Hanks for the Visit

Hanks for the visit
It was quiet in the wee lounge when I paid an unscheduled visit today, some of the ladies were having a nap. As I popped my head around the door, I was spotted and invited in. I could not resist a blether, a song and a tune or two on the box.
Today several of my songs were new to the group and the lyrics brought about, great hilarity. What is it about group laughter? One fuels the other. I listened to the laughter and wondered whether the staff thought. What is going on in there? The funny macaronic songs were a hit. I Once had a Girlfriend that came from Cromore and When I went to Glasgow first a mach a Tir nam Beann.
One singing giggling lady had a visitor and swithered about leaving the room. A lady visitor from the street then took her armchair and joined in the song circle. This time it was the evergreen Lovely Stornoway with the chorus Ied by the very lady she had come to visit. Another resident, who never sits for long and seems to sit to one side of the main group, joined us the minute there was an empty seat. She laughed when the rest laughed, relaxed, became a member of the gang and stayed seated for a good half hour.

There were only six armchairs in the wee lounge and as I passed on the way to the water fountain, I realised two ladies had come to sit in the hallway outside the room. One of them addressed me “There was only one song there I did not have. And the title of that other one was actually MacDonald’s First visit to Glasgow. What about my brothers favourite, as she launched into Eilean Beag Donn a’ Chuain”

After the singsong in the wee lounge, I went to see a lady who had participated in the group session the day we had brought the spinning wheel and the different colours of Harris Tweed. I had extended both my arms wrapped in a Harris wool hank and she had promptly began to wind it around her fingers and made a ball, as I swayed left to right feeding the yarn into her capable hands.
I had thought of her yesterday when I discovered a hank of reddy brown wool on my loft. When I enquired about her whereabouts today I was told “She is in her room knitting”. Turns out this lady not only knits furiously, she has her own stall when they have a Care Centre Sale of Work. So my hunch had been bang on, but what I only realised on our second meeting was that she was unable to communicate vocally.
After introducing myself, I examined the hank in my hands. In the company of an experienced knitter I was not going to pull and break the crosswise thread which keeps the hank together in transit. I had several attempts at opening the knot on the bands, on admitting defeat I just extended my hank covered arms towards her, one tug and they were unravelled and we were away, making balls of the reddy brown hank.
If you have ever extended your arms with a hank of wool, you will allow me this. Some of my childhood insecurities came back, have I mixed up the loop putting it on my arm, did I lose concentration and has it slipped to one side. Am I extending my arms far enough, will it come unstuck if there is a snag in the wool loop?
Well we had a sticky start, but the lovely silent lady studied and deftly gave the wool a sharp tug and occasionally would thread the wee ball through the strands. And we were off. She motioned to me about the size of the ball, was it big enough, should she start another ball. The shared understanding of workable ball size helped me to communicate. Yes. She would measure the width of the hank with her fingers and I could see what she was planning. It was a huge hank and we got five equally sized balls.
As I swayed back and forth feeding the line of wool I sang work-songs, mouth music and whatever else came to my lips. By this time I could not stop singing, having spent an hour and a half in the wee lounge. I tried some funny Gaelic stories from her part of the island and by the humorous twinkle in her eye I knew I was speaking her language in more sense than one.
Searching for a poly bag in her drawer when we finished, her face lit up with the joy of a creative knitter when I said the wool was now hers. I will be going to the Bethesda Shop tomorrow to see if there are any hanks, not balls no thanks, just hanks.

August Newsletter (including July)

This is the Arora Dementia Friendly Community at An Lanntair Newsletter for August, including all the news from July.

August and beyond

ME TIME AND ART CEILIDHS – at An Lanntair, inspired by the work in the Uists.

We have been working on some new sessions at An Lanntair, in the Art Room, where we are booking some of our best and most current local Artists (and some visiting Artists) to work with us on a drop-in or stay-all-day basis. You can stay all day from 10.30-3.30 and enjoy a light lunch in the cafe bar of soup or a sandwich and a soft drink or tea/coffee, or you can just drop in for an hour or two. These are taster days to try out new art forms, such as basket weaving, quilting, writing stories or poetry or scripts, learning the guitar, learning to dance, print making. The idea is to see what everybody enjoys and to try out which times and days are best, and where the sessions are most needed. We are very happy to take the sessions out to villages as needed.

