Quilt session this morning


Just look at the gold fish, the monkey and the Tarbert kippers. So much came from this lady’s life story that Chris Hammacott actually made her two cushions! I love the textures, colours, buttons and 3d effects that these pieces have, which will support this lady for many years to come. I’m enjoying this project so much and Chris’s sensitive interpretation of these very remarkable life stories continues to be meaningful and touching,. as well as the value of the works of art that are being created. We also spent a lovely half hour chatting about railway signalling with a gentleman from Glasgow for a future piece.

January Feb 17 Newsletter

This is the Arora Dementia Friendly Community at An Lanntair Newsletter for January into February 2017.

You will be able to find a link to a spoken word version of this on our Soundcloud account.

Is it the end of January already? I can’t quite believe it. 2017 is making its mark in a big way.
I’ll start by telling you about the things that happened in January.

We are excited to announce the beginning of the contracts of our two Artist Practitioners in North and South Uist and Benbecula. These two wonderful Artists are Margaret Joan MacIsaac, who has a block of hours and an Artist Commission to support carers and people living with dementia in the Uists and Benbecula and Kate MacDonald, who has a contract with us and an Arts Commission until the end of March 2018. There will be much more news about this work as it gets going.

The 10th January saw the Western Isles Hospital Tuesday Ceilidh sessions start up after Christmas and the sessions are being evaluated by the NHS through Heather Baillie. I went along to the first evaluation session and it was a wonderful opportunity to share everything that has come from these much appreciated sessions through the past year. It was also a fantastic ceilidh session. These continue each Tuesday on the Erisort ward.

Later on 10th Jan, I met with Mairi MacIver, the Post Diagnostic Support Nurse and she brought a lady to meet me and talk about the events and opportunities that are happening locally.

January 12th, I was back at Solas with the incredibly talented Chris Hammacott, working on the Quilter in residence project there. Alzheimer Scotland has taken over Chris’s contract to continue the work to create a piece for everyone at the Centre and for a few people supported at home too. I still support these sessions when I have a matching time slot and the pieces that are still coming from these sessions are exquisite in their art form as much as the nature of the personal storytelling and support they offer. This project is being featured in the March edition of British Patchwork and Quilting.

On 16th and 17th January, Dawn Susan, Maggie Smith and myself went along to the Museum Education Centre at Lews Castle to work on Woven Communities to share the knowledge of basket making and grass weaving with Stornoway Primary School and groups from care settings and day centres. We had a wonderful time making willow fish, marram grass rope and bailer twine rope, and looking at baskets in the museum itself as well as Dawn’s own beautiful baskets.

The rest of the week was spent travelling to and attending the University of St Andrews Woven Communities Symposium through the department of Social Anthropology, hosted by Dr Stephanie Bunn. What a wonderful experience, sharing our knowledge and project images with other Basketmakers and Anthropologists. We didn’t really see the Anthropology connections before this Symposium but now we feel like accidental Anthropologists because of the very strong parallels and links with what other people are studying in the field. We hope to attract some excellent speakers for our own Conference in 2018 from this incredible group of people.

Monday 23rd January, Maggie hosted her first Cultural Movement session at Blar Buidhe in Stornoway, assisted by the wonderful Pauline, who is the Activities Co-ordinator there. There is a blog about this too. See CULTURAL MOVEMENT blog. Maggie has also composed three new Gaelic rhymes to support these three sessions that she has created to support people in care centres to exercise and reminisce in culturally specific sessions.

On Tuesday 24th January, we recruited a wonderful man, Duncan Mackinnon as our new Barra based Artist Practitioner. After an induction period, he will be working with the Barra community on community and music events to support people living with dementia and their carers.

On 25th January, we celebrated Burns Night a tad early with a Burns lunch, featuring the wonderful home made haggis at An Lanntair, along with traditional neeps and tatties and a wee dram (for those not driving!). This came just after our monthly dementia friendly screening, which was The Sound of Music this month. 14 people came along and enjoyed the film and we had 12 at our lunch. Some of the wider An Lanntair team came along to enjoy lunch with us because it was a fun and sociable occasion and because it is lovely to give people different social opportunities with new people to share a meal with. It also helps the team to understand the work we do and to understand the audience and their interests. (Picture from An Lanntair Facebook comment)


26th January, Maggie Smith was in a Lewis Care Home and has written a wonderful blog piece about this called MOMENTS. Have a look.

