Japan & Gingerbread Men

We’ve recently visited a Stornoway Day Centre and Care Centre with Gill Thompson to create some lino print Christmas cards. We took along some pre-made designs to increase confidence before going along at a later date with some blank tiles and some designs to create of our own, perhaps from personal images or favourite places.

One gentleman is an Artist, mostly in the medium of clay sculpting but also some paints. He has also written a book of local stories, which I have shared with many people locally.


Today, we chatted about a local toddler, that this gentleman highlighted to me last year at the Christmas film, when I handed out some little playful Christmassy figures to anyone singing along to White Christmas. He explained that he was keeping his for this tiny premature baby born so early and how her story had touched his heart. By chance, I had been sitting next to this little girl and her family on the ferry en route to an event in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago and she looked healthy and happy and it was wonderful to see her doing so well. He was thrilled to hear she was growing and thriving and this clearly gave him a mid-afternoon boost. We chatted a little about art and the value of hand making Christmas cards. He made a lino print card with us and was excited to write it out for family. It may not be an intricate bust of a woman carrying peats or a military gentleman, as his past work had been, but it was a hand made card to share with family and to be treasured for that reason. We made a jolly green Christmas tree and it looked wonderful drying on the radiator for the afternoon.

Another gentleman from Ness made a robin print. He recalls robins sitting on the croft from time to time, not fences, though, there weren’t many fences back in his crofting days.


Another moving moment was enjoying two retired teachers working together. Gill has been a teacher and so had this lady. I laughed that Gill was finding it hard to retire and I enquired as to how the retirement process had been for her and she admitted that it was harder than one might think. A lovely conversation ensued about colleagues and connections and friendships through teaching but the sense of purpose, too. The baron (bear-on) was particularly enjoyed by this lady, for the fact that it came from Japan, the name of it and the fact that it was made from a bamboo leaf and was very obviously so from it’s texture.


Six additional residents participated and made a card (or three!) each. We had gingerbread men, stars, Christmas trees, robins and we even progressed on to colour mixing by the end of the session. Six staff members dropped by to participate in different stages and with Gill and myself, everyone was well supported to participate and to make the most of the session.


At the day centre, five people participated and made a card each, supported by three members of staff plus myself and Gill, so it was pretty much one to one support, which was wonderful. We recited the ‘gingerbread man’ rhyme, which some people recognised and some did not. We had fun selecting and mixing colours. A Priest (Father Roddy) was visiting and watching our creativity with great interest and he was asking if anyone would send him one of their wonderful hand made cards….maybe!


Don’t worry, we have Bob Marley’s Sister, a Herring Girl and a Mermaid!

I took some of Chris Hammacott’s cushion and worry doll kits in to the ward ceilidh today, to show everyone and immediately, we were making 4 worry dolls (one became a mermaid!) and a rooster cushion.

Everyone enjoyed the process of making them but especially decorating them afterwards. They were all named and given identities, one was a herring girl and one was a mermaid – one was Bob Marley’s sister… One student nurse said that the process of making it made her forget about her imminent exam results.

A lady was about to be discharged tomorrow and she said ‘I enjoyed it, it was something different, I’ve never done anything like this before’ and she took her completed worry doll with her and a cushion kit to tackle as a recuperation project at home, to encourage her to sit and recover, rather than immediately getting back to doing everything at home.

I think we have discovered several new uses for the kits – for carers, for recoveries after illness, for conversations and activities on the ward as well as to create some lovely gifts for families, neighbours and friends.

I have put in an order with Chris for several more dolls kits and I will send them on their travels to carers in Barra, the Uists, plus to offer at the Me Time sessions.

Next week, we will have a go at making some duff.


Treasured gifts and memories

The weather was kind as we made our way over the Clisham yesterday for a textiles session at Harris House with Chris Hammacott.  Chris’s amazing husband Andrew made us some tea and left us a picnic of Bakewell tart and energy bars (in case we broke down in the snow), so we were well prepared for an afternoon of stitching and painting silks.