The dates will be advertised on our Facebook page (please like and follow us, it’s @aroraanlanntair) along with the Artist for that session. They are mainly on Wednesdays, although some sessions for guitar and dance will not be on a Wednesday. They are split into two kinds of sessions called:

Me Time sessions for people with a caring role (and this is very flexible – it might be that a family member lives with you and this time and space to learn new art forms and skills is valuable to you – the person you care for might like to come with you…or not).


Art Ceilidhs for people who would welcome additional support to participate in art and crafting classes. If you have someone you would like to bring for support – a friend, a family member or a more formal carer, please do, but you are equally welcome to come by yourself and meet new friends.

These Me Time sessions for people who are caring are available in North Uist and South Uist with Margaret Joan MacIsaac (who has been putting some kits together in print making for people to try at home). Inspired by Margaret Joan’s work, we have booked sessions in to An Lanntair and Duncan on Barra has been working on a similar set of events there. Me Time sessions are funded by Wm Grant Foundation and Life Changes Trust. Art Ceilidhs are funded by Life Changes Trust.

Kate has been working on Art Ceilidhs at Caraidean Uibhist, which has inspired our Art Ceilidhs at An Lanntair, and these continue each month, see facebook for details.

Birds on the Ward

Gill Thompson will continue to work with people on Erisort and Clisham wards to create bird collages to print for the ward memory garden.


Maggie Smith, Louise Davidson and myself went to Harris House for a little dance session last week. We are returning on 2nd October, in order to work on more cultural dance with traditional songs and tunes, plus waulking songs movements and Maggie’s reminiscence and cultural movement. We have been funded by DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project) to continue this dance work and to create a short film to support activities teams to continue and develop this work.

Ward Ceilidh

The ward ceilidh on Erisort ward continues weekly, on a Tuesday from 2-3pm.


Arora Film Club

There is a monthly film club at An Lanntair on the first Weds of the month.

Hosted film clubs continue, where requested.

The NHS Ward Arora Film Club will get started as soon as we can organise that with NHS staff.

Tommy Whitelaw – is coming back on 30th August, Paula is presenting the project at the event in the morning and afternoon.


DEEP vinyl project – at NHS Western Isles Stornoway – Erisort Ward – the final three images have been cropped to size by Alex Boyd and I have them printed ready to show around the hospital one last time on Thursday 10th August. The reason for this is in case the images do not look quite the same when cropped to suit the shape of the wall where it will be installed. We felt it important to show people exactly what the image will look like, installed on the wall, and the final selection will be ordered later on this day. The celebration event will take place on 30th August. Install will take place when all teams are ready. Paul Thomas is coming to visit on 16th August, there may even be an impromptu ceilidh on a ward somewhere….if we twist his arm 🙂


At St Brendan’s, Castlebay – Duncan has been working with people at St Brendan’s Care Centre in Castlebay to create a framed, personal image of an important place on Barra for the room of each person, plus a large image for the entryway of the care centre.

At Benbecula, Kate has been working with the team there to look at how to support people in hospital to feel inspired to eat and the vinyl image will be based around the comforting images of home, the dining area etc.

Reminiscence work

Maggie has undertaken some interviews about memory recently, working towards our final publications and exhibitions for the April show.

Kate has been working with people at Trianaid and Sacred Heart on reminiscence sessions, more will be uploaded to the blog shortly – she has been busy cycling from Barra to Ness, testing out a yarn bombing exercise in preparation for the final show, again, in April 18.

Duncan has been working with the Men’s group at Cobhair Bharriagh, as well as offering many ceilidhs across the island and joining in a session in South Uist at Sacred Heart with Margaret Joan and Kate.

Digital Dining

Our digital dining partnership work with Dementia Friendly East Lothian continues with a conference call booked for the end of the month.

11th September is a busy day for the project! Jon and Paula are heading for Perth for the Life Changes Trust gathering.

