A theatre is breaking new ground as the first venue in Wales to join a UK-wide project with dementia-friendly screenings of musical movies.
The sessions at Theatr Colwyn in Colwyn Bay are already proving a massive hit, with older film fans singing and dancing in the aisles.
The screenings are part of the UK-wide A Life More Ordinary project on dementia and memory loss, led by the Duke’s Theatre in Lancaster.
The pioneering project aims to give people living with dementia the opportunity to enjoy cultural events with their family friends and carers in everyday settings – such as the local cinema.
The house lights are left on, while talking, singing and dancing by the audience during the film is encouraged, with theatre staff receiving specialist training from dementia champions.
The latest screening at Theatr Colwyn saw more than 120 people enjoy Gene Kelly’s classic musical Singin’ In The Rain. They were encouraged to join in with the music during the film as well as a performance by Conwy County Borough Council’s staff choir, Canu Conwy, led Welsh National Opera producer Ruth Evans with pianist Tim Stuart.
For 80-year-old Tom Parker of Llanelian yn Rhos, Conwy, who was with his son Gary on the theatre’s front row, it was a great afternoon out.
“I am big fan of musicals, and Singin’ In The Rain is one of the best. I loved the singing by the choir and I’ve enjoyed seeing the film,” said Tom.
John Fadian from Rhos on Sea brought along his 92-year-old mum Eileen, who was diagnosed with dementia six years ago.
He said: “This is a lovely event, and it really helps to stimulate her memory. I am her carer, and it is hard to find things that I can take her to because of her condition. The relaxed atmosphere and lighting, plus the fact nobody minds if she talks, is great,”
Lionel Maskrey of Abergele came to the event with his 90-year-old neighbour Nora Weston simply to enjoy seeing the film on a big screen.
Lionel said: “Neither of us have dementia, and we’re both very fit for our age – in fact, Nora drives me everywhere! It’s just a lovely chance to enjoy the film, as we are big fans of musicals. I think an inclusive event like this is excellent, though.”
Welsh National Opera producer Ruth led the audience in a sing-along to the film’s top tunes, including Good Morning and Singin’ In The Rain, followed by Summer Holiday.
She said: “There was a great atmosphere and it was lovely to see everybody taking part. I am delighted to be working with Theatr Colwyn to be delivering this live participatory experience, which enriches the lives of those with dementia.”
The screening is the second such event at Theatr Colwyn, and follows the success of a sing-along version of Calamity Jane in March.
Theatr Colwyn project leader Joann Rae said: “We have been thrilled by the response to the dementia friendly film screenings.
“People have travelled from all over North Wales and it was an incredibly uplifting afternoon, not only for the audience but also for the staff as well.
“People with dementia need to have access to arts and cultural events just the same as people who don’t have dementia. We hope these events give them and their family, friends and carers, the opportunity to continue to enjoy a trip out to the cinema in an environment where they feel comfortable and relaxed.”
Gil Greystone, who is leading the A Life More Ordinary (ALMO) programme project, said Theatr Colwyn had joined venues in Liverpool, New Brighton, Ludlow, Wem and Oldham with the dementia-friendly screenings.
Feedback from the audience is being assessed by Professor Christine Milligan, Director the Centre for Ageing Research at Lancaster University’s Faculty of Health and Medicine.
Gil said: “We are delighted to partner with Theatre Colwyn as one of our 15 UK venues. ALMO is a pioneering programme giving families living with dementia greater access to arts and cultural activities in ordinary settings, so that together they can enjoy a better quality of life.
“Theatre Colwyn has created an arts environment that is dementia friendly but is also welcoming to all. The experience shows how it can be a positive one for all audience members, irrespective of whether or not they have dementia.”
The event has been welcomed Anna Openshaw, project manager at Colwyn Business Improvement District (BID), which is encouraging more people to visit the area for leisure, to shop and use local businesses.
She said: “Theatr Colwyn is one of the jewels the crown for this area, with some really excellent shows, and it’s great to see that the doors are open to all in this way.
“Many older people will remember going to see movies such as Singing In The Rain in their youth, and this the perfect chance to enjoy the classics once more, on the big screen and with excellent sound quality, and in a relaxed setting with tea and a cake.”
Businesses in Rhos on Sea, Old Colwyn, Mochdre and Colwyn Bay voted to set up the BID, where firms pay a levy and the cash raised is used for projects to boost trade.
The non-for-profit social enterprise is aiming to revitalise the business communities across the Bay of Colwyn and to attract more visitors, investment and shoppers to the area.
For more information about the dementia friendly film screenings at Theatr Colwyn visit www.theatrcolwyn.co.uk The next dementia-friendly screening, Summer Holiday, is on May 11 at 2.30pm.