JaZanne Arts volunteers Hyacinth, 79, and Mo, 85, may be retired, but they’re doing an incredible job bringing joy to people who are living with dementia in north London.
Whether they’re encouraging a Bob Marley singalong, reminiscing about the 1960s or baking an imaginary cake, they brighten up the day with Joyful Connections, an art and drama project that receives funds using money raised through The Health Lottery.
“We have a group of five volunteers who’ve been trained to run arts activities for people with all stages of dementia,” explains JaZanne Arts’ co-founder Annie Smol.
“For those with advanced dementia, there are lots of musical, non-verbal and sensory activities. Others have mild to moderate dementia and they can do exercise, dance and reminiscence around a theme like the 1960s or holidays.”
Hyacinth was widowed in 2020 and becoming a volunteer helped to lift her out of those lonely, long days at home. “When Annie came to me, my partner had just passed and my children live far away. It’s not like when you used to go in and out of neighbours’ houses and at that time I was on my own,” says Hyacinth.
“This was during lockdown so we couldn’t meet, but Annie gave me a tablet to communicate. I loved chatting over Zoom and when I eventually went to the Parker Centre in Edmonton, where the group is based, I knew I wanted to stay and help.
“It was such a lonely time, but now being a volunteer is so rewarding. There are no words to explain it. I had no idea what was to come and it’s opened my eyes.
"I’m enjoying every minute, just as much as the people we’re helping do.”
Now Hyacinth regards the people she helps as friends and she’s also got to know long-term volunteer Mo, who came to Joyful Connections when she retired.
“I volunteered for a scheme where schoolchildren went to a residential home for older people. Annie from JaZanne Arts was involved and I got co-opted in somehow! I hadn’t done any acting since I was at school, so I had a little trepidation,” she says.
“This is really rewarding for us because you’re doing something so worthwhile. You go in and people might be looking a bit jaded or sleepy, but when you talk to them individually their faces light up as they realise they’ve seen us before even if they don’t quite remember what they did last week.
“I think people relate more easily to someone of a similar age. We understand their aches and pains and remember the same things from the past that they do.
"We look for what people can do, not what they can’t do.”
Annie describes Joyful Connections as a “lifeline” to both the volunteers and local people who are living with dementia.
“The volunteers get a lot out of it, as do the people who go,” she says.
“It boosts their mood, it improves their confidence and it validates who they are.
The staff at the Parker Centre are brilliant, but they work long hours and sometimes with people who have challenging behaviour, so they do get weary.
They say when Hyacinth, Mo and our other older volunteers come it’s like a breath of fresh air, bringing new energy and ideas.”
It's easy to see how Joyful Connections lives up to its name, improving both the physical and mental health of everyone involved and it’s all possible because of funds raised through The Health Lottery.
“The Health Lottery is helping the volunteers, the staff at the centre, the participants and their families,” says Annie.
“Because of the funding, we can be more creative. What we’re doing now is taking beautiful, glamorous photographs of all the participants and we can give copies to their families as well as make them feel like film stars.
"They’re also making lovely Easter bonnets, which they can take home after the celebrations at the Parker Centre.
Joyful Connections Factfile
Created by JaZanne Arts
Helping people with dementia through song and crafts
Operates in care homes in the Home Counties
Awarded £33,000 to fully fund Joyful Connections through The Health Lottery