Andy Lowndes from Playlist for Life has planned a session with Maggie in the An Lanntair Auditorium on 11th September in the afternoon. Come along and learn all about Playlist for Life and how you can get involved! It’s free. Times to be announced, check our facebook (@aroraanlanntair).

AND RECENTLY….Looking back over the past month

We have supported the Erisort Ward Tuesday Ceilidh, we screened Arora Film Clubs with Whisky Galore, as a refresher for the new release film and For Your Eyes Only, in tribute to Roger Moore.

The team has been working on Intelligent Textiles through Lucy Robertson, a PhD student of Duncan of Jordanstoun. She has been looking at supporting Gaelic for carers and supporting people with more advanced dementia to settle towards the evening and to be creative with colour and light. She has been working with local textiles at Uist Wool.

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Kate has been working on the Feis at North Uist. She was working with Dawn Susan, completing the work funded in part by Remoage, intergenerationally sharing weaving and rope making techniques, which we started at Iochdair School in South Uist earlier this year. Being a teacher, Kate is particularly qualified for her post as Intergenerational Artist Practitioner, and as you will all know, her post was funded in part by Alzheimer Scotland, Lewis & Harris Branch, as well as by Life Changes Trust.

Speaking of intergenerational working, Paula has just completed the International Certificate in Intergenerational Working online.

The Memory Boxes have made their way to Barra on a bakery van, via Heb Haulage and via staff relay transport efforts on a ferry. We have two memory boxes so far, a crofting box and a sensory box for people more advanced with sensory needs. They have been launched in Benbecula, South Uist, Barra and are about to be brought back to Stornoway for a launch via Taigh Chearsabhagh and Tarbert. We are working on a transport memory box as well as one for fishing and another for crafting, which will be filled with patterns, knitting and crochet supplies, knot making information, printmaking and many other craft opportunities. Watch out for more launch dates coming to Stornoway Library, Tarbert Library and Taigh Chearsabhagh. The library tablet computers are also available to borrow, much like a library book, from the libbrary service. The tablet computers are filled with local and archive film.

Gill Thompson has been working on Clisham and Eriosort ward with people to create bird collages to print for the Memory Garden. Her exhibition has recently been at An Lanntair and I think you can still catch some of her work at the Morven Gallery.


We are looking for volunteers to support maintaining the lovely Memory Garden at the NHS Western Isles hospital in Stornoway. Please get in touch with paula@lanntair.com.



An early start

The first job this morning, before 8am, was to measure the wall at Western Isles Hospital, where Alex Boyd’s vinyl will go.

I have shared the top 4 images and sent them to Alex for cropping to fit the shape of the wall and communicated with all involved.

I’m looking forward to seeing the images cropped up and as they would be on the wall.

Birds at the Ceilidh 

Gill Thompson came along to the Erisort Ward Ceilidh today and showed everyone the collage print work that she has been doing for the Memory Garden. We had a look at the process behind Gill’s print making. 

We made a blue tit print panel ready for preparation and inking by Gill.

Catch Gill’s exhibition at An Lanntair quickly as it is being taken down shortly.

There were six of us at the Ceilidh today and the home baking was gooseberry flapjack. 

Catching up with Kate

I had a lovely catch up with Kate today (Kate is such a force of nature, I do have to run to keep up with her 🙂 and we chatted about all of the brilliant work she has been doing across the Uists and Benbecula.

We chatted about the new carer Me Time art form ceilidhs, the post diagnosis work along the same lines, hospital vinyls, the Blar Buidhe vinyl project being in the Stornoway Gazette this week, Playlist for Life work coming up, the intelligent textiles, sound recording, reminiscence work, the memory boxes, dance, a digital link between Iochdair School and Sacred Heart Care Centre, Ceolas having a new dance officer, amongst many other things.

Kate has been cycling up from Barra  on a yarn bombed bicycle (by Gina) as a trial for a cycling event in April 18. Have a look at her fabulously adorned cycle!