Also on 26th January, I supported the Alzheimer Scotland Carers Group Dinner at An Lanntair. We chatted about the next Dementia Friendly Film screening options, how carers would like taster sessions of music lessons and crafts and the most recent funding applications.

27th January saw the start of the Chinese New Year. It is the year of the Rooster. We didn’t plan anything specifically for this because, sadly, the Reverend Dr Iain D Campbell, the Chair of the Alzheimer Scotland Lewis & Harris Branch was seriously unwell in hospital and a celebration seemed untimely. Sadly, news came on Saturday 28th January that he has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

By way of tribute to Rev Iain D Campbell, I would like to say that I greatly enjoyed attending Alzheimer Scotland local branch meetings that he chaired, the project was immensely grateful for the funds that supported our South Isles Post from the Branch and I know that he was immensely proud of the local community and worked very hard to support it. The last time I saw him, he was visiting our Quilter in Residence exhibition at An Lanntair with his wife, just before Christmas. He was so keen to express his gratitude for the project and his joy at the joy the personal pieces gave to the people at Solas and their families.

On Saturday 28th January, Alzheimer Scotland Lewis & Harris Branch held their Soup & Pudding Fundraiser, which I supported by baking and volunteering at, and we all shared a few words and thoughts about the sad loss of the much loved Branch Chairman. I think he would have been proud that the fundraising spirit continued in his honour and that those who felt able under the circumstances, came along to support the event and each other.


Tuesday 31st January, I am attending the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group for Dementia at Holyrood. Any questions about the islands’ provision for dementia or about national dementia policies, please pass them on and I will put them to the policymakers.

Jon Macleod is now in Senegal for five weeks, at a UNESCO Heritage Site Island, researching culture, memory and oral tradition there. I will pass on any news from Jon as he sends it throughout his residency. Jon’s exhibition DEISEAL is going to Taigh Chearsabhagh next, so check that out if you are in North Uist.


Jon has also been working on the DEEP project work with a gentleman living at Blar Buidhe Care Centre. They have together come up with an image they worked on during visits to Stornoway Harbour called ‘Lazy Corner’. It’s a beautiful and timeless image and I hope that the vinyl wall image supports and engages everyone there.


We are just ordering the cases to hold the Memory Box work that will be shared across the islands via the Mobile Library vans. Museum Nan Eilean is collaborating with us by offering their Handling Collection to go along with our Sensory Collection. Maggie is going to be working on the Gaelic element of this work and the project should be live by the end of February.

We have started work on a ‘One Stop’ poster listing everything that is on offer for people living with dementia and their carers in the South Isles. Life Changes Trust design team are working on this, which we are so grateful for.


8th February at Pocket Cinema, the next Dementia Friendly Screening will be at 1pm. It will be a musical, we are finalising the title this week.

Tuesday 21st is the next Life Changes Trust Gathering in Perth.

Thursday 23rd Feb is the Alzheimer Scotland Carers High Tea at An Lanntair, please book through Bells Road local branch 01851 702123

Each Tuesday afternoon on Erisort Ward, there is a Tuesday Ceilidh to support people in hospital with memory and socialising. Please ask your nurse if you would like to go along.

More news will be added to Facebook and our Blog as it happens and is confirmed.

That’s it for now, I’ll make another newsletter for the end of February.


One lady in an Isle of Lewis Care Home is always trying to get on her feet, and doesn’t ever seem to engage in conversation with anyone. Today she managed to stand up as she had a walking stick in her hand.

As I approached, to coax her to sit down, I heard her say something about ‘àirigh’ the Gaelic for shieling. The summer pasture for cattle.
I mentioned ‘aran corc’ oatcakes, ‘gruth’ crowdie and ‘bàrr’ cream as they were staple àirigh food.

She liked the words ‘gruth ’s barr’and tried them out.

I softly sang a verse
Dh’ith thu an gruth s dh’òl thu am bàrr
Dh’ith thu an gruth s dh’ol thu am bàrr
Dh’ith thu an gruth ‘s dh’ol thu am bàrr
S dh’ith’ thu càis an t-sàmhraidh

Yes! This lady joined me on the second line.

