5 Minutes with Veronica Franklin Gould from Arts 4 Dementia

Thursday 10 January 2019

Veronica Franklin GouldWe caught up with Veronica Franklin Gould from Arts 4 Dementia on the programmes that they run and the impact that arts can have for people living with dementia. Veronica also described a new project they are working on called 'ArtsPALs which is linked to the recent policy of social prescribing launched by the Department of Health and Social Care by working with volunteers to provide people living with dementia with an arts-loving companion.

Can you tell us about Arts 4 Dementia and what does your role involve?

Arts 4 Dementia (A4D) was founded by Veronica Franklin Gould in 2011 to help develop inspiring programmes at arts venues, for people with early-stage dementias and their companions and to provide a website to signpost events around the UK. A4D works with Dementia Pathfinders to provide early-stage dementia awareness training to arts facilitators and postgraduate arts students and hosts biennial conferences with reports to highlight and help disseminate best arts practice for dementias. Veronica is president, head of research and director of the A4D Best Practice Conference 2019.

Can you tell us about how your career to date has led you to your current role?

I am an art historian, biographer and curator. In September 2009, when a Russian postgraduate cellist was playing Bach to my mother, the raw vitality of the music elevated her above the challenges of Alzheimer’s and she began to interview him about life as a musician in London. Astonished by the – albeit brief – return of her communication skills, I began to research the use of arts for people affected by dementia. There being little artistic stimulation for people with a new diagnosis, it struck me that a specific learning stream at arts venues could help elevate them above dementia symptoms, so as to preserve their identity, interests and wellbeing in the community. Taking advantage of the London Olympics, I brought together a board of trustees, leading figures in arts and dementia as patrons and set up a pilot project of seventeen weekly programmes covering visual arts, dance, Indian dance, drama, music, poetry, media around the capital. A4D’s London Arts Challenge in 2012 was launched with a conference at the Royal Albert Hall and supported by new early-stage dementia awareness training. I was very fortunate to work with Professor Paul Camic of Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) on the evaluation. Renamed by participants, Reawakening the Mind was awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark and Positive Breakthrough in Mental Health Dementia Award 2013 and led to listing a Sunday Times  “Changemakers” finalist (2014).

Each conference programme explores a new element. Music Reawakening (2015), a partnership with English Chamber Orchestra, the London College of Music and Wigmore Hall, showcased best practice in opera, choirs, orchestras and touched on music therapy. After publication of the Music Reawakening, which included a paper from Dr Trish Vella-Burrows, of the Sidney de Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health at CCCU to show how musical stimulation can be woven into the dementia care pathway, I handed over as CEO to my brother Nigel, former trustee and creator of the A4D website.

I now steer website signposting and focus on new developments for A4D, setting up a regional programme, (2017).  This involved a county museum, church choir and organ, dance and a drama programme with the Arts University Bournemouth and an Arts Society lecture for early stage dementia; and it introduced county listings for GPs, diagnosticians, memory and care services of wide-ranging arts and heritage opportunities for dementia. The programme was aimed also as a template for nationwide roll-out. The key paper here is Trish Vella-Burrows’ RIAH framework, to demonstrate how artistic stimulation can be used as non-pharmaceutical interventions throughout NHS England’s transformation framework, The Well Pathway for Dementia.

What future work are you planning for dementia?

As academic evidence of the efficacy of arts to protect against cognitive decline and promote wellbeing is now widely established, my aim is that people should be directed to local arts opportunities as pre- and post-diagnostic support. To that end, I am organizing a conference “Towards Social Prescribing (Arts & Heritage) for Dementias” (Wellcome Collection, 16 May 2019) and liaising with nationwide stakeholders to create a consortium of volunteer creative befrienders, “ArtsPALs”.

Could you tell us more about your new ArtsPAL project?

The idea of ArtsPALs (Preserve Active Life) is to support social prescribing for individuals, as arts-loving companions who accompany each other and derive equal enjoyment at weekly arts and heritage activity in the community.

Matched by shared interests through NHS primary care navigators, social prescribing linkworkers, memory services, DAA, community navigators, arts and health organization, ArtsPALs would accompany each other to weekly arts and heritage activity in the community.

Rather than pick up and collect, this is an opportunity for weekly inspiration and experience together and to preserve resilience in the community. The scheme will help overcome dementia challenges and loneliness, restore a sense of purpose and revive access to inspirational events of interest to both ArtsPALs.

We propose to involve a national consortium of stakeholders and to set up a website. Like NHS toolkits, dementia directories, meeting centres, memory and support hubs, this will signpost to local befriender organisations with whom ArtsPALs register, to be recommended to individuals during dementia assessment and as post-diagnostic support.

The first step is to invite stakeholders involved with arts, health and wellbeing to a series of roundtables to discuss strategy, challenges, barriers and the best way forward.

Who can be an ArtsPAL?

Creative and cultural befrienders trained by existing organisations, individuals with early symptoms of a dementia for mutual support, arts-loving people whose spouses have died of a dementia, NHS health champions and arts facilitators and postgraduate arts students consolidating dementia awareness training 

Does ArtsPAL support people from seldom heard groups?

Being able to travel with an ArtsPAL would be fun for people with young onset dementia, help people who are disabled, living in remote communities and encourage the LGBT and BAME communities.

Tell us something interesting about yourself.

By profession, I am an art historian, curator and biographer of the Victorian artist George Frederic Watts OM RA, a social reformer who dedicated his art to uplifting and inspiring people. As a lifelong lover of the arts – we once had a family orchestra conducted by my violin teacher - I sing with The London Chorus and dance with Sadler’s Wells Silver Routes and a variety of ballet and contemporary dance, which I sincerely hope will help to protect against the risk of onset of a dementia.