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West Yorkshire Playhouse

West Yorkshire Playhouse is a major regional producing theatre committed to developing opportunities for people to be inspired by the arts through participation, performance, and learning programmes. Our mission is to create extraordinary, relevant and compelling theatre and to transform people’s lives by the power and vitality of our work. Since 2010 we have been developing opportunities for people living with dementia (and their partners or carers) to take part in stimulating creative activity, enabling them to explore their talents and share positive experiences within a group, working in partnership with the Leeds Peer Support Service for people living with dementia. We have recently been awarded funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation to expand this work over the next three years, through a new project called Our Time. West Yorkshire Playhouse hosts its first dementia-friendly performance in December 2014 as we adapt Irving Berlin’s White Christmas in consultation with people living with dementia and their supporters, to specifically consider the needs of this audience. We aim to be a dementia-friendly theatre where customers living with dementia are embraced and supported.

11 December 2014
Yorkshire and Humber
Local Alliances:
Leeds Dementia Action Alliance

1. Action Plan

1. The National Dementia Declaration lists seven outcomes that the DAA are seeking to achieve for people with dementia and their carers. How would you describe your organisation’s role in delivering better outcomes for people with dementia and their carers?

West Yorkshire Playhouse has been supporting older people through its flagship community programme, Heydays, since 1990, which attracts 350 over-55s each week. As we noticed the needs of some of our members changing, in 2010 we introduced more targeted provision for people with a diagnosis of dementia to take part in creative activity in smaller groups. Working with the Leeds Peer Support Service for people living with dementia, we established a cultural partnership with Leeds Museums and Galleries and Leeds Libraries.

We are expanding our work with people with dementia from 2014 – 2017 with funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, increasing our regular activities and supporting our staff to ensure we are a dementia-friendly theatre. We are committed to sharing our knowledge and experience with other arts organisations and promoting the role of the arts in achieving dementia-friendly communities.

Our first dementia-friendly theatre performance takes place in December 2014. This is a commitment to embracing and supporting the needs of audience members living with dementia, whilst also contributing to the dementia-friendly communities of Leeds and West Yorkshire.

2. What are the challenges to delivering these outcomes from the perspective of your organisation?

Encouraging people to talk openly about dementia – we have found that some people prefer not to talk about dementia and we must find a sensitive way of opening up this debate to challenge myths and stigma.    

Member website


2. Actions

  • We offer regular creative activity to enhance daily life for people living with dementia

    Working with artists and support staff we use creative approaches to assist people living with dementia to make meaningful connections with others.

    Our approach is person-centred, ensuring that each participant is viewed as a creative contributor with talents and skills, not simply a person with dementia

  • We adapt some of our shows to create dementia-friendly performances

    We work with people living with dementia to break down some of the barriers to staying or becoming engaged in theatre performances. We make sensitive adaptations to lighting and sound effects and action on stage, and to the front of house and auditorium environments to meet the specific needs of audience members living with dementia, and the people who support them. 

  • We consult with people living with dementia when planning any services designed for them.

    We know that people living with dementia are the best people to guide us when planning projects designed for them. We adapt our approach to ensure that the voices of people with dementia are valued and heard, and ultimately influence our provision.

    People living with dementia are present on steering groups and access audits

  • We offer a supportive and welcoming environment with knowledgeable staff

    We support our staff to develop their knowledge and understanding of the impact of dementia on individuals, so that we collectively and consistently support our customers’ needs. This is offered through Dementia Friends sessions and bespoke training. 

  • Raising awareness amongst other customers and the wider community

    We promote positive messages about living well with dementia in our external communications - in-house publications such as brochures and programmes, press interviews, website and social media channels. We offer Dementia Friends sessions for customers. We work with community partners to strengthen our offer for people with dementia.

  • Influencing and supporting other arts organisations to welcome people living with dementia

    We continue to share our experience in the field of arts and dementia, through information sessions for other arts professionals and organisations, and contributing to conferences and publications. We advocate for other cultural organisations to consider providing dementia-friendly activities.