Woven Communities at WIH Clisham Ward

The Woven Communities project with St. Andrew’s University  Professor of Anthropology Dr Stephanie Bunn, collaborating with Dawn Susan, Hebridean Baskets and Our Dementia Friendly Community project at An Lanntair continues to search for people with memory and hand memory of making woven baskets and ropes from natural local materials.

We dropped in to Clisham Ward after our Solas session today and passed the baskets around. I don’t quite know why the creel brings so much hilarity but it always does. People who remember using one usually say something along the lines of “Oh no! Take it away, those days are long gone.”, laughing anyway. Those who have never used one think it’s funny to try it or hold it and then try to imagine how it must have felt, realising that we have it easy these days.

Recognition and laughter definitely featured, especially from one gentleman who came from Uist. He also clearly liked having the straw in his hands, twining it while singing. He started to sing an old piping song and Maggie surprised us all with some spontaneous step dancing and singing along when she recognised the tune. I’m sure she will regret that with a few twinges later….very entertaining, though.

Dawn brought a split oak basket, used latterly for the herring industry when the managers realised how strong and durable they were. Again, this one is strong enough to stand on. Also a small version of the herring basket on the harbourside statue in Stornoway. There was plenty of rope to handle and pass around, made from rush, heather, plaited straw.

We had a look at the Ciosan sample basket and talked about that – one gentleman decided it could be used as an ashtray until we thought about it… that could actually become a new saying….as useless as a chocolate teapot could now become ‘as useless as a straw ashtray’.

I dropped the memory box in to the ward for them to trial for a week before it goes to Harris House.

Many thanks to Maggie Smith, Dawn Susan and the wonderful staff team at Clisham Ward, Western Isles Hospital.


Woven Communities at Solas

Maggie and I took the Woven Communities project to Solas today, with the officially ‘excellent’ Dawn Susan and her beautifully handmade baskets.

Dawn explained how a creel is made, with a template ‘turf’ – originally it would have been made upside down outside, with the willow being pushed into the ground. It then developed into taking a piece of turf into the byre to keep out of the weather and to avoid scrabbling round and round on the ground. The turf could have been moved around instead. An then it developed into a wooden template, still called a turf today.

Dawn demonstrated how strong the creel is by standing on it. Maggie did  (eventually) get an image of that 🙂 Staff and volunteers had a go with the creel and so did Tony, for the first time ever.

We had a go at twining with soaked straw. It was largely successful but I don’t think we are going to be turning out any beautifully evenly plaited horse collars anytime soon!

We handled different kinds of rope, including some heather rope from Arnol Blackhouse. This kind of rope has been used in the past to lower people down a cliff to harvest seabirds and eggs, particularly on St. Kilda.

The session finished with Dawn retelling a wonderful story told to us at Taigh Chearsabhagh last month, linking Uist rope making to African diamonds! Rope to Riches indeed.



FREE Waulking songs event Monday 1st Aug

An Lanntair’s Dementia Friendly Community Project Presents
Waulking Songs Event (download waulking songs flyer here)
With Laxdale Choir
Monday 1st August in the Gallery.

12.30 – 1PM
2 – 2.30 PM

This session is fun for anyone with memories of tweed waulking or anyone interested in cultural singing.
Lunch can be provided in between sessions.
Please book with paula@lanntair.com Or call Paula 07493 716665 as there is limited space.
Carers, relatives and friends most welcome.
Come and share the experience!

Initial Memory Box Success

Well the memory box trial started with a wobble when I forgot to include the tablet computer yesterday but I’ve managed to reunite it with the rest of the box now, along with a piece of peat dropped by from Jon this morning. 

There is quite a queue forming to trial it, so I have put a list of where it is booked on our events page.

I’m really moved by the positive response to it so far because every person wanting to trial it is actually saying that they want to offer their time to support people who will benefit from sensory experiences and island specific reminiscence materials. And of course to feed back to us to support the development of further themed boxes.

It’s a very encouraging start.

Memory Box Trial Begins with Sensory Themed Box

The team has been working hard to create a trial Memory Box to gain valuable community feedback to build upon and create a set of themed boxes to travel throughout the islands on the Mobile Library service.

The initial box focuses on sensory items with can support people with sensory needs and comes with a fantastic and typically Hebridean community spirit of collaboration. Harris Distillery have given us some wonderful, aromatic sugar kelp that has been dried to food grade for hygiene and other fragrant items in the box include their hand cream made from wild matter flowers and their aromatic leaf tea, which can be smelled or brewed to drink. It is quite peaty. There is a tub of Swarfega and a bar of Coal Tar Soap. An Lanntair Exhibitions and Festivals have inspired some of the items, to share the arts programme more widely into the community and local Gaelic speakers and performers have contributed to the Podcasts. Kathleen Milne at the Library has been generously advising and supporting with sharing these boxes across the wider Western Isles community.

Lights feature in a string of battery operated fairy lights, textures from some Harris Tweed ends, clay to mould with inspiration in the form of images from Katie Scarlett Howard’s Herring Girls Exhibition at An Lanntair. There are bubble guns, inspired by Peter Schrader’s How Big Can We Grow Exhibit last year, wax and watercolour painting equipment from Mhairi Hedderwicrk’s  Katie Morag illustrations and some Cyanotype alternative process photography paper, which can make images from sunlight, inspired by Mhairi & Pat Law’s An Lanntair exhibition with Coy &  Ian Stephen Eilean/Island.

Sounds come from our ten bilingual project podcasts on a CD, a CD and brochure of the recent Mhairi Killin and Hugh Watt Resoundings Exhibition and the Playlist for Life project can be enjoyed through the tablet computer, personal headphones and splitters provided.