We passed around some silk painted cushions, some of the cushion and worry doll kits, a fantastically colourful quilt front made from scraps of much loved dresses from Chris’s Gran and Mother, a doll, plus some tweed cushions.

Chris worked on a silk painted cushion front in a bright poppy design, with a gentleman who was enjoying painting the bright colours. Another lady made a worry doll (and immediately tucked it away proudly to show her relative, who would be visiting later) and then shared her beautiful wedding photo with us, I remembered her story about buying a bale of Harris Tweed for her wedding dress and sitting for three hours, a labour of love, to pick out the black flecks to make it perfectly white. Maggie has recorded this beautiful story earlier in the blog. The fur trim on the incredible wedding dress is actually goose down!

I worked with a lady to outline a cockerel cushion – we made our way around about half of it before the session was over and it was time for tea. The lady explained to me that her eyesight had deteriorated, giving her a problem with depth perception, which affected her sewing but she was very interested to watch and enjoyed touching the design as it puffed up with the stitching.

Chris has taken the two cushions home to complete, and we booked another session for next Monday to return the cushions and work on a little more. I think that the cushions are going to be Christmas presents for much loved family members, which will no doubt be treasured.

One gentleman had a visitor while we were there and they left him a wonderful dog muff, which lent itself to some playful flirtation with Chris. ‘Give him a kiss’ and ‘would you like to warm your hands?’ followed by peals of laughter were heard from the ‘naughty’ corner.

The gentleman next to me was talking about the old Harris House and how the builders had done a fantastic job on this new one, and how he had survived the Western front in the 51st Highlanders but he didn’t think he would survive much longer without a cup of tea! That had to be the best request for tea that I have ever heard!

More images next Monday, when we deliver the completed cushions and make some duff.


Photography Walk in Ness

We took advantage of the unseasonably great weather yesterday to go to Ness for a photography walk, as Cathy had been wanting to go next time the weather was good and a photographer was available.

Returning to an old home can be bittersweet and it certainly was for Cathy.

‘It’s changed so much but I’m glad I came.

The fences weren’t here, of course, we could walk up straight from the back of the house to the church. It was always open, nobody would ever dream of doing it any harm.

Oh, the things we used to get up to, even on a Sunday, walking across the wall at the back of the lighthouse, holding on to each other. If one went, we all would have gone!’

Mhairi’s pictures will come later and will feature in our exhibition in April 18 but in the meantime please enjoy my snaps of the afternoon.



Principles and Local Voices


Thinking about these emerging principles from all of the Dementia Friendly Communities funded by Life Changes Trust, plus the lovely opportunity to meet and chat with Anna Buchanan, who visited us this week, I wanted to draw some thoughts together with the words of people enjoying this project.

Anna and I discussed how at times, national politics can seem very far removed from a crofting life here on the Western Isles but that the voices of the people living with dementia here and those who care, are every bit as important as the voices of people who wish to and can manage to attend cross party groups etc. at the Scottish Parliament.

Many people that we work with here have no physical voice but we do communicate well through many artistic forms of self expression, physical and facial movement, expressions and pointing, smiles, a squeeze of a hand and occasionally a hand made duff, a salsa shimmy, a rousing chorus of Ballach an Iasgaidh or a deftly tied reef knot.

Many people living with dementia here do have a voice but actually would rather not trek to Edinburgh to sit around a table at Holyrood, the local environment is much preferred and for whom speaking at the Scottish Parliament sounds a bit too daunting.

So, how do we share the voices, wishes, thoughts and struggles of people right here?

At An Lanntair, we have been working across the community offering arts, cultural and heritage opportunities through one to one and small group sessions, based on requests from the community and needs expressed by the community for resources and people to work with. These arts opportunities have offered means of communication – arts as a language in itself. But we have also found that offering opportunities to relax, gather together, be playful and try new things as well as rediscovering things from the past actually frees up speech and movement to become more easily communicated.

This communication has been shared by creating memory boxes together, of preferred activities and items to touch, hold, smell, pass around and discuss. It has been shared through this blog, on social media and at conferences. It has been used to direct and shape the project.

And what about the very clear voices, which are able to communicate?