At the end of the verse and before I could attempt further conversation. Behind me, I heard two or three voices who having recognised the verse, were heartily singing the chorus.
S i o al o al ay di um
S i o al o al ay di um
S i o al o al ay di um
S i o al um si ou rum

I gently took the standing lady’s arm and walked her around to face the others.
We sang another two verses and three rousing chorus. With this lady heartily singing, hanging on my arm and the second time around, she began to swing her walking stick gently in time.

The faces of the other resident-singers seated, were an absolute picture. Their expressions I believe, to be sheer astonishment. That this lady who did not usually converse at all, was there with us, animated and contributing words to the song, conducting the flow with her stick.

We all watched the walking stick swing back and fore. Non-threatening, it was gently controlled and swinging at ground level, keeping time.

I wonder whether others in the room, went back to swishing a walking stick while herding the cow home from the moor at milking time?

Crowdie and cream from a cow grazing on the heather in the summer. Nothing quite like it.

Dh’ith thu an gruth s dhol thu am bàrr.
Dh’ith thu an gruth s dh’ol thu am bàrr
Dh’ith thu an gruth ‘s dh’ol thu am bàrr
S dh’ith’ thu càis an t-sàmhraidh

I just love those very evocative Gaelic songs and on the Arora project I have found many willing chorus participants. In fact I see them as the best ceilidh audience in the West of Scotland.

Cultural Movement

Just over a month ago I was privileged to attend an inspirational dance and movement workshop by Dr Richard Coaten. It was called Dancing the in-between- a new paradigm in Dementia care.

The tip sheet distributed at the end of the session was titled ‘A Goulash of Music, Movement,Dance, Reminiscence & Song”
My role as Arora’s Gaelic and cultural activities co-ordinator in the Isle of Lewis, gave me scope to make my first venture into dance and movement, culturally relevant to the Hebrides.

During the quiet time over New Year, I had composed three new Gaelic song/rhymes with lots of repetition and devised a stretch and hand jive routine for my first attempt at getting armchair participants engaged.

Theme for the first part of the movement is a weaver getting a tweed beam delivered from the Harris Tweed Mill van.
Theme for part two is the plying of wool with a dealgan or drop spindle
Theme for part three is knitting a woolly vest.

Today with the support of the lovely Pauline after some live music on guitar and melodeon, we tried out the first theme.
Well!. Not only did participants contribute movement, there were voices picking up the new song. I was delighted beyond words. I can’t wait to try out part two and three and get some more wool and weaving reminiscence sessions and see where the ‘goulash’ takes us next.

Clap hands on knees /Feet tapping Weaver
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
’S Tod a tighinn ga iarraidh a màireach

Driving wheel Movement Mill van
Chi sinn i tighinn van mhòr ghorm
Chi sinn i tighinn van mhòr ghorm
Chi sinn i tighinn van mhòr ghorm
‘S bidh an clò aig ceann an staran a maireach

Clap hands on knees/Feet tapping Weaving
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
‘S Tod a tighinn ga iarraidh a màireach

Arm extending to side Delivery of beam
Sadaidh iad am beam dhan an dig gu math tràth
Sadaidh iad am beam dhan an dig gu math tràth
Sadaidh iad am beam dhan an dig gu math tràth
Agus poca bhobban airson na tha dhith a snàth

Clap hands on knees /Feet tapping Weaver
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
Tha breab breab breab aig a’ bhreabadair sa bhaile
’S Tod a tighinn ga iarraidh a màireach

Day 2 Woven Communities

The remainder of day 2 at the Woven Communities Symposium was an incredible blend of wonder at similarities, mysteries and differences in basketry, knotting, weaving, culture and engineering across the world. 

There were so many conversations sparking up around the rooms and little treasures that I noticed, such as the age of the buildings, the coat hooks, the stained glass. Plus the St Andrews teabags…

Mary Crabb

This length of hand made cord, interspersed with tags for the First World War years of 1914-16, has 244 knots representing the loss of men to one community and in particular, depicted by one red knot, the loss of Cecil, Mary’s Grandmother’s boyfriend, who did not return at the tragically young age of 18. 

Dawn Susan has worked on themes of remembrance before and the act of passing the knots around the gathering today was very moving. Another life, and another passing through our fingers as shared experience. 


making-firelightersFIRE LIGHTERS
The Hebridean tradition of Oidhche Challainn the ancient fire festival celebrated on the 12th January and my visit to the Clavie celebrations at Burghhead last week, inspired our Arora, fire themed workshop at an Isle of Lewis Care Home today.

