A story by Shaper/Caper
We delivered creative activities for carers and cared for people in Tayside, these included relaxation, movement, social cafes, crafts and workshops, digital cultural activities, private guided tours in museums and cultural organisations.
Respire: To breath. To recover hope, courage or strength after a time of difficulty.
What Respire did
The original plan had to be changed due to the prolonged inability to access public spaces for this purpose. Sticking to the original aims, we delivered relaxation, movement, digital social cafes and creative activities until we were able to attend in-person sessions in 2021 just before Omicron hit and again resuming in 2022. By now, the conversation shifted, and participants requested private tours of gardens, museums and galleries in Dundee.
This has been an interesting twist, as the cultural organisations have been very supportive and willing to continue this kind of engagement in the future. The participants, in turn, were happily reconnected with cultural institutions they had not been in for years, all creating lovely and warm conversations about past memories.
The participants were mostly from our wider activity in the community working with people with Parkinson’s and families. In addition, marketing material and information for joining in were shared through our local third sector interface organisations, Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership, and social media channels. The priority areas focused on improving the Health and Wellbeing of the carers and participants, enjoying life outside the caring roles and responsibilities.
Although the delivery and content model did not go according to plan, we kept the conversation going with participants to make sure that the funds were used in the most effective way to meet their needs. The ongoing dialogue about their needs whilst observing the recommended health advice throughout the timeline provided very creative solutions to the challenges, although some were disappointed their initial ask of accessing gentle massage and aromatherapy treatment during ‘me time’ was not viable this time. However, when one participant suggested the guided visits to museums, this idea opened a new avenue for connecting with others and with the past, sharing anecdotes with one another.
What Shaper/Caper has learned
The learning stemming from the delivery of this project has been enormous not solely for the project itself but also due to the exceptional circumstances it was delivered throughout. From early conversations with the participants to co-design the break activities to suit their needs, to engaging in new endeavors, adapting to meet the challenges of prolonged restrictions, and eventually developing partnership working on its final leg, this project has been pivotal for the works of our charity.
From the participants we have learnt about their resilience and willingness to collaborate and engage to seek for solutions, even when the goalposts kept on shifting. We have enjoyed watching the quick support network they created to seek information and exchange tips and advice amongst themselves, as we engaged in the outings, always finding some space to reflect on their daily challenges. From partner organisations we have learnt their willingness to engage in our projects, something that we had not previously experience to this extent, as most of them have requested an extension of collaborative activity in the near future.
How Shaper/Caper has benefitted from the funding
This project has supported us in creating new working partnerships with cultural organisations in Dundee to explore joint approaches and collaborative activities for future ventures. It has been a pilot service that, especially as on the last leg we were able to deliver the in-person sessions, has proved the value of culture in addressing and supporting health and social services needs for some individuals. This has the potential to create strategic partnerships for the long-term benefits of carers and we are willing to explore this with the appropriate partners in Tayside.
Carers will have had received some specific attention to address their own needs; they would have felt valued in their work, empowered, confident, energised, and with a wider network of connections. Their Health & Wellbeing improved with knowledge to upkeep it; reduced social isolation.
This was most noticeable when meeting in person, as there have been conversations exchanges about the support available by the local authority and other services, and a safe space to share anecdotes of lockdown. Carers felt valued and recognised as we gifted them with self-care aromatics and organic beauty products from Lanloch Farm Botanics, as they never got to have the services of a massage therapist. Also no separate carers/cared for sessions were delivered, though. All the conversations we held to transform the project to meet safety guidelines and still meet their needs placed them at the very centre of that process, which appeared to comfort some people, even when meeting digitally, as it still was a way to connect to a larger group, breaking the daily routines of lockdown. One of the digital services we provided is access to Village Hall, a digital archive of simple breathing, relaxation, and movement routines that they can enjoy at any time to continue their self-care.