‘I love coming here, coming here is better than the doctors.’
‘I could do this every day.’
‘I live alone, you see.’
‘Why don’t we have a duff day?’
‘I can’t explain it, I just feel better making things with my hands.’
‘Great afternoon, my Mother loved it!’
‘Well, I didn’t think I’d ever dance again!’
‘Great craic, lovely lunch, I even got some stitching done amidst the hilarity!’
‘I never thought I’d see this shore again, I can’t believe I’m here.’
(on a photography walk)
‘I don’t know what the news was but it must have been good!’
(referring to the scale of the ceilidh celebration)


This absolutely highlights the value of some of the above principles.

A social model – How are we supported within our community?
Assets based – Living a full life and celebrating what we can do.
A significant say – People with dementia and carers direct this project with feedback, requests, working together and creating resources and art together.
Enabling people with dementia and carers to do what matters to them – have a look at the comments above.

It has been so helpful to be part of the network of DFC awardees through Life Changes Trust because we learn so much from each other. It is reassuring to see that the paths that we are naturally following as a project and as a community are in line with the paths other projects are following, through their own experiences. It has also been very reassuring to know that the thoughts, wishes, struggles and triumphs of people right here are being added collectively to the feedback and communication from everyone else across Scotland to create an impactful evaluation of this work from the past three years, which can be used to improve circumstances for all of the communities .

Cyanotypes Art Ceilidh with Mhairi Law


We had a wonderful day creating cyanotypes with Mhairi Law this week, during one of our Art Ceilidh days.

Mhairi brought along some inspirational books about photography, some things to print from outside (fragrant leaves, herbs, plus some feathers) and we rummaged in the Art Room stores to find shells, little people, snowflake confetti and other wonderful things.

Mhairi also brought along her light box, as we were working inside and we made good use of the drting racks in the Art Room after all of the finished prints had been washed off.

We created some unique images to frame as personalised Christmas presents.

Mhairi has created a lovely document about cyanotypes, which you can download here.

We had a fantastic lunch of baked haddock in the Cafe Bar, while the sun shone through across the harbour.

Comments from the day included:

‘I love coming here, coming here is better than the doctors!’
‘Isn’t this brilliant? Making something nobody else will have for Christmas?’
‘I just feel so much better, getting out.’




Oct/Nov Newsletter

This is the Arora Dementia Friendly Community newsletter for October into November 17. Spoken word version on Soundcloud here.


DEEP Hills of Home Project
Duncan Mackinnon has been working with every resident at St Brendan’s Care Centre in Castlebay, Barra, to select and frame an image that means a great deal to the person. Working one to one, conversations were about favourite parts of Barra and why they are important. Here is just one image from that body of work.



We also installed Alex Boyd’s image from the same project at Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, on Erisort Ward in the Day Room.
I’ve heard so many conversations in the space since – ranging from why people are quite reverent about abandoned houses, being protective of them, to the pool in the neck of the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ hills beyond. I don’t remember hearing many conversations about the space before, so it feels as though the image is working hard to support people already. Of course, I have seen several people just sitting quietly and gazing ‘out’ through it, which is what I anticipated, after the initial conversations, so that was lovely to see as well.


Work continues on the Benbecula Hospital project – this final DEEP image will support people in hospital to feel more like eating in a homely environment.

Tuesday ceilidhs at Western Isles Hospital featured a spinning session, enjoying the new vinyl on the wall, home baking and some spooky local stories for Halloween, as well as celebrating harvest with some seasonal produce.


Ceilidhs continue across the islands – Duncan Mackinnon offers a weekly ceilidh at St Brendan’s home and at Cobhair Bharraigh and he also hosts some sessions with the Men’s group locally, reminiscing over military and seafaring life.

DEEP Dance
The dance project, funded by DEEP went to Harris House and was a riot of colour and traditional singing. We used the scarves to link ourselves together in song and through the movement and music. Louise Davidson and Maggie Smith led the session with joy, exuberance and cultural music, which was so well received.


En route to this session in Harris, I took Cathy on a photography walk.