We had kindling, peats and lots of old newspaper lined up to make firelighters, as they used to be made, before Zip and paraffin drenched blocks were commercially available.

In the 1960s I remember the Daily Express, the only daily newspaper delivered to the village, only because of the cartoon Rupert Bear and making firelighters.

In the past fire-lighters were made by rolling, random folding and or careful folding, to make concertina type bows and then knotted tightly to make a core for the fire to grip.

Re-cycling is nothing new in the crofting communities. Any unused cardboard was carefully cut into strips and carefully placed between the folds of the concertina type fire lighter. They would help get the stove underway to heat up the household water supply.

At today’s gathering we had peat cutting stories, tips on setting and banking up a fire, and memories of red peat ash.

These are some of the fire related words from today:

Bioran: Kindling
Plòithtean: Large peat used at the back of the fire
Tasgadh: The preserving of the fire overnight. It was covered with ashes or a large peat as above
Luath: Ashes
Cainnean: Speck of fire often on a spill used for lighting a pipe. There was always a jar of spills on the hearth for this purpose.
Fàd : A peat
Caoran : Broken bits of peat
Craos math teine: A great fire
Eibhlean : Embers
Togail an teine: Getting the fire going

Woven Communities at the Museum 2

Under the banner of Woven Communities Stephanie Bunn, St Andrew’s University and Dawn Susan from Hebridean Baskets have been researching, how different kinds of baskets, used for household tasks in the past, were woven in the Highlands of Scotland.
Woven Communities also gather information on the source of the natural materials used for baskets, how the materials were harvested, stored and subsequently prepared for weaving the intricate baskets.

This week at Museum nan Eilean Stornoway, Woven Communities were working in partnership with Arora, so Paula Brown and I went along to support Heritage Officer Angus Murray with the learning-hands on sessions.

Two local care home groups came to the workshop yesterday and then today twenty enthusiastic children from a local primary school arrived on foot, making the most of a dry bright January morning.

As a group we looked at several kinds of baskets which were on the museum display. Some of the baskets were very ancient but I was really excited to discover a new prototype lobster creel made from recycled plastic by local innovators Gordon Deisels, utilising the material to hand in this age.

Then back in the workshop room, we plaited with marram grass to make lengths of very strong rope. marram is a natural resource generally found on the Machair in the Hebrides. This batch of marram was harvested by Woven Communities from Cealasaidh off Great Bernera. Marram is soft and pliable, has a strong earthy smell, and was traditionally used for making rope which was handy for animals on the croft and used on the boats necessary for the lively hood of families living on the coast.
Today every pupil had a shot at marram rope plying to get the feel of it and appreciate the strength of it once plied. The scholars greeted and thanked us all in Gaelic this morning and learned that the little basket made from marram, which was often found in the meal chest, was called a ciosan. Also that Marram is called Muran in Gaelic and that South Uist is called Tir a Mhurain.

Then withies of willow, all colours and hues, grown on Dawn Susan’s croft in Great Bernera were woven into little fish shapes. The twenty delighted children swarmed back through the Castle Grounds with a multi coloured fish and a length of marram rope each, to show their friends in the school.

The children had admired Dawn’s peat creel made from willow. They appeared sceptical about the scaled down creel in the museum, thought to be used by children, in order to contribute to the croft labour force.
Fortunately the exhibition also features a picture of children lifting the potatoes scrabbling in the earth with their fingers.
Today’s pupils in 2017, are very remote from the crofting family I was part of, at their age.
They were bemused when I explained that the October holiday in my day was ‘Holiday a Bunata’. It was no holiday! That was the week when you saw and reached for earth covered potatoes even in your sleep. Until all the family’s crop of potatoes and your neighbours, were lifted and laid out to dry before they were stored in hessian sacks to see humans and animals through the winter.

I hope you enjoy the creel-related proverbs which I gathered with the potatoes in those days.

Cha do dhòrt clìabh a-riamh nach robh còrr no dìth oirre
If a creel poured you could never fill or stack it the same way again. There was always surplus or not enough.
Dh’ionndrainneadh tu seann chlìabh bhon dòras
When an item which was no longer used, was moved from its position. You would notice it was no longer there.
Seileach allt, calltain chreag, fearna bhog, beithe lag, uinnseann an deisir
Willow of the brook, hazel of the rock, alder of the bog, birch of the hollow, ash of the sunny slope.