Laura cares for John. We met Laura in 2018 when she brought John to the Dance for Parkinson’s sessions we started to deliver at the time. As we knew them for a while, it was during one of the first digital gatherings we held to teach them all about Zoom for the continuation of the classes, that we noticed Laura was exhausted. After a while, we got in touch with the carers of this group to hear their needs, and that’s how this project started, as they all got to share their challenges of lockdown and their wishes for a project that could provide some respite. Laura and John have attended every single session delivered for the Respire project, really enjoying and relishing the opportunities that were presented to improve the health and wellbeing of the participants. During a time when John was away chatting to other people at one of the in person social cafes, Marie opened up to the group to share her difficulties, as she is witness of John’s rapid deterioration over the past two years. We all listened and other carers made her away of her right to request support from the council, suggesting local contacts that could help her in the quest. Laura considered this but quickly said that John would not agree with this, also changing her expression to a cheerful carer as John re-joined the table.
Carers feel valued and know where to seek further support
Participants have definitely felt valued, as they expressed this when finally this year we were able to attend in person private tours of gardens, galleries and museums in Dundee, also joining their Learning and Engagement staff in creative workshops. At the beginning, we struggled to signpost people to additional in person activities and support surgeries with external organisations, as most staff were furloughed, and activities and information were also kept online. However, any new piece of information that was shared with us through our local networks in regard to carers and any additional support for their role was shared with them either via email and/or in conversation at the social cafes (digital and in person). Although the project was hit with challenges, the conversation on the value of self-care, the care for others, and the extended responsibility in groups and communities that can provide small respite ‘pockets’ has been key to place carers at the centre of society.
Laura brought along her friend Louise. Her husband had recently passed away and she had been his full-time carer over the past few years. As she did not know the group, Louise appeared very shy to begin with, as we met at the Dundee Botanic Gardens Café prior to starting our private guided tour. It appears that this was a great location and activity for Louise to join us as a beginner. The gentle walk across the gardens and the organic interactions with different groups and individuals visibly transformed Louise, who chatted away with different attendees and seemed open and grateful at the end, when we gathered again at the café for lunch. Louise never returned to join the activities of Respire, so it is hard to understand the impact this day made to her and to what extent. What it was evident is that a positive transformation had occurred and that nature had also supported the grieving process on that day, offering connections and moments of silliness as we all laughed at the poetic wit of one of the participants.
Personal and social needs have been met; carer/cared for relationship has improved, know where to reach out to others for support; feel more empowered to meet any future demands and feel valued; they feel they can help others by referring people to services; know how to self-care.
Participants have been listened to and felt their wishes were granted to the ability of the restrictions we underwent. The latest in person activities delivered have had a much more positive impact, as everyone’s outlook shifted as we seemed to move to a much more permissive state of affairs with regards to the past and lengthy restrictions. They have felt at the centre of all Respire adaptations, as we consulted and co-designed solutions to suit needs and meet the health guidelines. Participants have invited others along from their own networks and shared information on coping strategies, often with a great deal of humour. Respire provided opportunities for self-care through relaxation and guided mediation, as well as joint opportunities either digitally or in person. It emphasised the need for carers to attend their needs first so that appropriate care could be passed on to others. We observed beautiful moments of lighter reconnections at the end of sessions after socialising
Clarissa is a participant from a group that individually attended the Respire project. Seeing her liaising with others to exchange information, advice, and just to have a good laugh as we embarked in a painting session at the Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) gallery was a treat. As she came over from Fife by herself, she proved that we had managed to create a supportive environment that was a treat for carers and a celebration of all the struggles we had undergone. Clarissa mentioned that meeting the artists at the gallery and doing work with them after having a private tour of the collection was a unique experience she will not forget.
Additional project outcome
Cultural partner organisations in Dundee become more aware of carers' needs
The serendipity of transforming the Respire project into what became at the end in partnership with cultural organisations due to the prolonged restrictions was a great discovery for all. Several organisations have requested a continuation of services if we manage to secure funds for this, as together we discussed carers values and the role of culture to provide respite. Participants, ourselves, and the local cultural organisations are excited to pursue this line of work, especially as Dundee continues to develop as a City of Culture, soon to be hosting the Eden Project in addition to all other activities.