Heading for Uist

Up at 4am, heading for Taigh Chearsabhagh for the first Carers Lunch Break.

 I’m overjoyed that the ferry wifi works. This is a first. Plenty of time for putting together a presentation for our South Isles carers on the way – the long way round because the direct ferry was booked up. 

Quilting for carers

I was thrilled to meet Chris yesterday and even more thrilled to arrange with her some carer support through a template, how-to video and cushion kit design. We will be bringing a session to Solas and a commissioned design to a resident of a care home shortly, too. 

Chris writes for quilting magazines – you may have seen some of her designs in print. She also has a Monday evening class at An Lanntair right now.

If you are a carer of someone living with Dememtia and you would like to have a go at quilting, please get in touch.


The Power of One

In a care system which is focused on saving money, best value and limited resources, focussing on supporting one person can be difficult. Funds follow numbers and people living with dementia and carers often say to me how this doesn’t always work.

Of course, at times, a gathering works really well. Collectively enjoying a performance or meal is a sociable necessity from time to time and it is always good to have a circle of friends who understand a certain shared aspect of life. And what fun would a solo singing group be?

Interpreting people’s words and situations shows a need to be very personal at times, too.

‘I go where they take me, you know, in the bus.’

‘This is the only trip this month, I had to come even though my tummy is upset.’

‘I loved being outside in the sun. I haven’t been out since.’

‘It’s decided, where we go.’

‘I feel trapped, like I’m in prison.’

‘I am supposed to be the man.’

From these comments, it’s clear that one to one approaches are a very human requirement.

This week, I supported a man living with dementia to take his wife to a family party. He was the life and soul, singing, sharing stories and interacting, as he might have always done. The details were taken care of – transport, reminders, payment. This left him free to be the family support he wanted to be. This left his wife (and carer) free to make party arrangements. Neighbours and the wider community participated, dropping in. They were all very welcome to the ceilidh.

I also supported a carer to have more time at the shops (with a lift) and to have a look at a car, to give her more independence. And there was a coffee catch-up with a young girl who had been volunteering regularly with people living with dementia and was struggling to let go now that she has a job.

And when I think of the power of one – support to one person meant support to his wife, the wider family, the immediate community who shared the occasion, the community transport service supported to keep going, the local shops supported by the purchase of supplies and fuel, it becomes clear that we are all connected. The young woman who has given countless volunteer hours to the community, now moving confidently into a care post where her acquired skills and experience will be useful.

The power of one person being supported creates positive ripples throughout the community.

And the recorded stories can be shared very widely across the community to support other people.
One of the joys of this project is the flexibility to target support where it’s most needed and sometimes that support is greatest to the power of one.

Happy 95th Jessie!

I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon near Valtos today, where Jessie celebrated her 95th birthday along with her immediate and extended family, neighbours, holiday visitors and family visitors.

There was birthday cake and a summery  birthday tea of prawns, salmon, crab sandwiches, fresh baked scones with crowdie and cream and plenty of salad and oatcakes.

Birthday presents were beautiful brooches a rose necklace, a badge declaring ‘young at heart’, roses galore and a spectacular drawing of a sailing boat by a very talented young artist. Lots of cards were lovingly written with very personal messages and more kept arriving all afternoon.

Jessie brought the ceilidh with songs that she used to sing to Chrissie as a child. There were stories of India and Lewis. I asked Jessie her secret for a good long life and she said “I don’t know…I can’t quite believe it, I’m 95!’ And then she went on to explain how wonderful her carers are, supporting her at home.

Chrissie proved that you are never too grown up to sit on Mum’s knee. Although Jessie assured her, it would definitely be the last time!

Jessie’s memory for the village layout and who lived and lives where is incredible, she was able to reel off great long lists of neighbours and houses.

Staran Transport was fabulous, we made the birthday tea ourselves and with some family and neighbourhood love, some warm and sensitive support in the background, nobody cared about dementia or mobility issues or frailty or age or isolation or  ‘can’t’ or ‘disabled’. It was just a birthday party on a warm and sunny afternoon in a little village by the blue-green Atlantic Ocean.

And for me, that’s what a Dementia Friendly Community is. A community that understands what is needed because it knows the people individually and quietly supports them, completely understanding the value of older people and their families. A fully functioning community is, by nature, supportive of it’s community needs and values each person within it.



Carers High Tea/Lunch across Uists & Benbecula 24th/25th August

Alzheimer Scotland and our dementia friendly community project are collaborating on a series of carer lunches and high tea in order to meet with carers of people living with dementia across the Uists and Benbecula.

Please book with Alzheimer Scotland Bells Road 01851 702123 if you would like to attend one of the following sessions. Food & drink provided from Alzheimer Scotland  locally raised funds.

Wednesday 24th August 12-1pm Taigh Chearsabhagh Cafe (Paula Brown).

Wednesday 24th August 4-5pm Kildonan Museum cafe South Uist (Paula Brown)

Thursday 25th August 12-1pm Dark Isle Hotel, Benbecula. (Marion MacInnes & Paula Brown).

Please feel welcome to come for a break by yourself or to come together with the person you care for as a trip out together. Please discuss travel requirements with staff at Alzheimer Scotland when you book.

These initial sessions are for you to share ideas and thoughts on what is available, what you need from local carer support, which locations and times work best and what else would be helpful. Or just come for lunch/tea and a chat.

Looking forward to meeting you.

