After a kind donation from Arwel Roberts from money raised whilst Chair of Denbighshire County Council, a series of sessions were held by Book of You CIC and Making Sense CIC at Plas Eleri Nursing Home in Denbigh from late June through to mid-August 2023. The sessions took place with residents living with dementia, were in both Welsh and English, and were based around six objects which had particularly caught the eye of our participants from a larger group of objects, mainly provided by Making Sense from their wonderful reminiscence packs.
Plas Eleri was originally built by the Wynne brothers who were local builders. They diversified into this purpose-built specialist home in memory of their late sister, Eleri, after whom the home was named. Since the days of the Wynne brothers, there have been a few changes, both in terms of ownership and otherwise, but Plas Eleri is one of very few nursing homes in Denbighshire catering for the specialist needs of those living with advanced dementia. The caring and loving family atmosphere is evident to visitors and this book is dedicated to the staff and residents, past and present, at Plas Eleri.
The idea behind '6 Objects' is that a group of people reminisce together about 6 different objects that mean something to some or all of them. When working with the residents at Plas Eleri, this could sometimes prove difficult as the home is a nursing home and most who live there have advanced dementia. However, what we hope we have shown in this book is that whatever stage someone is at in their dementia journey, they can always be reached by something - a sound, a touch, a photograph, an object - that will release memories of a past time that makes them smile. We hope you will enjoy the diverse objects, and the stories behind them, that mean something to those at Plas Eleri.
Both Rhona and Doris have a love of flowers and specifically flower arranging.
Here, Doris admires her finished table-top arrangement. During the process, Doris remembered being interested in flower arranging over many years but latterly, and at Plas Eleri, it has tended to be a case of focusing on table-top arrangements in an oasis rather than a vase, with the flowers accordingly cut short. These arrangements then brighten the dining room and indeed the personal rooms of residents.
Darning mushrooms help to stretch fabric. This is especially useful when darning a hole in a knitted fabric or other fabric with stretch.
The harp is strongly associated with music in Wales. Plas Eleri resident Shon and his wife Eirlys are well-known names in the world of Welsh music, especially "Cerdd Dant" which is generally songs performed to harp accompaniment. Eirlys sometimes visits Plas Eleri with her harp and the couple sing together just as before. The following film shows the power of music to reach those living with dementia.
Making Sense brought along a box containing various items of school memorabilia to see what memories these sparked, especially because there are two former head teachers at Plas Eleri - Shon and James. James recalled that the blackboard duster could be used as a form of punishment. Not, as one might expect by throwing it, but instead, when a pupil misbehaved, he might be sent outside to bang the duster repeatedly against the wall to dispose of the dust held in it.
James also recalled both from his days as a pupil and a head teacher, that the school bell would mark the end of the morning or afternoon sessions and also the beginning of playtime, lunchtime or the mid-morning or afternoon breaks. The sound was often welcomed by teachers and pupils alike. However, the same bell would also mark the end of the breaks or lunchtimes, and hearing it then was not perhaps as welcome!
An alternative to the school bell was the whistle, which was also used on the playing field. When blown gently for demonstration purposes during our weekly session, it got quite a reaction from the participants, taking them back to the old school yard and playing fields of yesterday.
Although many in the group regarded this item as a 'little blackboard' the general word for such an item years ago was a 'slate'.
Rhona remembers this particularly and the corresponding Welsh word "Llechen" used in her native Anglesey.
Participants recalled slates still being used in many schools, even into the 1950s. This was probably due in part to a shortage of resources after the Second World War.
Rhona reflected on her memories of things she used to draw as a child. Generally, they were based on daily events on the farm on Anglesey where she was brought up, such as wagons towing trailers, animals etc. The biggest drawback with the old slate, Rhona recalls, was that good drawings or similar could not be retained and were wiped off as someone moved on to the next thing. However this time, Rhona's work has been photographed for posterity before being wiped clean!
The tradition of making peg dolls out of wooden clothes pegs comes from a time when people had little money to spend on toys. Both Doris and Rhona remembered making their own as children.
It is always a delight to see the smiling, happy faces of participants after certain activities - the happiness often derived from the memories brought back by the activity in hand. When making the doll, Doris remembered doing the same thing with older members of her family when she was a child and here she is looking forward to acting on a suggestion that, given the relevant materials in readiness, she can create another peg doll with her grand-daughter and daughter next time they visit.
One participant was a very keen domino player and in fact the box of dominoes was popular with many at Plas Eleri, showing how times have changed because of course so many games are now played on a computer. Dominoes encourage socialising between residents and are very good therapy, as well as being a lovely way of simply passing the time. When one resident was asked if he was ready for a game of dominoes, he replied "I am always ready for dominoes!" Another resident said it was a safer game than darts at Plas Eleri!
Working on this book was an enjoyable, interesting and valuable experience. Given that we were briefed to work with those living with dementia, one particular fact that was highlighted was the importance of both family and friends alongside activities. When participants were joined by relatives, or were thinking of them whilst engaged in activities, their spirits rose visibly. Perhaps this was most apparent in Shon and his singing and Doris with her peg dolls. Remembering making such dolls as a child herself and planning to make one with her grand-daughter, Doris is on her way to making new memories for future generations.
From Book of You:
E Dilwyn Jones and Debbie Hollingworth
From Making Sense:
Katie Levy and Ticky Lowe
Activities Co-ordinator for Plas Eleri:
Shon Dwyryd (with his wife Eirlys on the harp)
and many others in various ways! Thank you all!