There is a pdf notes for playlist for life for the Playlist for Life creation, as well as a notebook to offer feedback to the project, to enable us to develop the themed boxes for the next phase where we roll it out across the islands.

If you would like to book the trial box, please contact paula@lanntair.com

Currently, it is making it’s way around settings in Stornoway, it will be heading to Harris on 8th August and will be in South Uist the week beginning 24th August.
In the near future, you will be able to book a themed box of your choice for your setting.


Playlist for Life

I’ve been supporting the hospital with Playlist for Life recently, looking at why this is so important for people who might find it difficult to express themselves in other ways and how to make the most of the opportunity.

The staff team felt that relatives and visitors could have a very important role to play in creating personal playlists because of how well they know the person but perhaps a questionnaire could be a good starting point.

I have, therefore,  put together a list of thoughts, ideas and starting points for discussion with the person to create a playlist and ideas to create a list for a person who is very withdrawn, so that while listening together with headphones and splitters, any responses can be built upon.

Our trial memory box has a tablet computer in there with Spotify downloaded (other music accounts and services are available!). This works on wifi within the hospital and many care homes, so that we can use it to create playlists and search for favourite songs on the service. The Chaplaincy at Western Isles Hospital also has a laptop where you may upload your own music for the person and put it onto an mp3 player if that works better for you.

The starting point list is below. I have also uploaded it as a document for you to download and print, in case that is helpful. Click on the version you want below.
pdf notes for playlist for life
word notes for playlist for life

Notes for creating a playlist for your friend/relative.

These songs are intended to be listened to together with headphone splitters, so imagine memories that you can share.

This is just a list as a starting point. You could brainstorm with the person…
Do you remember xyz’s wedding? What did we dance to?
What was that song we hated? ( it might be hilarious now).

Ideas to get you started:

Where did you first meet the person? Did you work together? What was played in the workplace or socially afterwards?
What was on the radio at the time?
Did they sing songs to you? Nursery rhymes? Playful songs?
Were you at school together? Was there a school song?
Did you attend church together? Any relevant music there?
Family events, wedding songs, parties, celebrations? Anything coming to mind from that?
Social activities – clubs, groups, sports?
Childhood groups – guides/scouts etc?
Holidays? Music from particular countries?

Did the person play an instrument, or their spouse, children?
Did you train together? Nursing? Teaching? Music from dancing in the evenings? From the radio at the time?
Did you share accommodation?
Did you live together as a family?
Music from television?
Music while cooking?
Anything a relative or friend used to whistle or sing regularly?
Did you see any shows? Favourite films? Musicals?
Does the person have a favourite musician/band or artist?
Was there a song about the person’s name? (Annie’s song….etc).

Woven Communities Session at Blar Buidhe


Dawn Susan brought her wonderful baskets and knowledge of basketry along to Blar Buidhe today, as part of the Woven Communities collaboration project with St Andrew’s University.

Staff and residents participated in trying out the baskets and talking about memories related to using or making them. Residents found staff from other countries  trying on creels particularly hilarious and chat was leaning towards gratitude about not having to carry peats any more. It was clearly hard and heavy work. Messy too, as we learned that creels weren’t only used for carrying peats – seaweed and manure too, as well as potatoes.

Maggie supported people with Gaelic as their first language to participate fully in the session and Dawn was able to establish that woven horse collars are more of a Uist creation, with Lewis horse collars largely having been made of leather.

We learned that rope making was a trusted craft – people were lowered down cliffs on such hand made ropes to collect sea birds for food. Dawn was finding her trials with marram twined ropes did not hold once dry and that the joining process needed to be longer and stronger than she first imagined.  One lady explained that the boys being lowered down the cliffs would only trust ropes made by their own father.

Bella said that her mother was a Herring Girl and she recognised the shape but not the size of the oval herring basket.

I’m not sure that our twining efforts today are going to produce heirloom items such as Dawn’s beautiful baskets but it was a lovely, cultural way to spend an afternoon and many residents benefitted from having something to work with in their hands. I could see that a couple of the ladies did have some hand memory there and they enjoyed making the movements and creating a piece of twine. I felt, for a moment, through her peaceful facial expression, that one lady was back in her mind’s eye by the fire with her mother, twining on her fingers by the firelight.

We will be taking the session to Solas Day Centre and Western Isles Hospital shortly, before we head back to Uist for the making sessions.

What Matters to Me Day @ WIH and Playlist for Life session

I supported the Western Isles Hospital ‘What Matters to me?’ Day today, plus ran a little Playlist for life session on a ward 2-4pm. The hospital hanging baskets were in full bloom.

Denise Symington was cheerily greeting people and reminding staff to always use their name to support patients.

Further down the corridor, there are new posters giving job titles and the main roles in a person’s job, along with their name and picture. Here you see Marion MacInnes taking a little snap.

On the ward, we looked at existing computing equipment available for use by patients, also the new laptop available in the Chaplaincy with Helen Gallacher and we made a brainstormed list with Chrissie and Harry for Harry’s favourite kinds of music.

Pauline and Marion from Alzheimer Scotland were available with material to inform and support people living with dementia and their carers.

Some of the problems we encountered for the Playlist for Life project were lack of reliable internet signal (it really is better in some areas than others) and the account needed for some online music services. My task is to speak with managers and come up with ideas to remove the barriers.

Have a look at the pdf  Playlist for Life Posters and our iPod drive, in collaboration with the NHS. All iPods, iPads, equivalent tablet type players and MP3 players are welcome. Modern tape players are welcome too because the wards have a massive cassette tape collection.

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