At the back end of 2016, we signed up to ‘A Life More Ordinary’ (ALMO) project, based at The Dukes in Lancaster and now being rolled out across the UK. This pioneering scheme gives people living with dementia, their friends, family and carers the opportunities to enjoy regular cultural and arts events, such as cinema screenings.
Before joining the project, we’d been up to Lancaster to see a screening first hand and we were extremely impressed and very keen to get on board and hold our own events. Our first step was to link up with local organisations working with people living with dementia, their friends, family and carers. I made contact with Alzheimer’s Society / Dementia Friends and Age Connect and staff at these organisations proved invaluable in helping us to market the screenings.
Then we approached Welsh National Opera to see if they would help us with organising some interval entertainment. Their producer, Ruth Evans, enlisted ‘Canu Conwy’, the staff choir of Conwy County Borough Council, to support a sing-along with the audience led by WNO (complete with actions for them to join in with).
All of the staff working at Theatr Colwyn did a Dementia Friends training session so we had more of an idea of the issues facing people who have dementia. This training was done for free and we’d definitely recommend it!
The training sessions raised some very pertinent issues that we’d not considered before. We didn’t know that people with dementia often have perception problems and that furniture and fittings in theatres and cinemas can cause issues – eg black mats / black table tops seem like holes and people will be reluctant to walk on them / place a tea cup on them etc.
Signage proved particularly tricky for us and we spent quite a while walking around the building, noting down areas where people may encounter issues with navigating their way around, then creating lots of signs to help.
Our first screening was in March, 2017 and it was a sing-a-long version of Calamity Jane. We’d had many meetings before the event and I’d drafted up a staff / stewards briefing, created a PowerPoint presentation to show on screen before the film and written an introductory speech to be read by one of our team to explain more about the event to the audience.
We had 14 members of staff and volunteer stewards working on the day – more than we would usually have for a cinema screening! As our café is only small, we set up tables in the auditorium where people could get tea/coffee and slice of cake from and take it back to their seat. The refreshments are included in the admission price of £4 (carers go free).
You can view the flyer for the screenings here.
More than 160 people turned up for the screening – we were thrilled! For a first event, it went pretty well. The audience members were really engaged with the film, they sang all the way through it and LOVED the interval entertainment. It was quite moving at points, a few of us did shed a tear.
We handed out surveys to gauge opinions of what the audience really thought of the screening and the results of the surveys were inputted by a team at Lancaster University who are studying the impact of arts and culture on people who have dementia.
If I was to offer one piece of advice to staff at cinemas who are planning dementia friendly film screenings, it would be this – be passionate about it. Get a team working on it who are willing to go that extra mile to ensure the audience has the best time possible!!