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Carrie Clarke talk

Carrie Clarke portraitWith an arts and occupational therapy background, Carrie is a pioneer in creating environments that heal.

Imagine that on leaving the Northcott tonight, you are not going home, but are told you must get into this ambulance and are going to hospital. You feel things have been sliding recently, but you remember senses and experiences from 50 years ago. Yet the eyes of the people with you are glazing over.

Why do we not face up to dementia? Because it means facing our own vulnerability. There is no cure, but can we still do something for people with dementia? All of us have a need to love and be loved. Can we strengthen people’s sense of belonging? Create a sense of connection to place, people, each other? We need to shift the focus from what people can’t do, onto what they can do and their strengths.

How? Environment, senses and arts together can be transformative. Going for a walk together, having a coffee in a cafe. “Look,” says Peter, “it’s beautiful, I’m alive.” So design of the physical environmental of care centres is really important. Good lighting, colour, artwork to aid way-finding, familiar domestic-scale rooms, access to outdoors, a variety of places offering choice.

Even in advanced dementia, the emotional and creative parts of the brain remain intact. This gives a way in – the freedom to imagine instead of the need to remember.

The healing environment is dynamic and engaging, not passive – creating paintings together with artists, encouraging connections with remembered landscapes, sparking connections through everyday objects. Through showing Mary paint charts, matching the colours with her brightly-coloured clothes, she moved from “I’m frightened” to singing nursery rhymes, and speaking: “have you any colours today?”.

Let’s bring together carers, architects, artists, gardeners, children (and lots of others I couldn’t type fast enough to capture) and in a spirit of kindness and collaboration, create new spaces and experiences which meet people’s emotional needs and bring joy.

Most importantly, we need to listen to people with an open heart, and live our way with them into the answer, and hope that when our time comes, someone will listen to us.

More Information

Alzheimer’s Society : About dementia

King’s Fund Enhancing the Healing Environment programme

Carrie Clarke biography

Carrie Clarke is a former traditional signwriter who has worked for many years in the arts and health field. She is currently an Occupational Therapist working with an NHS inpatient unit for people with dementia; she is also a practising artist.

In 2010 she wrote a successful bid to the King’s Fund ‘Enhancing the Healing Environment’ programme, and led a team in developing an innovative project to transform an inpatient hospital environment for people with dementia. The project had at its heart a participatory approach, consulting with people living with dementia, their carers and staff, and incorporating their views and ideas into the design. These individuals were also actively involved in creating some of the outstanding and moving artwork for the new unit.

As an Occupational Therapist, the fundamental inter-relationship between people, meaningful occupation and the environment is central to Carrie’s work. To this she brings an aesthetic eye and a strong desire to raise awareness of the impact of environments on the physical, mental and emotional well-being of people living with dementia.

Carrie is passionate about finding new ways to create a more sustainable, respectful, meaningful and engaging way of being with people with dementia, that will support a better quality of life based on a sense of connection to place, to self and to others. For this to happen, new relationships and partnerships need to be forged that cross conventional boundaries, encouraging creative and innovative approaches to one of society’s greatest challenges – that of ageing and dementia.

The ‘EHE’ project was recently ‘highly commended’ in the Arts and Health South West Awards 2012, and Carrie’s work won an NHS award for ‘Change and Innovation’ in September 2012.

News about Carrie Clarke

Sparking connections at Franklyn Hospital

Exhibition_Poster_franklynAt TEDxExeter 2013, Carrie Clarke spoke about what we can still do for people with dementia, to strengthen their sense of belonging and their connection to place, people and each other. We learnt of the importance of design of the physical environmental of care centres, and she described the refurbishment and new garden being created at Franklyn Hospital in Exeter. She also told stories of how creating paintings together with artists had brought healing to people.

Artist Simon Ripley from Double Elephant Print facilitated a number of these sessions at  Franklyn. He created work both in advance of the sessions, to spark the people staying at the hospital at the time, and after in response to their work. Examples of Simon’s work were hanging in the Exeter Northcott Theatre’s auditorium during TEDxExeter 2013.

