Chat Back ‘Proud to be Me’: Exploring memories and making new ones!

Thanks to funding from Bristol Ageing Better, we’ve been running the ‘Proud to be Me’ project throughout this year. This intergenerational Bristol-based community project built relationships across generations using a creative process of theatre, writing and music.

As well as producing 2 new performances, it improved the emotional and mental well-being of those involved, particularly the older members, recognising the significance of personal memories, life experiences and connectivity. It has been an emotive and joyful journey for everyone involved.

One of our main partners for Proud to Be Me, has been Monica Wills House in Bedminster; a St Monica Trust residential home. We’ve had the pleasure of working with some wonderful characters who live there, including John and Jenny, who have been part of the Chat Back group since it started nearly 3 years ago! Aldo, who is 93 years old – still singing and dancing when given the opportunity! And Mary, who moved into Monica Wills House recently but has already said that Chat Back has helped her to discover her love of drama. This year we have worked with 15 residents on this project – some we have sadly lost along the way but we have also gained more members as the year has gone on.

Jenny and John showing us their moves!
Aldo, Jaz and Emma singing their hearts out!

The residents Monica Wills House along with 20 young people have formed a ‘company’, devising pieces of theatre for performance, using new writing, physical storytelling, music and movement. We are very lucky to have worked with 20 talented emerging artists during the project, including Bristol Old Vic’s ‘Made in Bristol’ group of 18-25 theatre makers and performing arts students or graduates from the University of Bristol who have been with us on a placement.

The Made in Bristol group explored stories and memories with the residents, culminating in the creation of a performance piece called ‘17’, based on their experiences of being 17 years olds. ‘17’ was shared with residents and staff at St Monica Trust’s Cote Lane Community Retirement Village and at our intergenerational event MayFest, performing to an audience of over 200 in total. Residents described the process as “therapeutic”, “inspirational” and “liberating”. The Made in Bristol group felt the experience had a really positive impact on their theatre practice, with one commenting “This project has made me reflect on the sort of work that I want to do, it’s impact, and my place in the bigger picture.”

A scene from the ’17’ performance

Award-winning poet Caleb Parkin facilitated writing workshops exploring the theme of the ‘elements’, encouraging the residents to put pen to paper. Caleb’s sessions were hugely enjoyable, and have even led to one resident, Wilf, continuing to develop his own stories and poems, citing that the project has helped him to discover his writing ability that his family had been telling him about for years.

Caleb and the gang during a ‘Write On’ session

Our second group of emerging artists and residents explored the theme, Lost & Found. Everyone shared memories or stories from their lives about people or items that they had lost or found; some were funny, some were amazing – including John who found his long-lost school friend after 40 years following a coincidental phone call at work from his friends’ granddaughter and Peter, who found his dog, Russell, after two years! All of the stories were very moving – the process enabled residents to share their stories and memories from their lives in a safe and supportive group environment, building their confidence and self-esteem. Crucially helping each other get to know one another more – developing trust amongst the Monica Wills community. Their final piece included paper puppets, Monica & Will, two older people who find each other and love again.

A scene from the ‘Lost & found’ performance at Monica Wills House
John with ‘Monica’

Lily Green from No Bindings worked along side the groups creating a podcast and publication from the new writing and spoken words. This publication, ‘Wyldwood’, is now available in their local library in Bedminster, Bristol and the podcast can be heard on the No Binding’s website.

Lily from No Bindings working with the group on their podcast

Sadly, towards the end of the project, Dennis, a much-loved member of the Monica Wills group, passed away. The loss hit everyone hard, understandably, and the performance of ‘17’ at our Mayfest event was dedicated to his memory. Dennis had a lovely smile and twinkle in his eye, and had become especially good friends with Toby from the Made in Bristol group; the two of them would spend a lot of time mischievously chortling with one another. The impact that Dennis’s loss had on everyone really shows how close the journey brought everyone together, and how quickly and how much we all came to care for one another.

Dennis and Toby looking mischievous!

A final performance of ‘Lost & found’ at Monica Wills House at the end of May brought the project to an emotional close. All those involved feel that they have made friends for life, and we are thrilled with the enormously positive reaction and impact it has had on the residents. In particular, we had some lovely comments from Monica Wills House staff, including Monica Wills House Activities Coordinator, Kate Crocker – “Chat Back has a real impact on residents. Before the final performance of Lost & found, Aldo was having a bad day – feeling extremely low and very tearful. After the performance, he had a spring in his step! This is something we’ve seen throughout the entire project. We feel that working with Wyldwood is the most important activity we offer our residents”.

Our University of Bristol students have said that their placement with Wyldwood has been the best thing about their university careers and ‘so much more than a placement.’

Jaz and some of our brilliant emerging artists!
Emerging Artist Kate facilitating one of the Chat Back sessions

We would like to thank all of the residents, young artists, artists, care home staff, Bristol Old Vic and University of Bristol staff for their endless enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to the project – and more importantly, each other. They have made friends and memories for life.

We hope to raise further funds to be able to continue running Chat Back at Monica Wills House from September 2017.


All photo credits to Camilla Adams.

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