Capital Theatre’s Sterling Work in Field of Dementia Affirmed in Report

Capital Theatres, Scotland’s largest independent theatre charity, runs over 700 shows at the Festival and Kings Theatre, and The Studio throughout the year. Alongside this programme of national and international artistic work, Capital Theatres also runs an extensive learning and participation programme.

 In 2015, Capital Theatres began working to improve the provision of meaningful artistic and social activities for people living with dementia, and their families, friends, and carers. Supported by funding from The Life Changes Trust, The Robertson Trust, and The Rayne Foundation, Capital Theatres worked to create more inclusive dementia friendly environments in their venues with buildings adapted to allow the Festival Theatre to be a dementia enabled environment with a diverse programme of activities that has been shaped by people living with dementia across Edinburgh and the Lothians.

An external evaluation, conducted by Emma Smith of the Research and Knowledge Exchange at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, explores the impact of this programme, representing the voices of participants and providing a narrative for the learning that has taken place. The three programme activities studied over 4 months, between December 2019 and March 2020, were Tea and Jam, The Satellites, and Dementia Friendly performances.

The report’s conclusion was that Capital Theatres’ programme has a profound and positive impact on its participants, suggesting perceived improved mental and physical well-being, reduced isolation, and increased autonomy. There were also added benefits from the activities taking place in a heritage setting and with the level of artistic quality the organisation is able to bring to them as well as a strong sense of community developing amongst the participants and staff.

The current crisis has impacted not just on theatrical productions but on several dementia friendly events and activities. To provide continuity for participants Dawn Irvine, Dementia Friendly Co-ordinator, adapted a programme of events informed by the participants and created by staff and artists currently working from home.

Dawn, said, “… Capital Theatres also concentrates on raising awareness and reducing stigma attached to a diagnosis of dementia. The long-term continuity of these activities is particularly important and we know there would be significant benefits to continuing and expanding the programme and sharing the learning and expertise that has been developed over the last five years with other cultural and artistic organisations.”

These new events include Contactless Afternoon Tea deliveries to approximately 70 people in the Lothians, and recently expanded in partnership with Dementia Friendly East Lothian. The entertainment is pre-recorded performances available online, by MP3 or posted out in DVD format, with baked goods being delivered by local bakers. Many photos of people enjoying the tea parties at home, and dancing around their living rooms, have been shared.

A drop-in chat on Zoom for people with lived experience of dementia, that started under the title of A Brew and A Blether, provides a sense of community and is evolving based on participants and their needs. Starting at Gorgie City Farm and with Biggar Puppet Theatre following, the group is now going on virtual tours and behind the scenes at organisations they are currently unable to visit. Tea and Jam has also moved to Zoom with monthly sessions with musician Gus Harrower.

Under the name of Joy to the Moment, a call out was made for short films of people being creative outdoors that are being edited together to be sent to people shielding indoors or those in care settings who are isolating in their rooms. Films were provided by Edinburgh luminaries such as Grant Stott, Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith as well by children at The Edinburgh Steiner School, local artists and members of the public.  

Sadly, these vital community services provided by Capital Theatres, along with the future of the Kings Theatre, are under immediate threat. This of course is as a result of the loss of income from ticket sales due to the current closure. To date Capital Theatres has refunded 52,900 tickets with a value of over £2.5m. The postponement of the panto until 2021 will result in a further £2.3m loss of income. 

Capital Theatres 3 key venues provide local community health and wellbeing benefits, deliver year round cultural offerings for local citizens and retain 230 jobs. They are currently campaigning to receive emergency support to the same level as other publicly supported theatres which would allow them to play their part in the renewal solution for Edinburgh and Scotland.

Irene Brown

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