On 28 August, yours truly the TEDxExeter Storyteller was able to go to the opening of a thought-provoking exhibition in the Family Room at Franklyn, featuring work by former and current patients, and two of Simon’s prints. Numbers were small, but we – staff, relatives of former patients, Double Elephant – had some profound conversations. We were also able to see the garden, a beautifully-designed sensory space that looked absolutely stunning in the evening sunshine. Please see the photographs below.

At some point during the evening, Carrie told me briefly about how she was working with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, a collaboration that arose from a connection made at TEDxExeter 2013 with Camilla Hampshire, who spoke about RAMM: Home to a Million Thoughts. The following are Carrie’s words. For more information about the Fund she mentions in the last paragraph, please contact Carrie.

Collaboration with RAMM

With regards to collaboration with the museum: following TEDxExeter 2013, I made contact with Camilla to discuss the potential for any collaborative work. She put me in touch with Ruth Gidley, their Community Participation Officer. Ruth has been working hard on developing the museum into a more ‘dementia friendly’ venue, and as part of this has been collaborating with various local organisations such as Age UK and Innovations in Dementia. Through this contact, I was invited to speak at RAMM’s ‘Collaboration in Practice’ conference last November, which in itself brought about some more useful contacts.

In May Ruth and I attended a workshop in Bournemouth delivered by staff from the Museum of Modern Art in New York; they have been running a successful programme for several years now called ‘Meet me at MOMA’. This is a structured art discussion group for people with Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias and their carers, each session looking at approx 6 paintings with a common theme. Ruth has set up a pilot project based on the MOMA approach, using their latest exhibition ‘Detached and Timeless’. I have today just got back from taking one of our service users to the session, which was excellent; it has given her a stimulating experience and provided her with something to talk about when her family visit. She commented that she would very much like to take her grandson to the exhibition, because of his interest in art. So for this particular woman, it was a great way of enabling her to feel more connected with the world around her, and will hopefully also be a point of connection with her grandson.

Ruth and I have also had some discussions about two other potential projects: 1. bringing quality photographs of the paintings form the exhibition to run a similar session at the hospital (thereby enabling more people to participate) and 2. Developing outreach sessions from the museum, using a collection of objects based around the theme of seasons. There’s an interesting link between handling objects which provide a range of sensory experiences, and how this can stimulate memories and possibly create new neural pathways. It’s what I touched on briefly in my TED talk: the sensory-emotional link. We are then considering creating some audio books made by the individual participants (Ruth has experiemented with this already), and also the potential for using stop-motion animation as a creative way of capturing some of the stories which arise from the sessions. I’ve been using stop-motion animation with our service users for a while now, and it’s an amazing therapeutic tool! I’ll be speaking about my work at the Bristol Encounters short film and animation festival next week. If this approach proves effective, we will look at applying for funding to run a larger scale project, commissioning professional animators to work with us with a possible big screening at the museum. But that’s a long way off yet!

As a result of the museum conference, I was approached by a photographer, Ruth Davey from Stroud. She has recently facilitated a photography workshop with a group of service users at Belvedere [unit at Franklyn] in our new ‘Beautiful View’ garden. The process itself was very beneficial in terms of enabling sensory experiences, providing a space where people could express themselves creatively, and stimulating some fascinating story telling. And the end results were amazing! They will form our next exhibition at the hospital, and I hope will also be shown more widely.

This workshop was funded through the Margaret Whitaker Therapeutic Art Fund. Margaret’s daughter Carol set up the Fund in her mother’s memory, because she was so grateful to see her mother re-engaging with her love of art during Simon’s sessions run at Franklyn, and Carol saw the joy it brought her in her last few months. So that’s a wonderful legacy, with which we hope to continue to provide stimulating therapeutic arts activities at Franklyn.