Hopeful dementia messages at the Imagination Café

Ella Rhodes report.

A pop-up café that aimed to challenge the negative stigma around dementia and spread the word on innovative arts-based research appeared in Nottingham recently. As well as attracting This Is England actress Vicky McClure the café displayed artwork by those with dementia and gave visitors the chance to sample a ‘dementia-friendly afternoon tea’.  

The Imagination Café, as it was called, was created by head of dementia care Professor Victoria Tischler (University of West London) in partnership with the Nottingham Contemporary gallery, an art space that has supported dementia research since it opened. As well as providing information about dementia itself courtesy of Dementia UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, and new research in the field, the café offered activities specially designed for those with dementia, including visual art, music, storytelling, drama and yoga – underpinned by the research of Tischler and her colleagues.

Tischler told us she was initially keen to exhibit some of the artwork created by people with dementia as part of the Dementia and Imagination project she has been involved with. She said: ‘The art was not made to be exhibited, but some of it was very accomplished and interesting, yet would probably be discarded. I thought that if it were framed and exhibited, many people may be surprised that someone with dementia could paint or draw so well, and create something interesting or even beautiful.’

This evolved into something more. Tischler said she was inspired by the trend for pop-up shops and food trucks to create a welcoming, fun environment where people would feel comfortable to come and talk about dementia. She explained: ‘Dementia is viewed so negatively, in fact it is the condition that people are most afraid of, so the Imagination Café was an opportunity to challenge this negativity as part of Dementia Awareness Week. The artwork showcased the innovative research work that I and others are doing, and the café and other activities gave the public a chance to visit to find out more about dementia.’  

The project also included posters displayed at bus stops in Nottingham that featured art made by research participants from the Dementia and Imagination project and a call to action to #UniteAgainstDementia. Students from the Alzheimer’s Society’s Arts and Dementia Doctoral Training Centre, the Dementia Arts and Wellbeing network, and the Centre for Dementia (University of Nottingham) were also involved, along with volunteers who are living with dementia and their carers.

Actress Vicky McClure, who is an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society, went to the event and sampled a dementia-friendly afternoon tea created by nutritionist Jane Clarke with the help of Michelin-trained chef Andreas Wingert. Tischler said hundreds of people had visited the café, and added: ‘There was singing and dancing, tears as well as laughter. Overall people said they felt welcome, and relieved, to get a hopeful message about dementia in contrast to the often negative coverage. Many people had questions about dementia and worries about their own or a loved one’s health.’

Tischler said she hopes to take the café to Llandudno in North Wales, Edinburgh and London, working alongside collaborators in each place to give the event a bespoke feel. She will also be appearing for The Psychologist at this year’s Latitude Festival alongside BPS Vice President Professor Peter Kinderman (University of Liverpool) and consultant psychiatrist Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, in conversation around ‘a manifesto for psychological health and wellbeing’. 

- See also our interview with Linda Clare. For more information on the Dementia
and Imagination project see tinyurl.com/o3bp6jp

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