In Conversation

Jon is shortly about to kick off our In Conversation podcast series in Uist. These podcasts will be recordings made with older people across our broad community, in celebration of shared culture and differences between generations. We are going to be exploring similarities and differences across jobs, community roles, gender roles, language and lifestyles and recording those conversations to preserve the first hand living history and to value the elders in our community.
In preparation for this, I have uploaded to a Soundcloud Playlist a couple of conversations I have been privileged to share with older Hebridean women about food, housing, the roles of women within the home and community and family life.
In Conversation Playlist on Soundcloud

In Conversation sessions begin next week.

Part of our remit for this three year project is to investigate bilingualism and culturally specific memory. Early on in the project, we have been delivering sessions based on the broad arts programme at An Lanntair, community celebrations and ideas from the community in order to learn more about this culture and about culturally specific methods of learning, retaining and communicating memories.

As we approach the mid point of our project, we are looking at targeted ways of focussing our attention on what it might be about this culture that supports the mind, which we can pinpoint and highlight, in order to share with other communities.

Some of these focussed projects are:


Woven Communities – a collaboration between St. Andrew’s University, Dawn Susan (Hebridean Baskets), the island intergenerational community and ourselves. We have been offering tactile weaving and twining sessions to open up some hand memory and deep memories from the elders in our community, which has enabled them to share specific skills and knowledge with us that could have been lost. For example, one lady was able to explain to Dawn that Uist woven horse collars were made around a bent wire, to offer the shaping. Maggie Smith has been able to offer Gaelic conversation and recording for these sessions. What is it about the ‘watch and learn’ technique of passing on information and the intensely manual and outdoor aspects of work across the rural Hebrides that might support brain connections and patterns to maintain healthy activity in later life? Does storytelling and remembering those stories help? Is it about having two languages? These are some of the themes we are researching within this project as well as recording the stories of the elders and sharing the knowledge with younger people in that community to pass the traditions on.


Cultural Podcasts – These are a collection of thoughts, stories, poetry in Gaelic and English, on CDs and online to download freely. So far, there are ten podcasts. Some are very sad stories of loss and longing, from specific areas. In one of them, Maggie Smith explains how she remembers songs and scripts by imagining the pictures that they conjure up in her mind. Some are poetry about local people and legends. Some are playful and hilarious (sometimes even gruesome) stories of local history. We have shared these stories in local care homes. I was concerned about the detail in the gruesome ones but as I nervously looked around…people were actually guffawing with laughter, eyes shining brightly with glee and horror. Storytelling is so deeply embedded in the Gaelic ceilidh culture, and is so interactive. We will often hear ‘oh no! That’s not how it goes!’ and ‘and every word is true! (wink)’.


Gaelic Proverbs – It is a very masculine trait of Gaelic culture for older men to express themselves in few but poignant words. Some mostly reply in Gaelic proverbs. This came to light through the museum trips. The Museum has some wonderful Gaelic proverbs on their walls and I found people with Gaelic as a first language were proud of being able to read it. Gaelic was always a spoken language (The Language of the Hearth, learned at Mother’s knee, as Maggie calls it) and few people learned to read it. In fact, it was so unpopular that it was once seen as a country folk language, and children were warned off speaking it when they came to Stornoway for school. Alongside being proud of being able to read the proverbs, I found that people were very close to the proverbs and used them a great deal in daily language, where it is possible to speak Gaelic. The proverbs have a great deal of meaning and can be interpreted in many different ways. One project which grew from this was to use some previously printed proverb postcards from An Lanntair and to use them as inspiration for informal sessions to discover favourite proverbs, which we will print up at Hebridean Graphics to install in care homes and day centres.


Celebrating and valuing the rich Gaelic language in the community – One example of this was during the museum trips – people with Gaelic as a first language offered their responses to the new, as yet unopened Museum Nan Eileen at Lews Castle. The Museum staff were very grateful for the input and made careful notes of the rich language experience on offer.


In Conversation – The net mending and storytelling session from last year brought together a retired fishing captain and a fisherman he used to work with. Although language had been almost lost to this gentleman, he was able to speak about the nets, the net mending needle and the experience of fishing afterwards. It gave us the idea to bring together retired people with that wealth of experience with younger people to compare notes. This developed into masterclasses of butter making, duff boiling and herring splitting by hand through the An Lanntair Food Festival but the process of women from the islands teaching traditional skills to younger women was so interesting for everyone. We have seen that interaction again, with weavers of grass from Uist teaching Dawn Susan tips and tricks of the craft through Woven Communities. We had the idea from all of this to record more ‘In Conversation’ stories with elders from our community. Some may have dementia, some may not. The idea is to record stories about memories and see what we can learn from that focussed attention. We plan to hold a 95th birthday party in Uig, a conversation between two performance car engineers from Harris and  Uist, a chat about the incredible memory of a scrap metal dealer in Bragar, conversations between parents and sons/daughters and many other diverse aspects of Hebridean and migrant cultural memory. These will be available as podcasts to share widely.


Cultural singing  – The waulking songs session from the Harris Tweed festival at An Lanntair was very popular and we have recorded the session to share across the community. Maggie Smith often offers spontaneous ceilidhs with her Melodeon and this is very gratefully received. I have shared Playlist for Life sessions across the hospital and care centres and offered resources to support this through printed materials, links and our Cultural Memory Box Scheme, which is in trial right now, to be rolled out with several themed boxes next month.

Our In Conversation sessions begin next week. The podcasts will be available from September online and in our Memory Boxes.