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Life with dementia captured on Exeter allotment

Tales and imagery of life with dementia captured on Exeter allotment

People whose lives have been affected by dementia have worked with well-known professional artists to create insightful images and poems that capture some of their experiences, to form a new book.

The project involved people with dementia and their partners who are part of Age UK Exeter’s Budding Friends project and who spend time together on the charity’s allotment or at a local art studio. The members of Budding Friends were involved in creative workshops with photographer Ian Beesley, cartoonist Tony Husband and poet Ian McMillan. Together, they created The Allotment of Time, a book that captures heart-warming, humorous and poignant moments of what it is like to live with a dementia diagnosis.

The book’s creation is part of ‘A Life More Ordinary’, 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. It is part of the wider IDEAL study – which stands for Improving the Experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life – and is funded by the ESRC and NIHR.

Professor Clare said: “One of our key goals at Exeter is to support people to live well with dementia. Often, the public perception of dementia is a downward spiral from diagnosis, but we know that people can continue to live fulfilling lives with the right support. Collaborating with people with dementia using drawings, photographs and writing provides a real insight into the experiences of those living with dementia. 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.”

Professor Clare teamed up with Age UK Exeter and their Budding Friends group to initiate a series of workshops with the artists.  

Richard Arthurs, who features in the book, was diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease three years ago. Now 67, he said: “The diagnosis means that one person now becomes the carer and therefore there will be a change in the relationship. This can be quite a shock for couples. This book could raise awareness of the diagnosis and perhaps reduce the feeling of isolation. Budding Friends has helped people feel less alone after diagnosis.”

Janet Williams, 87, regularly helps out on the allotment after her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease three years ago. She said: “I sometimes feel a bit isolated, so it’s really useful to meet people in a similar situation. It’s helped tremendously.”

Martyn Rogers, Age UK Exeter’s chief executive, said “This has been a fantastic partnership with the University of Exeter, enabling people with dementia who attend our Budding Friends group to have the chance to work with three brilliant artists and create a wonderful booklet that has humour and insight.”

The artists ran their first set of workshops within the 'Budding Friends' group's usual weekly gathering, both on their allotment and indoors. Together with the artists, they created the photos, poems and drawings featured in the book.

Photographer Ian Beesley said: This has been one of the most satisfying and enjoyable projects I have worked on. Unfortunately, the usual representation of people with dementia concentrates mainly on the negative aspects of the condition and very rarely offers a balanced or positive portrayal. Working with 'Budding Friends' we soon realised that they as a group concentrate on turning the negative to the positive with fun, laughter, friendship and support. Our interaction with them has given us, as artists, a greater understanding of dementia and by collaborating with this articulate and enthusiastic group hopefully we have been able to translate and represent their feelings and thoughts in a sensitive and positive way.

Further workshops are also under way in Kent and Oldham. The photos, poetry and drawings from each group will be used for booklets and a touring exhibition, and to form a royalty-free archive of artwork.

The images in the book will eventually contribute to an archive that can be used to illustrate dementia, royalty free. 

To find out more about dementia research at Exeter, visit:

Date: 30 October 2017