Pause and reflect

Taking time to pause and reflect was the closing message from Henry Simmons at the Scottish Dementia Awards last week.

We certainly weren’t expecting to come away with the trophy for ‘Best Dementia Friendly Community’ against such stiff competition. Everyone nominated is doing incredible work to reconnect communities and reduce isolation.

Looking around the packed room, I knew that each person had undoubtedly volunteered many hours on top of their official role, as we do. And everyone looked fantastic – intricate hairstyles, ruffles and lace, some in dazzling reds and oranges. 

Some of the organisations nominated and winning were huge. Theatres, charities, partnerships much bigger than our own. But then thinking about the incredible range of programming at An Lanntair, courtesy of skilled programming staff alongside local, national and international artists of all media, such a rich resource to share, and which we have naturally emulated across our dementia friendly community, I thought about how much we have achieved in 18 months. 

I’m not sure that it can be considered a highlight but a particularly meaningful moment for me was coming back to the office and sharing with everyone that we had lost two of the wonderful people who participated in this journey with us but that our work had returned speech to one gentleman, the return of his voice, and that another lady had enjoyed the violin music she had missed so much. And that it was the last thing they did. I was there at the passing of the gentleman. Walking past by chance, I felt something was different and I held his big, weather beaten hand as the last thready pulses passed. 

I wondered how the panel knew about our work to select us as the best, being so remote and working so personally with people. And then I started to recognise faces. People I’ve Skyped with from the Scottish Dementia Working Group, people from NDCAN – Myra Lamont, who said she didn’t completely understand dementia friendly communities until she spent a day museum visiting with us and then made the effort to meet up with us to support carers and start to build a team in Uist last month, people we have presented to at Life Changes Trust gatherings, people cheering us on. 

I certainly don’t do any of this for recognition or an award. At times, I’ve cried and lost sleep for the things we can’t do, for the work that remains undone, for the heartbreak and loss that people I’ve come to know so well experience. 

But such a wonderful and meaningful award from the people who have watched us grow is something to shout about. I hope that it will support us to more of the wonderful collaboration and partnerships that have shaped this project – academic, charitable, community and volunteer collaboration has been key to this project’s success. This award, ‘Best Dementia Friendly Community’ is an incredible achievement. 

My heartfelt gratitude goes to Alzheimer Scotland on a national level for campaigning so hard for people and for this award shaped opportunity to showcase the incredible work cross Scotland, for bringing us together with inspirational people, whose words I share to try to effect local change, such as Archie Latta from the Scottish Dementia Working Group, who has helped me to reduce stigma and support people to ask for help and the tirelessly industrious Agnes Houston who’s Twitter feed is staggeringly full. 

Also on a local level, where would I be without my ‘wee pal’ Marion MacInnes, local Branch Manager, supporting us in collaborative and innovative change within the NHS and remote communities in the South Isles and for carers?

Heartfelt thanks also belong to Life Changes Trust, our incredible funders who nurture and support in ways which enable us to flexibly respond to the needs of the community and experiment to find the best ways of collaborating and working to achieve the most meaningful support. Their unswerving belief in us has been a powerful driving force.

An Lanntair is much more than an arts organisation, it is in the heart memory of the community, it’s a family. This project is successful on so many levels, and I couldn’t be more proud of every person who gives a part of him or herself to make it possible. I was going to photograph every person who earned this award with us and make a photo collage to show just how many people deserve it but I don’t think I have enough life left to do that, so let me just say this award is ours. ‘Nothing about us without us.’ Agnes Houston often says. All of us. 

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