Carrie Clarke – Confessions

The TEDxExeter launch party 2017 welcomed previous TED speakers Carrie Clarke and Abbie McGregor to share their experience of preparing for and speaking at TEDxExeter, and the impact that it has had. Here we share their talks, including the anxiety, optimism and transformational power that is TEDxExeter.

Carrie Clarke is a pioneer in creating environments that heal. Her work combining art, health and dementia care promotes finding new ways to create more sustainable, respectful, meaningful and engaging ways of being with people with dementia. Her TEDxExeter talk – Sparking Connections, can be viewed by clicking the image below:

Sparking Connections – Ways to Find Beauty, Joy and Meaning in Dementia
Sparking Connections – Ways to Find Beauty, Joy and Meaning in Dementia

Carrie Clarke

I’d like to start with two confessions…

Back in the Autumn of 2012, when Claire first came to see me to discuss the possibility of speaking at a TED event in Exeter, I had never heard of TED talks. In my naivety, I thought that she was simply asking me to give a talk about dementia, and that I could roll out an existing power point for the occasion! When the realisation dawned on me, I tried suggesting to Claire that I had colleagues who would be much better at this sort of thing…but she was having none of it!

Confession number two – public speaking has always been one of my biggest fears. How was I to reconcile this with the enormity of the task of preparing, let alone delivering a TED talk?

Looking back, I think there were several key ingredients: Firstly, Claire and the TED team took a massive leap of faith in inviting me to be a speaker. Secondly, they provided support and encouragement with unfailing optimism through the months of preparation. And thirdly, they believed that the passion I have for exploring creative and compassionate ways of working with people with dementia would give me the belief in myself to share this more widely.

The day itself passed in a blur, fuelled by the incredible energy and buzz of everyone present. I still find it hard to believe that I actually gave a TED talk, but 4 years later, I am so grateful and proud to have been given that opportunity. Now, whenever I’m asked to speak on the subject of dementia, I always tell myself that if I could speak in front of 500 people, whilst being filmed on the red circle under the spotlight, then I can do anything!

Speaking at TEDxExeter was rather like throwing a pebble into water; the ripples continue to spread and reach new and unexpected shores. Connections made at TEDxExeter have resulted in professionally-led photography workshops for patients at the hospital, public exhibitions, print-making sessions which have filled the hospital with witty and colourful images, and a strong collaborative relationship with our hosts tonight – RAMM.

RAMM has taken its fantastic, award-winning ‘Living Each Season’ programme beyond its traditional boundaries to the hospital, creating in effect a museum without walls. This collaborative project was a recent runner-up in the national Alzheimer’s Society Awards. Within my NHS Trust, I regularly teach a module on person-centred dementia-care to healthcare assistants, whatever area of practice they may be going into. And so the ripples continue to spread…

My interest in and passion for exploring creative ways of accompanying people on their difficult journeys with dementia has been given credibility by association with TEDxExeter. Because most people, unlike me back in 2012, know about TED talks, and they remain a go to place for inspiration and motivation.

Building on this, in 2015 I began a clinical academic Masters programme in Psycho-Social Studies at UWE in Bristol, which I hope to complete this summer. This has been a wonderful opportunity to deepen my understanding of the complexity of dementia, and contribute to the evidence-base for effective non-pharmacological interventions. Only this morning I was here at the museum, using an innovative participatory research method to gather the views of people living with dementia, whose voices are so hard to capture using traditional research methods.

Research completed last year has been accepted for publication, and I’ll also be presenting this at the First International Conference on Arts & Dementia Research at the Institute of Public Health in London in March. I’m now seeking funding to begin a PhD later this year, which will continue to explore ways towards a more compassionate, creative and cultural model of care for people living with dementia.

Although it may be a cliché, I would like to thank Claire and the team for believing in me. And to all those of you working hard to prepare for your 2017 TEDxExeter talks, I’d like to wish you well; be brave, be passionate and help create hope for a more compassionate and connected world.

Carrie Clarke 19th January 2017