Sheffield care staff take centre stage in new dementia-inspired art exhibition

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Staff at a Sheffield-based care centre have found themselves the unexpected stars of a new art exhibition which aims to put dementia in the spotlight.

Nurses, chefs, support staff and even managers at Sheffield’s Wood Hill Care complex, which is operated by family-run Horizon Care, will feature within a new exhibition entitled ‘All Our Brains’ which forms part of Sheffield Hallam University’s Festival of Creativity.

The staff were chosen to feature in the exhibition by Sheffield Hallam University associate lecturer Lee Pearse and his brother Andrew after caring for their mother during the final years of her life. Lee and Andrew’s mother was diagnosed with a rare form of rare form of the condition called frontotemporal dementia in 2009, aged just 59.

It was this very personal experience inspired the new exhibition and examines the everyday lives and impact of dementia upon both individuals living with the condition as well as those caring for their welfare.

Featuring a range of exhibits which have been created by professional artists, carers, ex-carers, students and designers, it was Lee and Andrew’s experience of the support his mother received whilst living at Wood Hill Grange, which inspired them to invite members of Horizon’s staff to take part in the exhibition.

Photographer Roger Baker led on the style and imagery of the Horizon staff, working closely with Lee to create an environment that celebrated the work of carers, embracing the reality of the contribution they make to supporting the welfare of others on day-to-day basis.

Lee, 43, has been committed to raising awareness about dementia since his mum’s diagnosis. He said:

“A patient/ carer relationship is built on trust, but there’s much more to the relationship than simply working with vulnerable individuals. It’s a very personal one and we wanted to use the exhibition to highlight the vital work carers do. We wanted to share our own experiences, and decided to invite members of staff at Wood Hill Grange to get involved with our exhibition as they had played such an important role in looking after our mum during her illness.

“Like so many other people who care for a relative with dementia, my brother and I wanted to do everything we could to help our mother. During my mum’s final years, my brother and I practically lived at Wood Hill Grange. We’d talk to members of staff every day and they were always open with us, sharing her good days and bad ones. The frontline staff became more than carers, we counted them as friends, who put our mum’s needs first and earlier this year we decided to start exploring the idea for an exhibition examining many different aspects of dementia.

“All Our Brains is an exhibition created and curated by myself and my brother Andrew and explores many different aspects of dementia, from understanding the condition to showing the real faces of care through families, vulnerable people and the carers themselves.

Laura Higginbottom, Managing Director, Horizon Care said: “The numbers of people likely to be affected by dementia is rising. It’s a condition which is commonly associated with elderly individuals, but we are seeing a marked rise in the number of younger people suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

“During the time Lee and Andrew’s mother spent living with us, our members of staff got to know them well and I think they were a little surprised and bemused to find themselves being the subject of an art exhibition, but I think it’s a great initiative, which provides a unique insight into understanding what can often be a complex, highly emotive and difficult subject.

“All Our Brains is a great initiative which explores many different aspects of dementia, offering a chance to gain an insight into the condition. Alzheimer’s is a condition which is close to my own heart and we feel extremely honoured to have been asked to contribute to the exhibition.”

All Our Brains runs until 23rd December at the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery, Cantor Building, 153 Arundel Street, S1 2NU. Opening hours: 10:00 – 16:00 Mon – Fri; 10:00 – 15:00pm, Sat & Sun.

The exhibition was created through a collaboration between Sheffield Hallam University, Heeley City Farm, Alzheimer’s UK and The Valerie Foundation. Over 20 different pieces of artwork will feature in the exhibition, bringing together different mediums including paintings, photography, installations, film, sound and spoken word exhibits, aiming to break down the barriers associated with care and highlight the real people dementia and Alzheimer’s effects.

Horizon is one of just a few care centres in Sheffield which offers specialist support for dementia patients. The company has recently launched the city’s first dedicated respite centre, providing short term care support for people facing complex care needs.

Horizon Care was launched in 2007 and is headquartered in Dinnington, South Yorkshire. When a family member was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and needed long term care, the family discovered an acute shortage of high quality care centres delivered in fit-for-purpose buildings. Drawing upon their knowledge in the construction, healthcare and law sectors, the family set about developing purpose built care centres across South Yorkshire, which place an emphasis on the quality of care delivered. Today, the company operates five care centres within South Yorkshire and is still owned and operated by the family.