Blog – creating creativity, Gabrielle Barnby

Creating creativity with Age Scotland Orkney; reflections on process, development and evaluation

Gabrielle Barnby

Culture Collective 2022/2023

creative blog, cuppa, Gabrielle Barnby, Age Scotland Orkney, reflective practice

21st February

My Team – Session Reflection

I read back my post session reflection and cringe. The first thing I have noted down is disappointment at running out of time to use my new feedback form. But really I could see how well the session went from the relaxed expressions on Robert and Sam’s faces, from their surprise that time was up and their appreciation for the preparations I make.

At the end of session, with the theme of ‘My Team’ on my mind, I observe a team in action helping Sam stand and disengage the breaks of his walker, as I try and disengage the brakes on his mind. The dial-a-bus arrives to take Robert home to where his wife will be waiting. These small quickly assembled and disassembled teams receive little acknowledgement, and might seem an insignificant mechanism rather than members of a team. Perhaps that’s an illusion of the here and now.

I think that’s why I like the Walt Whitman poem so much, it links people. Both Robert and Sam knew him and were excited by the prospect of the poem. Sam read it so well, the fluency of reading surviving when recalling memories is difficult. ‘I’m losing my words’ says Robert in sympathy, and then handles adroitly George Mackay Brown’s prose.

Nina, the dementia support worker who has joined the session today, returns from the door. I pause in my reflection and we evaluate the session together. ‘Sam was definitely taking it all in today, and Robert he’s into the detail of everything.’

I ask Nina to try out my new feedback form, and while she does I watch the Age Scotland Orkney team in action, taking away my cup, emptying the bin, offering to give out leaflets for the planned Spring Foy.

It strikes me that life is really more like a web, that everything given circulates in myriads of ways. Isn’t it amazing that the Blue Brazils, a down at heal Cowdenbeath football team, have enlightened our sessions so much? I bet the players never thought of that as they left another defeat on the field.

As we talk Nina shares her own experience of exclusion and inclusion. I notice how much she opened up about her experience of living with a hearing impairment, specifically noting herself how Robert’s attention inspired her to speak more. He met her courage to face challenge with interest and compassion. I think of the strength of her advocacy, and the team that brought her into a new sensory space. It was wonderful to hear about her journey. All this conversation was inspired by the slow meandering through our gratitude lists with a few scribbled words. The simple prompts took us from the football terraces to tour guiding to sensory impairment and adaptation.

Gratitude list

Something I am grateful for when I am with other people…

Something I am grateful for when on my own…

A small win I am grateful for…

I discuss the ‘soft start’ of our sessions with Nina, it seems so slow, and yet is invaluable for creating the space where the group roams. The subject of listening was on people’s minds today, that essential interrelation between people. This surprised me a little, I suppose I thought we’d be talking about teams, what they looked like, their purpose, the ‘glory’ of success. Instead this session became a deep reflection on those small moments of connection between people – the repartee on the terraces while watching a team, the way that failure teaches and allows for more compassion and growth than a win.

I found Sam’s advice from his experiences guiding visitors around St Magnus Cathedral inspiring, ‘You have to stop, and listen to them listening to you.’

Robert says Sam gave the best tours. I believe it. This idea of transforming an interaction, moving focus from the words spoken to the quality of reception interests me. It leads me back to Nina’s hearing impairment and her openness to change fundamentally what and how she receives from the world around her.

I wonder if such a fundamental change is possible for all? It’s a journey that needs courage to begin in all partnerships and teams.

I also wonder, how we grow the confidence to keep singing our songs, believing and trusting  that someone else somewhere is singing with us, strengthening our tune.

Gabrielle Barnby

If creativity for wellbeing interests you then try this wee video which gives an overview of how the arts contribute to social, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

25th January

A Lifelong Joyful Affliction

Just like other people, creatives also have lists. My lists have a way of looking at me rather like a parent who lays out a perfectly reasonable series of requests only to be looked at blankly. I have an urge to drag and drop my coat on the floor and slouch away rather than do anything on the list.

Sooner or later though, the coat must be picked up, the list looked at and some appeasement made. This is where I am today, looking at an idea for a workshop I condensed into two words weeks ago: My Team. It is a theme inspired by a particular participants love of a particularly unsuccessful football team affectionately known as the Blue Brazils.