Uist trip

Building on our research into assistive technology for people living with dementia we were visited recently by Sonic textile PHD student Lucy Robertson who spent a week with the Arora team in Lewis and Uist demonstrating the possibilities for combining textiles with sound. Visiting island artists such as Gina Macdonald and the amazing Uist wool we discussed ideas for developing technology alongside local textile skills, Gaelic culture and language, utilising the rich aural landscape of the archipelago. We explored the possibilities of using birdsong in combination with traditional and contemporary knits and how music and birdsong contain such strong and evocative memories for people, as well as being hardwired into the Gaelic language and culture (the Gaelic word for music ‘Ceol’ coming from a root origin meaning ‘the piping of birds’).

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Lucy Robertson demonstrating some of her sonic textile devices


Traditionally the different birds were said to say different things, the sound of their call made into a phrase – for example the grouse sais :

‘Laighibh! laighibh! laighibh! caomhnaibh, caomhnaibh bàrr an fhraoich,

chan fhaigh sibh gu la ach na fhuair sibh’

‘Lie down! Lie down! Lie down! Save, save the tips of the heather,

you won’t get any more until the day comes’

There are also Gaelic counting rhymes that imitate birdsong, weather lore and poetic imitations of birds such as the wild swan, that ‘sais’ – Guiliog ì! guiliog ò!

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An image from Dwelly’s Illustrated Gaelic dictionary

These cultural links all tie in with our reminiscence sessions and approach of person centred care – providing people living with dementia and their carer’s specific relevant, joyful and evocative sensory stimulation in the language of their choosing or in no verbal language at all, and instead combining touch, sound and other senses. This approach has proved valuable in previous sessions, developing our findings on ‘Hand memory’ and the use of combining sensory stimulation as a way of ‘reaching’ people.

We also put together ideas for a yarn bombed sponsored cycle ride through the archipelago from Barra to Lewis to coincide with our week long Symposium and events in April 2018. This would be sign posted throughout the route by knitted birds attached to fence posts along the way. Kate is currently trialling the idea, cycling up from Barra with a knitted addition to her bike made by Gina Macdonald, inspired by the crochet bike created by Jane Robertson and Lucy Robertson.

Jon Macleod




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Crochet Bike – Jane Robertson, Lucy Robertson

June Newsletter (into July)

Early in June, Kate Macdeonald worked with Angus Murray of Museum Nan Eilean to bring artefacts ‘things from home’ to two care homes in North and South Uist, bringing forth some wonderful recollections, such as:

‘A piggy was better than a bodach.’ and

‘They used to have accumulators to power the radio before the electricity came in the 1950s. They took the accumulators to Stornoway to charge them up.’

Tommy Whitelaw came to the Western Isles through Dementia Carer Voices on 31st May and moved up through the islands 1st and 2nd June to Lewis for the Memory Walk with Alzheimer Scotland. Margaret Joan met him first in South Uist and showed him the Memory Box, which he blogged on Dementia Carer Voices. Then Paula heard his emotional talk in Stornoway (many tears there!) and gave a talk about the project’s current work, and then sharing the Friday ceilidh, Alex Boyd’s projections and the opening of the Memory Garden, and finishing off at the Remoage session with him. What wonderful energy he brings to any event and to every heart.

We have been sharing the craft and food festival from An Lanntair with global and local foods  across the community. We showcased foods and drinks from Morocco (Mint tea), South Korea (Kimchi), Syria (Labneh and Halloumi), France (flognarde and Red Carmargue rice), England (Plum upside down cake), South Africa (Rooibos), Russia (Sharlotka), Belgium (Chocolate), USA (Wild rice and a New York Plum Torte), Italy (Antipasti), Venezuala (Arepas), Ireland (dulse), Orkney Beremeal (scones and bannocks) and and Western Isles Carrageen. We now have a big world map to place everywhere we have ‘been’ with our global food tour.

Our PhD student commenced conversations with Jon about Intelligent Textiles applications for the community here, supporting people with dementia with locally produced textiles which have added benefits in technology.

It was Dementia Awareness Week early in June

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Sat 3rd June – We supported Alzheimer Scotland Memory Walk as volunteers with a walk to the event and then celebrating 30 years of the branch with them.

