Berkshire poet, Chris Meredith, decided to put his poetry to good use by creating a programme of workshops to help unlock the memories of senior citizens in care homes and day centres in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Oxford, Surrey and Middlesex. Chris writes about the ups and downs of working with senior citizens suffering from dementia, physical disabilities and emotional problems.
Five years ago the words tumbled out of Chris, thousands of them, all of them in the form of poems. In 2015 his first anthology ‘Words of My Life’ was published. Not content just to sell a few hundred copies, he searched for ways to make use of the emotions he expressed in the poems.
He noticed a book on Amazon that showed how to conduct poetry workshops in care homes. Inspired, Chris sat down and wrote ten workshops and started to offer his services as a therapeutic poet for senior citizens and he conducted his first workshop earlier in 2014.
The first workshop – private nursing home
I was ushered into a comfortable café area and told to wait as the residents would soon be down after having their tea. The café was extremely colourful in bright reds and greens. A juice machine was whirring away in the corner and everything was clean, ordered yet homely. I helped myself to a latte and sat down at the table in the middle of the room looking outwards.
The first residents started to arrive for the workshop. Some holding onto Zimmer frames, others were in wheelchairs and two arrived under their own steam. One lady was wheeled in, took one look at me and started to shout ‘No, no, no, no! And she was wheeled back outside the room by her carer.
In all, eight lady residents sat down round the table. Their ages ranged from seventy to ninety. They all sat patiently, waiting for me to speak. I introduced myself to them, how I was born in the same town as their care home, that I am a poet and that I would be reading some of my poems to them.
I read two poems that I had carefully selected. I steered well clear of any mention of death, pain or suffering. I recited poems that I believed may inspire them.
Once I had finished reading them, I looked for any signs of a positive reaction. One lady was asleep, one lady stared, one lady just smiled at me while the others sat in silence. Not the most encouraging start but I did not panic, in fact, I felt totally at home and at ease with these ladies.
I then gently asked them to help me to write a poem about their childhoods. One lady spoke up and told me that she used to buy a brand of ice cream I had never heard of when she was a child. Another lady then said she used to go skating on a Friday night in a silver dress to attract the attention of boys.
One lady, to the right of me and who had not said a word told me that she loved walking in Cumbria with her dad as a child. When I asked why, she said that he left home when she was young and she loved remembering him.
I closed the session with two more poems of mine and the ladies then willingly gathered round for a group photograph. An amazing turnaround in just forty-five minutes. Based on their ideas and memories I wrote a poem especially for them and emailed it to the activities coordinator the following day.
I have conducted many poetry workshops since that first one in different care homes and day centres. They all follow a particular pattern. All the ladies are nervous at first, understandably. My reading of poetry at the start gives them a chance to get used to me without engaging me directly.
There is always one lady that takes a shine to me, one who ignores me, one who does not understand me, one who falls asleep and two or three that really get involved in the session.
I visit each care home or day centre monthly, each session on a different theme. It is the most rewarding work I have ever done and to see the ladies relax and participate more as they get to know me is nothing short of magical!
To view Chris’s work in this field, click on the link below;