The phrase ‘My Team’ set me thinking about the teams we support, the teams we are part of and the teams that in turn support us. For anyone afflicted with an early tribal alliance to any sort of team, the highs and lows of their success are a lifelong joyful affliction, or as they say in Westray it is ‘horrid good’ although I believe that expression is usually reserved for tablet.

So my creative self sets of riffling through the labyrinth of my mind, poking around here and there while all the time chanting ‘My team…my team…my team…my team’

I start browsing through gousters, glims and veerie-orums edited by Alison Miller which has become my go to collection for contemporary Orcadian dialect poems. I am half-remembering and wishfully thinking that there must be a poem about George Mackay Brown loving football, as well as being a poet he held the open flowing game in high esteem. But there is nothing that seems to fit. I idly flick on and notice a page of Haiku about milling.

I pause and think of a playful adaptation of the haiku form to celebrate or commiserate with a team using strong natural images with the lines kept neatly to the 5/7/5 syllable pattern. I think on. The first line could contain the name of a team and the colour associated with them, then the second line the place they meet or play, then the final line about the feeling of winning, something rooted in the senses. But all that syllable counting makes my head spin, it’s practically sudoku with words and images and has proved too much for me many times.  It might not be much fun for my participants who are living with dementia and tend to wander and play with memory rather than shuffle it into order.

Perhaps the way to go is to take the idea of simple strong imagery but throw away the poetic rules. I think more about the senses and begin to develop a structure that can be used by participants. I want  something that is flexible to different responses, simple, but open to growth. Gradually the idea becomes a prompt. I call it ‘My Team – colours, songs and success’ and it is composed of four lines that seek to draw out memory and positive feelings:

This is my team:

Their goal is to…

I think of them and see…

This is a win…

I jot down a few more starting lines and then my creative self goes riffling about again. I think of a poem I wrote after watching a football game last year after an under 15s decider in the Pickaquoy infield, Kirkwall (The Oystercatchers Call Full Time),. There is another poem, one I vaguely remember that made my heart swell because it named a feeling I had encountered so precisely. I search the Emergency Poet and the Everyday Poet both edited by Deborah Alma, I know it is in here somewhere. Finally, I find Walking Away by D Day Lewis and it is exactly what I am looking for – parenting, love, loss and football. It ends with the beautiful, elegiac, yet hopeful lines ‘How selfhood begins with a walking away/And love proved in the letting go.’

In the same volume I find a thoughtful past self has put a post-it note on the poem Friendship by Elizabeth Jennings. It captures so wonderfully well the strength of a team of two and the value of a long partnership sings through its lines. I will include this.

I sift and skip here and there, and find a prose piece on Celtic FC in Letters from Hamnavoe by George Mackay Brown that captures the early allegiance to a team. It’s good to have some prose to include, but I still want something more, something about being supported too.

I flick through pages, dip in and out of books and then my fingers sidle to the keyboards – it’s not cheating. I search for ‘family poems’ and finally there is the one I have been looking for Family Tree by Alison Jean Thomas. It’s a gem of a poem that gives a sense of being part of a whole, of strength and potential. I begin to put together a second structured writing prompt ‘My Team Diary’ which seeks to draw out the value of being included supported by a group.

All these thoughts will settle out over the next few weeks, some fade, and some crystallise. What interests and inspires me will become less important, I become less vested in what I have chosen and ready to be the attentive listening ear, to offer a bowl ready to be filled, an inviting space for my participants memories and creative voices.

Oh, but I there’s just one more poem… finally I add I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman, for all those who are in the same solitary occupation, like writing or painting, or sitting in the quiet of an empty house remembering, because they are also part of a group, no matter how separated by distance, their souls are touched.


Gabrielle Barnby

reflective blog, cuppa, Gabrielle Barnby, Age Scotland Orkney
GMB Trail, Gabrielle Barnby, Stromness, Orkney
St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney, Gabrielle Barnby, writer
Travellers, artwork, Stromness, by the sea, Gabrielle Barnby, Orla Stevens, George Mackay Brown
Desk - creative space of Gabrielle Barnby, Orkney short story writer
The Oystercatcher Girl

24th November

A New Session

It’s November, the nights have lengthened. I am just over halfway through my creative sessions with Age Scotland Orkney and I am hot on the heels of planning my next creative session with the group. The theme that I have been working on is ‘On Waking’.

