Trailblazing art exhibition challenges public perception on dementia


A pioneering exhibition highlighting the therapeutic benefits art brings to older people - particularly those living with dementia and other medical conditions - is being unveiled at Beamish Open Air Museum to mark Dementia Awareness Week (May 12 – 22).

Golden Galleries

Golden Galleries Art & Soul is an evocative collection of artwork created by Abbeyfield residents living in our care homes and supported houses across the UK.

We mark our 60th anniversary celebrations with a national art exhibition, Golden Gallery Art & Soul, that will be showcased at venues around the country to challenge public perceptions about dementia and issues affecting older people.

April Dobson is our head of dementia innovation. Mrs Dobson said: “It is hard to overstate just what a profound impact art can have on the lives of people with dementia and for those who may be unable to express themselves through speech or to enjoy conversations due to medical conditions like a stroke or deafness.

“Through the Art & Soul exhibition we hope to help change people's perceptions about older people, so they look past the condition and see the person for who they are.

“Creating art is so important for older people. As well as helping them to unlock memories and emotions it can be a way for them to experience stimulating new activities and interact with others, particularly amongst those who struggle to communicate through conventional conversations. Art not only gives people an outlet and a voice for their thoughts and ideas, it helps them to feel valued and is also incredibly therapeutic.”

Winifred Spooor and her artworkIncluded in the Art & Soul exhibition are paintings created by 89-year-old grandmother Winifred, who lives The Grove care home in Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

A series of debilitating strokes left Winifred struggling to speak, leaving her frustrated at being unable to express the words and thoughts she could form so clearly in her mind.

A passionate artist, who honed her skills through an art course at Newcastle College as a mature student, Winifred’s family noticed her starting to doodle the garden views from her bedroom window at Abbeyfield onto a scrap of paper with a biro pen.

Supported by our care staff who bought her a watercolour set and artist materials, and her family, Winifred set about resuming the pastime she loved.

Unable to grip the paintbrush at first, Winifred persisted and with the encouragement of our staff and her family, she began creating vivid watercolours of the colourful views from her bedroom window of the house’s gardens, floral displays and the wildlife living in it. Now, she is a prolific painter and her days are filled with creating artworks that shimmer with life and colour.

And while she still struggles with her speech, art has given Winifred a creative outlet and sense of purpose to her daily routine.

Her daughter Catherine said: “People think that when you go into residential care you have to give everything up, but my mum is proof that it doesn’t have to be like that. The staff at Abbeyfield have helped to nurture and encourage Mum and her art.

“They know she finds group conversations difficult as a result of her stroke, so they have helped her keep busy and enjoy her painting which keeps her occupied and gives her a sense of purpose. Instead of watching daytime television, I know she is enjoying her painting which continues to be such an important part of her life.

“Mum's art has become a conversation starter. We can talk about colours and about what we can see looking out of the window and how mum has interpreted that. It gives us a new piece to talk about and share.”

Backing the exhibition and the message behind it is Jacqui Henderson, whose father Jack Harrison was one the Pitman Painters from the Ashington Art Group. She said: “My father continued his love of exploring different art forms until he was well into his late nineties.

“Art gave him real personal satisfaction and greatly enriched his life and was something he could continue to do despite any age related physical or communication limitations.”

Beamish Museum

The launch of our Golden Gallery Art & Soul exhibition at Beamish coincides with The Alzheimer’s Society's Dementia Awareness Week (May 16-21). Visitors to the open air museum, which recreates the North’s industrial past, will see pieces from the Art & Soul collection displayed alongside permanent Beamish exhibits.

During the week, we will be working alongside Beamish Museum and other charities to create a programme of interactive events focusing on dementia and raising awareness of the condition. Visitors can join in walking, singing, dancing, gardening and dementia friends workshops while the Art & Soul exhibition has inspired a special Canny Craft & Chat session on Tuesday May 17.


After its launch at Beamish, Golden Galleries Art & Soul will begin a national tour visiting Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Nottingham Art Gallery and St Albans in Hertfordshire.