Tues 6th June – We visited Norman and took more photographs of the DEEP Blar Buidhe Vinyl

Weds 7th June – We worked with Gill Thompson on Memory Garden Art with people at the hospital am, then pm – screening Arora Film Club at An Lanntair Pocket Cinema.  Please book with paula@lanntair.com

13th June, travelled to Edinburgh with local people to the DEEP gathering. 14th was the event and travelled back on 15th.


Visit to Dementia Friendly East Lothian – Creativity Day!

Paula presented the project at the Creative Scotland/Care Inspectorate/Luminate/Art Works  talk in Edinburgh Care & Create 

Paula presented the DEEP image to Doing Dementia Differently in Stockport

Doing Dementia Differently

which led to a reflection on why should this be so different? Shouldn’t this be ‘how we do dementia‘?

Kate ran a session at Sacred Heart and Trianaid in North & South Uist, relating to Bàta – Sealastair / Iris Leaf Boats


Alex Boyd’s DEEP vinyl work has continued – we whittled down the images to a final 16 during June, ready for exhibit in the Hospital League of Friends Cafe in July.

There have been plenty of birds on the ward, over several sessions in June, courtesy of Gill Thompson, to create printed panels for the Clisham Memory Garden. Work continues throughout July.

We have screened Dambusters, by request this month at the Arora Film Club – Whisky Galore has been requested for July.

We did a Dementia Carer Voces Guest Blog  in June.

Maggie Smith has largely been working on other projects this month, as she is so valued in the Gaelic arts and tourism industries and projects. She will be working more on the project as her time becomes free-er, particularly with her Cultural Movement dance project.

We have been building the MeTime carers project with Margaret Joan MacIsaac, craft and creativity based support as people feel appropriate with their caring roles. This is funded in part by the William Grant Foundation.

Jonhas been working on our final Conference/exhibitions for April 18 and he is also working on Intelligent Textiles and further exciting developments with the Woven Communities work.

Every Tuesday 2-3pm, there has been a ceilidh at Western Isles Hospital and Duncan Mackinnon and Kate Macdonald have been working on music, reminiscence and crafting sessions for Barra and Benbecula hospitals, at Caidean Uibhiist, at Cobhair Bharraigh and other venues across the islands (inculding ceilidhs at home).


Arora Film Club has been developing across the community with hosted films, hospital screenings, and screenings in care centres. Watch out for posters of the next events in the venues.


Alex Boyd’s final 16 images have been displayed for voting at the League of Friends Cafe at Western Isles Hospital since Monday 10th July.

03 Uig landscape copy

We have been successful with TWO funding pots from DEEP – one is in connection with Dementia Friendly East Lothian and this is relating to Digital Dining, a project requested by people living with dementia at the Inverness DEEP gathering.

The second pot is to develop our dance project with Maggie’s Cultural Movement and Louise’s dance sessions, relating to research on positive brain patterns along with movement.

Duncan has been working on a vinyl image for Castlebay, St Brendan’s Care Centre. This is most likely to be the image, if image quality works out well. 


There are more print sessions relating to birds around Clisham Ward and Gill Thompson is exhibiting at Anm Lanntair right now. 

We have been selected as a case study for a Luminate publication on creative aging, which we are thrilled about.


Ceilidhs and cakes, reminiscence, crafting and film screenings continue across the Uists, Benbecula and Barra. See Duncan, our Barra Boy accordion player in action here! This was at South Uist.

Kate held a reminiscence session about pebbles.

Our Intelligent Textiles project work started in earnest, alongside the Feis in North Uist last week. Dawn Susan worked on rope making and twining techniques with schools and care centres, along with KJate Macdonals, Margaret Joan and Jon Macleod, who took Lucy Robertson, our PhD student, along to see Uist Wool, plus meet the team and gather ideas and inspirations for creating relevant pieces of interactive textiles to support people living with more advanced dementia across the islands.

Maggie has helpd more sessions relating to Cultural Movement in Care Centres.

Later in July, the final two images from Alex Boyd will be passed around the hospital for a final vote on which one will be selected for the wall to be made into a large scale vinyl for Erisort Day Room.