It is the title of a wonderfully reflective and positive poem by John O’Donohue. It’s a good poem to use I think, short enough to hold attention, the language is clear, the images strong and I love the first two lines ‘I give thanks for arriving/Safely in a new dawn’. After the idea sat with me for some time (you could call this procrastination or processing time) I thought more about the experience of waking and how difficult it can be when the body and mind have no easy sense of wellness or anticipation for the day ahead. The thought sat with me and I reflected on the the difficulties that the day ahead might pose for someone who is older, or simply going through a challenging time mentally and physically at any age, whether it is mechanical actions like rising or trying to get somewhere on time that is difficult, or remembering what is going on and interacting with others, or dealing with the unexpected.

I began to think more about the afternoon and the waning of the day and how old age can be seen as a waning of a life that has been ‘lived’, and is cast as finished, where everything is old, the body, the mind, all worn out, all out of date. The grey-waiting room of the late afternoon came to me and I wondered about how it contrasted with my lively theme ‘On Waking’.

I had thought to concentrate on the excitement of newness, the satisfaction of achievement, of learning something new – even if it only retained for the briefest time and then forgotten, even if it is re-learning as forgotten skill the sensation is the same. But as I thought more about waking my thoughts were also directed to the afternoon – and to a dreamlike poem called Friday Afternoon by Alison Brackenbury. It conjures up the curled up, drowsy satisfaction of watching and listening as a child in a hidden space. A secret pleasure that is ironed out of adult existence.

This set me thinking a that perhaps my ‘On Waking’ session really needed to incorporate both a sense of newness and a sense of positive closure. I began to feel it needed the immediacy of being attentive to a particular moment and an acknowledgement of time passing. So, this new session has gradually come together. I have added Friday Afternoon, and I have found two other little gems of poems Hoosewirk by Barbara West in the fantastic gousters, glims and veerie-orums collection of poems for Orkney voices from the George Mackay Brown Fellowship and Motor Run to Birsay 1949 by Orkney poet Robert Rendall that also speak to me about that sense of filling the day and how attention to one bright moment can bring lasting satisfaction.

My notes are now decorated with pictures, the poems typed in large easy to read font, templates made for writing to be added, and everything is neatly hole-punched down the side ready to be added to my participants folders.

The memory of the session may be as fleeting as the Red Admiral butterfly in Brackenbury’s poem, but there will I believe be pleasure in it, a ripple that sends good will though the body and mind, perhaps similar to those awakenings of childhood.

The sun, Orkney, Gabrielle Barnby
Gabrielle Barnby, Orkney, reflective practice
Session notes, On waking, Age Scotland Orkney, Gabrielle Barnby

25th November

After session reflection

It was a good session today, lots of warmth between the group members. Bob’s hearing did not seem to be annoying him as much as last week and he made no move to leave early. It was quieter without Sally, a gentle reflective mood throughout. Robert captured the atmosphere when he said, ‘It’s the talking and then the silences in between’ when I asked how he liked the session.

I think there is something in this, that the time spent ‘writing’ actually gives time for thinking and processing and I feel many memories are being turned over and in the end only a small fraction bubble through to the surface fully, and an even smaller fraction result in words being written down. There is also a value in the repetition of words, ‘family’ for Sam, written over and over  again. Nigel mentions his neighbours, humour and animals. Bob read a piece about a moment of solitude in the past, so treasured and so different from the enforced ‘silence’ of having hearing difficulties. The session was an exploration of morning that was safe and shared, those difficulties that are faced, the group is becoming able to share comfortably, to know perhaps that they are not alone. There is struggle and there is still the miracle of morning, and there is sadness and comfort in the quiet end of the day. I was moved by how much they shared – including doctors visits and all – everything part of daily life.

I have changed participant names keeping only their starting initial

reflective blog, cuppa, Gabrielle Barnby, Age Scotland Orkney