Dementia Cafe Popups at WIH

Thanks to everybody’s hard work, meeting time, service level agreements, collaboration and general incredible barrier-removing efforts, we are delighted to have dates and times for the Western Isles Hospital Popup Dementia Cafes.

This is a wonderful collaboration and a brilliant example of joined up working to support people to prevent cognitive decline, to signpost them and carers to further support and to show what is available across the community for people after they go home.

The sessions are on Erisort Ward and families and carers are most welcome.

The first session is on Tuesday 19th April and the sessions are 2pm-3.30pm for seven weeks, finishing on 31st May.

Alzheimer Scotland offer Dementia Cafe sessions across the community each month as well as singing groups and walking groups. This is a hospital inreach event collaboration to support people in hospital with Alzheimer Scotland staff, volunteers and expertise.

If you have generously donated or fundraised for Alzheimer Scotland, you have participated as well, by offering vital funds for this pilot project to pay for the costs of making this happen to support people in hospital.Thank you.

Various departments within the NHS have worked hard to make these sessions possible.

The Dementia Friendly Communities Project at An Lanntair, funded by Life Changes Trust, is collaborating to offer staff time, ward events and support to the project, as part of a service level agreement.

Volunteers from the NHS, Alzheimer Scotland and from across the community are generously offering their time as well.


Storytelling and film festival sessions

I’m working on some project delivery sessions over the next few weeks.

Later this month, the Dementia Cafe sessions at Western Isles Hospital in collaboration with the NHS and Alzheimer Scotland will begin, once a week for six weeks.

Also, I will be running a project afternoon or two on the wards – assisting people to see a way back to everyday life after hospital and supporting cognitive function, preventing cognitive decline.

Before these, I am offering sessions to local groups and care centres based on showcasing our podcasts. The live storytelling sessions, songs and song storytelling is based on our cultural podcasts and will be in Gaelic and English, with Donald Saunders, who recorded our podcasts with Maggie Smith.

I  also have some local film festival films to share with groups.

Please book with

Loss and Longing

I was discussing at a Dementia Cafe the other day, the theme of loss and longing seems to be very prevalent among island songs.

Longing for a lost love, a love gone to war or separated by work – loss – grief – harsh times.

And strangely enough, nothing much has changed in all this time. These islands do offer life at the sharp end, even today.

Crofting, fishing and tourism are deep at the heart of the income of the community. I hear so many sad stories of ewes lambing early and losing them to harsh weather, cattle calving with problems that island vets dash all over the miles trying to resolve (and sadly are sometimes unable to) and the high seas, high winds and harsh weather cause cancellations to flight and ferry services but also prevent cruise ships coming in and offering that income from holidaymakers.

And yesterday, I heard the terribly sad story that one of our Stornoway fishing vessels took on water and it seems only one of the four crew was rescued despite the Barra RNLI and the helicopter search.

A community in the grips of loss and longing once again. It reminds me that these songs were written in the moment, at times like this, about horrors and sadness like this. About much loved people, just like this.

I wonder if anybody is creating new songs about the people and incidents now, or if this is a tradition that has passed by?

Singing Group

I supported the Alzheimer Scotland singing group at Solas today – we didn’t have a musician as so many people were on holiday or enjoying the piping event in town but we did well singing a capella!

It was particularly meaningful today, to see a lady shine through her voice, her song, after what had been a very challenging week. At least three of us shed a few tears over that.

It was lovely to catch up with some friends too – I had my fair share of teasing, as usual, plus the heartfelt ‘Oh, it’s always so good to see you, you can be sure of a warm welcome, always.’ Wow.

Megan, an Alzheimer Scotland volunteer, was incredibly hard working – moving tables and chairs, making drinks and collecting up instruments. She even encouraged regular participants to lead the session, which was perfect.

Everyone who supported the session should be proud of themselves today. It means so much to everyone. It means a great deal every month but today was extra special.