We will have more dance sessions from Louise, starting at Harris House. We will also be visiting Harris House later in the month to commence a fishing memory box.

Duncan on Barra is working on a Transport Memory Box with Andy Hyde of Upstream.

The original two memory boxes are being launched on Barra right now, after being launched in Benbecula Library, in the KJ Macdonald Pharmacy window during Dementia Awareness Week and tested out at Sacred Heart Care Centre in South Uist. After a launch in Barra with Duncan, they will come back to Leverburgh and Tarbert via North Uist, where Margaret Joan will launch them in Taigh Chearsabhagh before they make their way back to Stornoway to go out on the mobile library buses.

The Library Service continues to load archive film and more recent local film on to the Tablet Computers we are collaborating with the Library on.

On 19th July, at 2pm, there is a writing workshop in An Lanntair’s Community Room, relating to reminiscence around cinema.  Let Paula know if you want to come along.

On 26th July, Andy Hyde from Upstream is visiting us for a walk around Stornoway Airport with people living with dementia to see what we think of accessibility and signage for people living with dementia.

On 27th July, Carers High Tea with Alzheimer Scotland is at An Lanntair at 5.30pm, please book with Alzheimer Scotland, Bells Road.

Later this month, our MeTime Carers project starts with monthly creative and crafting sessions across the islands. I will list the events on facebook as they are confirmed.

Please check our facebook for new event listings – Arora An Lanntair.



Lewis & Uist

Have a look at this blog (Source: Lewis & Uist) from Lucy Robertson. She has been funded to work with us at Arora on Intelligent Textiles through her PhD work since she graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in 2013.

We are thrilled that Lucy is working with us and with people living with dementia in our community, as well as with local textile and raw materials producers in order to create innovative and relevant, interactive items to support people living with more advanced dementia.

Jon is going to be publishing a blog about this work shortly, and there will be images and words from the rest of the team involved.

Blog link to Lucy’s blog about her initial trip here: Lewis & Uist


Recently we were reminiscing with pebbles at Sacred Heart and Trianaid Care Homes…

I’ve got one like that I collected on the beach and I keep it on the windowsill here

We collected colourful shells, filled a bottle and then put a light in the top

Remember the shell bus?

When people went on holiday they used to bring her back shells from all over the world

Me and her Granddaughter used to gather the shells for her

A cowrie is a ‘faighdeag’

I remember someone who used to collect pebbles and she had a machine to cut them and polish them up

We never learnt to swim, we were all told to keep away from the water that it wasn’t safe

I like the smooth ones


The rocks at the back of Heisger they’re very unusual


Which one do you think is heavier?




With lime or rhubarb.

Spread it out on the ground, they say you should leave it out for at least one rain shower to wash off the salt and then once it’s dry you collect it.

It’s the best thing for you. 


Yes I grew that in the garden

It smells lovely

It’s strong

Bog Cotton

Canach- leathann that’s what we called it 

 Ragged robins…they’re my favourite.

 Honeysuckle and wild grasses

You can pick that down by the loch on the corner and the smell just hits you first and then you see it.

Ceilidh & Cake

Last month (Wednesday 14th June), Duncan MacKinnon from Barra came across meeting Margaret Joan and myself for a visit to Sacred Heart Care Home. We shared a great afternoon with the residents. There were tunes, singing and dancing. Request of the day was a ‘Scottishe’ with enthusiastic cheers! Margaret Joan took the beautiful black and white photos during Duncan’s visit.

Left hand side: Duncan

Right hand side: Don

Following on from this Duncan organised for his friend and fellow musician Don (Eriskay Lilt) to come along to play some tunes and have another wee ceilidh at Sacred Heart this week. (Wednesday 13th July) On request Don played Shetland reels, Wild Mountain Thyme, Auld Lang Syne and plenty of ceilidh dance tunes in between. Don had the whole room up dancing, a wonderful afternoon. We had lovely cupcakes with strawberries on top!


I never missed a dance at Iochdar.

I would never say no to music – never ever, ever,ever!