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Members of the Budding Friends group meet each week to tend to an allotment together

Artist collaboration creates banner to showcase allotment experiences of dementia

A banner created by people with dementia working with a trio of well-known artists has been unfurled at a special ceremony in Exeter this month.

Poet Ian McMillan, cartoonist Tony Husband and photographer Ian Beesley have worked with people with dementia and their carers to create the banner, which draws on the rich tradition of political banners highlighting inequalities.

The ‘A Life More Ordinary’ project originated from research led by the University of Exeter, which aims to support people to live as well as possible with dementia. Through the project, the artists have worked with a number of groups affected by dementia around the country, including Kent, Oldham and York.

Members of Age UK Exeter’s Budding Friends group, who regularly meet to tend an allotment in Exeter have curated the banner which was unfurled at this month’s event. Already, they have released a booklet of poems and cartoons that set out to illustrate the realities of life with dementia, and to challenge some of the stigma around the condition.

Through the project, the artists have worked with a number of groups affected by dementia around the country, including in Kent, Oldham, York, Leeds, Bradford and Scarborough, with each area taking a different approach tailored to the group.

Photographer Ian Beesley said the idea of a banner originated with the group they worked with in York. This group of people with dementia campaigned against cuts to rail services affecting their ability to travel. He said: “That banner was so striking and so effective that our Exeter group wanted one too, to highlight why the Budding Friends group is so important to them. Banners are powerful symbols of self-reliance and tangible proof of existence. I think that sums up the philosophy of the group. They’re an incredible group to work with. They’re extremely self-reliant and full of ideas, and they want to make people aware of their experiences.”

‘A Life More Ordinary’ is a project led by Professor Linda Clare at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Innovations in Dementia and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). It is part of the wider IDEAL study – which stands for Improving the Experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life.

Professor Clare said: “It’s wonderful to see the culmination of this project, which is part of our research with the key goal of supporting people to live as well as possible with dementia. Both the artists and the people affected by dementia have done an incredible job in coming together to create content that challenges the public perception of dementia as a downward spiral from diagnosis. We hope people will read the booklet and ask themselves whether they can understand the needs of people with dementia better, and support them in their needs.”

Martyn Rogers, Age UK Exeter’s Chief Exec, said “It has been fantastic for the project to have the input of three such great creative talents. Together they have looked, listened and reflected the difference our Budding Friends service makes to lives of its members and have created this remarkable banner as a lasting reminder of the fun, joy and shared support the project offers.”

Anne, 73, is carer to her husband Clive, 77, who has vascular dementia,  Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Clive said: “The allotment is great fun. It’s a fantastic community and that support is really important. At first I wasn’t too sure about the idea of the banners, but it’s really grown on me and I’m so impressed!”

Anne said: “We really look forward to coming to the allotment. It’s getting together with other people who know what you’re going through. There’s a lot of laughter, and that’s reflected in these wonderful banners.”

The banner launched on April 12 at 3pm at The Sycamores Centre, Mount Pleasant Road, Exeter. It will now form part of a wider exhibition to be held at the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

Date: 12 April 2019