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'This is all for them' - How a theatre is helping people with dementia to speak

PUBLISHED: 11:06 23 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:18 23 October 2019

Members of the Fabba - a thatre company for adults with learning disabilities based at the Seagull theatre. Photo: Matthew Nixon

Members of the Fabba - a thatre company for adults with learning disabilities based at the Seagull theatre. Photo: Matthew Nixon

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'We can have people who don't speak at all and suddenly they're singing. It's very special.'

Seagull theatre manager Karen Read.

Picture: Nick ButcherSeagull theatre manager Karen Read. Picture: Nick Butcher

A community theatre in Lowestoft is transforming the lives of those with dementia across Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as supporting their carers.

According to managing director Karen Read, 46, the Seagull Theatre on Morton Road is more than a fantastic venue for performing arts.

It is a place for improving the community through the power of the arts.

"We have become this hub for the community. What that means is we support people who need it," Mrs Read said.

Contractors and supporters of the Seagull theatre, Pakefied celebrate the completeion of works to the building.
Picture: Nick ButcherContractors and supporters of the Seagull theatre, Pakefied celebrate the completeion of works to the building. Picture: Nick Butcher

As well as hosting a round annual programme, the venue has begun hosting regular workshops and activities which benefit vulnerable people, including adults with learning disabilities, those with dementia, and children facing a lack of opportunities.

In the last three years the Seagull has gone from strength to strength, refurbishing its building and winning a number of funding bids from national and local organisations to extend its community work.

In 2016 the Theatre collaborated with internationally reknown Vamos Theatre to perform a play about the impact of Dementia.

Mrs Read said: "It was a special performance. We had it here at the Seagull and at care homes too. It was my springboard for making me think we can do some community things.

The new look Seagull theatre.
Picture: Nick ButcherThe new look Seagull theatre. Picture: Nick Butcher

"I spent the next year getting more information and going to care homes seeing what was needed and getting directors on board."

Working closely with one of her directors over the last year, the theatre won funding bids which enable its efforts to support the community.

Mrs Read said: "We got one set of funding from the Waveney Enabling Fund, £2,500 just to start the projects."

The theatre has since been able to expand that work with grants from the North Suffolk Clinical Commissioning group and the Suffolk Foundation, and now offers a full programme of workshops and support.

Blueprints of changes planned to the Seagull theatre. Photo: Matthew NixonBlueprints of changes planned to the Seagull theatre. Photo: Matthew Nixon

She added: "It's gone beyond Lowestoft. We have gone out to Southwold, Beccles, and Great Yarmouth."

The theatre now offers five supportive activities specifically designed for people living with dementia and their carers.

Its most popular activity, a monthly 'dementia friendly film screening' offers an accessible way for those with dementia to enjoy movies and spur old memories.

"We show classics, generally musicals. We are always picking things with songs because studies show the reminiscence of hearing old songs stirs something in people.

"We had someone bring his mother who started singing at the sing along, and he had to take a video because his family wouldn't believe it. It's amazing."

Showing classics like Grease and Bugsy Malone, the theatre has performers dressed as characters who encourage singing and introduce the movies - adding interesting facts about the year each film was released.

In each screening lights stay on, attendees can come and go as they please, and make as much noise as they like.

Also on offer is a fortnightly 'memories cafe' and a weekly music appreciation group which encourages singing and playing instruments.

Mrs Read said: "We don't just care for people with dementia. We have also started events specifically for carers."

The theatre is not resting on its laurels but seeking to expand.

Last month they launched their newest fund raising bid to build a new workshop on the rear of the building and improve their accessibility for disabled local residents.

"We are proud of what we already do, but there is a lot of need in our community and we could do much more," Mrs Read said.

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"With this new workshop we could expand the opportunities we offer for local residents with mental health difficulties to get involved with practical work.

"We could also support more adults looking to gain skills to return to the world of work and our building would be finally fully accessible to those with mobility issues."

To find out more, call the theatre on 01502 589726 or visit www.theseagull.co.uk

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