A successful community arts programme that offers fun and friendship to older people is being expanded this year and has received national recognition for its efforts.
Artful Age provides opportunities for older people in East Durham to make friends and grow their appreciation of the arts, from singing and dancing, to creating their own art and reading together.
Led by Durham County Council’s community arts team, the project started out as a series of singing taster sessions in 2019, which evolved to become East Durham Dementia Friendly Choir. Since then, the choir has grown from strength to strength and is now a self-constituted group. During the coronavirus pandemic, its virtual singing sessions have proven a lifeline for many of its members.
The success of the choir inspired the team to pull together a greater variety of arts taster workshops for older people, which were all delivered digitally last year. And, thanks to a £12,000 grant from East Durham Area Action Partnership (AAP), Artful Age has been extended further for 2021 and will offer a range of arts activities to cater for different needs and interests.
This week, it was announced that one of the initiatives, Falling on Your Feet, has been shortlisted for Best Arts Project in the National Campaign for the Arts’ Hearts for the Arts Awards 2021. Aimed at people aged 65 and over in the East Durham area who are at risk of falls, Falling on Your Feet is a dance project run by Helix Arts. During the lockdown, sessions are taking place online every Thursday from 11am to 12.30pm.
Other activities currently being held online include:
Let’s Meet Up is an art and social group that meets online every Tuesday from 12pm to 1pm. The session is for people with memory issues in the East Durham area and is led by professional artists who share a range of different techniques. Art activity packs are also provided by post and are accompanied by video tutorials.
Reading Together is a friendly reading group that currently meets online every Friday from 1pm to 2.30pm. The sessions bring people together to share their love of reading and exchange thoughts and feeling about the stories and poems they read.
East Durham Dementia Friendly Choir. The choir is meeting for online singing sessions every Tuesday and Thursday from 1.30pm to 2.30pm.
Cllr Joy Allen, Durham County Council’s Cabinet Member for transformation, culture and tourism said: “The challenging events of 2020 have demonstrated the true value of communities coming together, even when it hasn’t been possible for people to be in the same room as each other. Many older people in particular face living in social isolation and arts groups in our communities play a vital part in helping to build friendships, lift spirits and support people’s sense of wellbeing.
“We are delighted Falling on Your Feet has been nominated for a national award and I would like to wish everyone involved the best of luck for when the winners are announced on 14 February.
“In the year ahead, we hope to support a broad range of new and recently established arts groups in the East Durham area to grow and thrive in the way that the Dementia Friendly Choir and Falling on Your Feet has done. We are therefore extremely grateful to East Durham AAP for awarding us a substantial grant to continue to develop Artful Age in 2021.”
John Murphy, East Durham AAP co-ordinator, said: “The East Durham Dementia Choir is making such a positive difference to the lives of older people in our area, especially during these challenging times. We are delighted our support is allowing the Artful Age project to expand and offer even more inspiring and engaging activities.”
To find out more about the activities and how to get involved, contact the community arts team on [email protected] or 07920 295261.
For more information about the council’s community arts projects across the county, visit www.durham.gov.uk/communityarts
Hearts for the Arts Awards 2021 aims to celebrate local authorities that are continuing to champion the arts in challenging times. To find out more, visit www.forthearts.org.uk/campaigns/hearts-for-the-arts/