up of an intergenerational audience, most of whom will be priority target beneficiaries for funders and sponsors both locally and nationally.

Artists receive a fair and reasonable income for their performances and can use our mobile puppet theatre to help fundraise for their projects or organisations. We will support you in any way we can, in whatever way is needed to make each project a success.

If artists are interested in partnering with us they should join our Facebook group as an individual or an organisation, and they can start a conversation by email at: thatcreativethingywotsit@outlook.com

What benefits does puppetry bring to people with dementia and the elderly in care?

Dementia is a particularly cruel disease. It takes away so much from everyone who’s lives are affected by it, robbing them of their health, happiness, and joy. But we can hold the hands of people on that journey, and of those who care for them, let them know they are not alone by connecting with them through music and the creative arts. One of the most effective and immediate ways to make those connections is using puppets.

Most people know dementia often leads to memory loss, particularly short term memory loss. However, over time even long term memories can be similarly affected with people not able to recall names, faces or key events from their lives. In our experience there are some things which are seldom forgotten whatever stage of their journey a person is at. The first and least forgotten thing is the music and songs they have loved through the years, and truly amazing things can be achieved through the power of music and dance.

Puppets are another way to make that immediate and happy connection with people. The joy and happiness that comes from seeing a puppet, especially a large, brightly coloured puppet, and one that talks remains unaffected by the disease. The same wide eyed look of wonder and amazement with smiles as wide as a canal barge seen in the faces of children and parents at puppet shows is still there on the faces of those living or working in residential homes when the puppets come out. People don’t seem to forget their love of puppets. Puppets are fun, tactile, and one of the best ways to reach people who are nearing their end of their journey and who are finding it most difficult to communicate and engage.

Things seem uncertain in Arts & Culture at the moment with both lockdown and now Brexit. What plans do you have for the future and what do you feel will be needed to best support the work that you do?

We all want to live in a better community when this crisis is over. More socially connected, more creative, and more supportive of those who need our help. A society which recognises the contribution creativity and creative artists have made in getting us through these difficult times, and will continue to do so long into the future. Whatever that better community looks like to each of us as an individual, when we close our eyes and try to imagine the possibilities of tomorrow, that community has a name. It is called a Dementia-Friendly Community because everything we do to make our communities better for people living with dementia and those who love and care for them, the better a community it will be for everyone.

Please take a moment to support the work we do by liking & following our campaign page, and share it with your family and friends, and please be a dementia friend. Thank you.

Interviewed by Emma Windsor

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