We went along to the Museum’s first cultural music session, which was wonderful and our amazing Maggie sang.


The Art Ceilidh at An Lanntair featured Gill Thompson’s print making. We made some gorgeous Christmas cards, bags and tags. Art celidhs are happening in Benbecula and South Uist, this month some coiled pots were made with Kate.


The Me Time Day at An Lanntair featured Dawn Susan’s natural weaving, where we made some Christmas decorations and even started on a basket. Me Time Days at Taigh Chearsabhagh were spent print making with Margaret Joan.

Kellie Anne Keltie from Tagsa Uibhist came to visit and she joined in with our print making day at An Lanntair, while we had a chat.



The team had some diversity training with the Bird of Paradise Theatre Company.



Kate has undertaken Intergenerational learning training, Paula’s International Certificate in Intergenerational Learning has come through too.

Mhairi Law, Photographer, held a session at Dun Eisdean Care Centre, to work on cyanotype images with residents. We played with some feathers, which reminded a lady of her crofting days, some personal items such as glasses, plus some models of boats and snowflakes, which triggered memories of travel and childhood.


Mhairi Law then accompanied the wonderful Bella on her photography walk to Point.
Mhairi’s images will be exhibited later but in the meantime, enjoy my snaps of the day.


Chris Hammacott held a fantastic Me Time Day at An Lanntair, working on textiles with a gorgeous cushion kit, some patchwork and a worry doll. We gave out several kits to carers.




We have been featured in Luminate’s Late Opening publication as a case study in the arts.
Have a read of it here
Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 17.07.02

Friday 3rd November, Chris Hammacott held a Me Time session in Ness with carers, featuring textiles, flowers, worry dolls, patchwork, silk painting and we made plans for coming back to make duff and arrange flowers.


Weds 1st Nov, we launched our first two memory boxes in Stornoway Library and had a touchy/feely/bubbly session there over tea and cake.


Tuesday 14th Nov, we held a Fishing Memory Box session at Harris House. This box is available to donate to there until mid December but we will be holding another storytelling and song session around fishing at the end of November.



Late November, date to follow shortly, Tarbert Library is hosting the final launch of our first two memory boxes before they go out on loan through the library to anyone who would like them. These are the Crofting and Sensory boxes, but there is also a Transport box, a fishing box, an exhibition box and a seasonal box in progress.

The Deep Dance project continued with a session at Dun Berisay Care Centre in Stornoway. There were feathers, brides, shy maidens and egg shakers. There was even some dancing.



Kate has been working with the Cothrom Og Nursery and Trianaid Care Centre intergenerationally, to create sensory books together. This month, they have been working on clay buttons and fabrics and they are about to work on some cyanotypes printed on to fabric. All of the residents and children have lunch together on their intergenerational days.


Me Time
The next Me Time day is at An Lanntair on 29th Nov, print making with Gill Thompson.
Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 15.35.57

Art Ceilidh
The next Art Ceilidh day is at An Lanntair on 22nd Nov with Mhairi Law, making Cyanotypes and inspiring our photography.
Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 15.15.29

Photography Walks
Mhairi Law will be supporting some more photography walks in reasonable weather.
Some will be open to the public, so please have a look if you would like some pointers with your own photography. The dates will be on our facebook page.

DEEP Hills of Home Project
Duncan Mackinnon and his brothers have been working hard on an image to mount at St Brendan’s Care Centre entrance area this month. Here are a couple of images of the framing process. More pictures when the completed picture is unveiled later in November!


We have just had the brilliant news that we have been successful with our application to welcome a PhD student into our project formally for the ne4xt year. Her name is Lucy Robertson and her funded place will mean that she can continue working on the innovative Intelligent Textiles work that she has been doing with us over the past few months. Welcome, Lucy and we are looking forward to working with you again.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 14.44.29


The first project for December is DUFF DECEMBER – poster and dates coming soon.
As Clootie Dumpling or Duff is talked about so often during our sessions and because the food festival at An Lanntair has featured this heavily with a duff-off a year ago, we wanted to record some oral history of the local duff making and to create some sessions for hands-on making as a community. The first session will be at the ward ceilidh late in November but the first community session will be in the old cafe space at the front of Stornoway Library.  This will be 10am-4pm on Thursday 4th December. Bring your memories, stories, recipes, cloot cloths, and let’s have a go together!

