CAP Update – Side by Side at Woodgreen Healthcare​​​ – Artist Facilitator, Charmaine McMeekin

One of this years Side by Side projects took place in Woodgreen Healthcare, Newtownabbey. The artist/facilitator was Charmaine McMeekin and the centre contact was Gillian Masson. This was a very special run for all involved.

Charmaine McMeekin engaged with the residents at Woodgreen Healthcare, Newtownabbey for the Side by Side project (1 of 3)

The participants in this care environment have diverse needs, mixed ages, complex conditions, cognitive ability issues, mental health issues (some hidden) and they live within this residential care environment.

With the help of Gillian and the staff in the centre, Charmaine not only created a weekly refuge for these participants through music, movement, dance and sensory activities but the sessions became a resource for all involved during the rest of the week. They considered a theme around stars, thoughts and dreams. Charmaine told CAP that “there is powerful sensitivity that takes place in these rooms”. She tailored the sessions to the needs of the participants by getting to know them a little at the start and led their engagement to suit their needs.

The staff prepared the room for the sessions each week so that everyone looked forward to coming into the space. Gillian and staff also got a lot of satisfaction from their work in and around the sessions. Weeks after the sessions, they still use key music and movements as opportunities to create safety and comfort in the group.

Charmaine McMeekin engaged with the residents at Woodgreen Healthcare, Newtownabbey for the Side by Side project (2 of 3)

Engagement in the project elevated participants’ moods, mental health and greatly increased their sense of wellbeing. Gillian described the sessions as “Definitely a very worthwhile provision…with so many benefits”.

Staff noticed some improvements in the participants, such as increased appetites. Physical changes included increased smiling and a “change in their eyes”. For one lady who is paralysed from her head down, she moved her shoulders when she heard the music. Charmaine commented that she wished that they “could bottle the energy and instil it in every human being’, as this is what dancing and music teaches us in life.

This was a highly sensory experience for the participants where they listened, moved and danced to music while holding lights. They also touched and played with feathers and scarves. Another lady who is blind, passed comment that touching and being touched by the feathers reminded her of her mum and dad. Her experience of movement was also quite remarkable, as weeks beyond the sessions, she has started sharing stories of growing up.

Charmaine McMeekin engaged with the residents at Woodgreen Healthcare, Newtownabbey for the Side by Side project (3 of 3)

The engagement in the group was also important as the participants came together to be connected, feel seen and contribute. This can be an isolating environment, as one-to-one work can be consuming and quite clinical for the participants but coming together to share an experience like this becomes something quite different and exceptional. Gillian sees the value in this interaction. “It’s the little things”. In this case, the ordinary became extraordinary.

This is just one example of bespoke and very careful artistic facilitation that occurs in the Side by Side project by Community Arts Partnership. Just a big thank you to Gillian and her team in Woodgreen for being host and to Charmaine for doing such an excellent and professional job of facilitating this project.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.