Upstream Scotland visit

Andy Hyde of @upstreamscot funded by @lifechangestrst visited Lewis on a fact finding mission about transport for people with dementia today.
We looked around the island at bus stops, the roads and landscape while taking in tourist sites, decompressed over lunch and met with the local authority transport team, a local care home manager and manual handling expert, the Dementia Cafe Group at Bells Road, Staran transport and the An Lanntair team.
Brilliant start to a very helpful partnership.



Hand Memory

Hand Memory – Jon Macleod

We are almost one year into the project now and we have begun to make progress on what we have set out to achieve. As part of our remit for the Life Changes Trust we have been asked to look at ‘culturally specific memory’ and the role of an oral tradition in the delayed onset of dementia’. We have been looking at how we can work with oral memories that are specifically relevant to people living in the Western Isles and how those memories can be used as a tool in reminiscence sessions (for our travelling box scheme), as source material for local and national archives and as an inspiration for storytellers, musicians and artists to create new work in conjunction with people living with dementia.

Waulking tweed 3Waulking Tweed – Barra 1965 recorded by T.Knudsen (© School of Scottish Studies archive)

Another aspect of our recent work has been to look at ‘hand memory’. What remains in the ‘memory of the hands’ from a lifetime of use, once the memory of the mind may have become less reliable.

We have conducted sessions that recall common local work tasks from the past such as – net mending, spinning, weaving and preparing local delicacies and staples like herring.

hands 3Spinning and carding workshop – Harris house – Tarbert 2014 (© Jon Macleod)

These sessions also create haptic stimulation* (touch) a vital form of non- verbal communication that has the added benefit of creating a calming and non disruptive form of stimulation – like stoking an animal. This is something we are hoping to explore further in conjunction with academic research and practitioners using ‘intelligent textiles’. These are textiles that utilise a range of new technologies that can for example embed sound and light into fabrics that react in response to being touched.

hands 5Spinning and carding workshop – Harris house -Tarbert 2014 (© Jon Macleod)



Net mending workshop – Blar Buidhe – 2015 (© Paula Brown)



hands 8Setting nets – Lewis 2015 (© Jon Macleod)

We will also further explore the potential of Sensory memory, the memory of sights, sounds, taste and smell that allows individuals to retain impressions of sensory memory information long after the original stimulus has ceased.

 As part of our research into craft skill memories,  An Lanntair DFC have recently been part of a successful funding bid in a collaborative project with Dr. Stephanie Bunn at St.Andrews University and 4 Scottish Museums. Dr. Bunn has pioneered studies into basketry and weaving knowledge and techniques in her own research and as part of the ‘Woven Communities’ project **. This project fits in with our exploration into haptic stimulation and hand memory but also from the point of view of drawing on craft skills to elicit memories and life histories, and to explore their value in cognition, and how the value of an oral tradition in the community can provide another role for the elderly in those communities whose memories and memory skill is a valuable resource not only for their immediate community but for museums, archives, academics and contemporary craft makers. Also vital in this process is the database of photos, information and embedded knowledge contained within the local Comun Eachdraidh (Historical societies), Hebridean Connections digital resource and the extensive archive at the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh.

Weaving MarramPlad weaving with marram rope – Peninerine – South Uist – 1953 – W.Kissling (© School of Scottish Studies archive)

In particular we are looking at the memory, knowledge and techniques involved in the use of marram grass, in the making of baskets, rope and weaving in the Outer Hebrides. For example the Ciosan (a small, closely woven basket), Plata-Mhuilinn (a form of grain basket), Muran sguab (a small scrubbing brush) ***

Weaving marram grass

Rope making with bent grass (Marram) Peninerine – South Uist  1953 – W.Kissling (© School of Scottish Studies archive)


* The word ‘Haptic’ comes from the Greek ‘haptikos’ relating to the sense of touch



Ness area Dementia Cafe

I went along to the Clan MacQuarrie Community Centre today for the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Cafe. I was humbled by the stories of crofting livestock deaths, transport, care and illness struggles. 

I shared Maggie and Donald’s wonderful podcasts and talked about forthcoming sessions and film screenings. 

And the banana loaf was beautiful. 

This community centre is a wonderful resource, clearly well used and loved and cared for by the community. I particularly have oven envy!