Christmas film in the Pocket Cinema – Weds 6th Dec 1.30pm.

Me Time comes to Scalpay with a textiles session in the morning at Scalpay Community Centre. Date to follow shortly. This could become a regular group.

There will be a textiles session at Harris House in December.

Mid December, the Fishing memory box goes to the Library service, completed, for booking out.

Me Time Day in December – Date TBC

Art Ceilidh day in December – Date TBC

One of the Tuesday Ceilidhs at Western Isles Hospital will be the Christmas party. Again, date tbc.

Work begins on the joint DEEP funded digital dining project. This was created by people with dementia at the Inverness DEEP gathering in the summer and will involve people eating together using tablet computers to connect over a meal. There will be some group and some one to one events.

Intergenerational work continues with Trianaid and Cothrom Og Norsery.

Weekly ceilidhs continue across the islands.


Our conference and exhibition is in planning now. The conference dates are 23rd and 24th April but the full programme and exhibition details will be available in January.




Fishing Memory Box session

Maggie and I started a new Memory Box off at Harris House on Tuesday afternoon. We celebrated it’s birth with a storytelling, song and reminiscence session with residents, where we made some recordings of recollections relating to the box contents of images, ropes, the lovely knot board Maggie brought along and the creel.

We spoke about cooking fish as well as fishing. Ceann Cropaig, (in this case made without onions!), oatmeal herring made with soft oatmeal and there was a lovely story about a man who brought fresh herring around to sell, held together by a piece of string, but when he sold the herring, he always wanted the string back!

One gentleman could still tie a mean and speedy reef knot and he knew what all of the knots were used for. A lady was tickled by the monkey fist knot and slightly upset by the Turk’s Head (‘poor Turk!’).

We checked the quality of the creel making, ten out of ten, apparently. One gentleman was happy to hear that the knot board was made for Maggie by his brother. Maggie’s cork float from a fishing net, retrieved from her fence, was donated to the box, and eagerly sniffed by everybody, collectively deciding that it wasn’t actually that pleasant an aroma.

The box will remain at Harris House until Mid December, when it will go to the Library for booking out to anybody who would want to share it with friends, relatives, neighbours and people that we work with. For example, a Care Centre or a person caring for somebody at home can borrow it from the Library as though it were a book.

Other boxes in the series include a sensory box, crofting box, exhibition box and seasonal box, which is currently Harvest related. A Transport box is in progress on Barra.

While the box remains at Harris House, please contribute to it with stories, songs, fishing related memorabilia, images or artefacts. Maybe there is a fishing map pf the best places to fish locally? Maybe somebody has a special fishing hat or feathers they would like to share images of. Please email paula@lanntair.com or drop things off at Harris House.

We will be holding another session at Harris House in 2 weeks time, date to be announced, to offer more work around this, and to share songs, stories and memorabilia, so please come along and join in. Anything you know about fishing locally is very important to this project and will be supporting many people as the box is shared.


World Kindness Day

It was World Kindness Day yesterday. I was just thinking back to how my day, filled with funding applications, expenses claims, evaluations, finance spreadsheets, meetings, how my day gave me an opportunity to be kind.

Amidst deadlines and pressure, I had an unexpected call from the front desk about a visitor for me. 

As I peered over the stairs, I saw a smiling face under a gorgeous pink, woolly hat. A lady who has been part of the project for over two years, recently a carer and sadly recently bereaved, had popped in for a chat.

She asked if I was busy and of course I was but I brightly said it can all wait and she can help me play ‘hooky’ while we get a coffee. 

She ordered the most playful hot chocolate with a massive swirl of whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate dusting and we had a lovely catch up in the cafe bar.

What a lovely reminder that amidst the pressure of deadlines and admin, we need to take time to be kind to each other and ourselves by taking a break.