A workshop with Hale Man,Whitgift’s artist-in-residence

By - Wednesday 20th August, 2014

Hale Man works with elderly residents at Whitgift House to travel back in time through art

Whitgift residents exploring their past through art.
Photo author’s own.

I work as the Activities Organiser at Whitgift House, part of The Whitgift Foundation, in South Croydon. I had read about the work of Hale Man, who has been appointed artist-in-residence at the Whitgift Centre for a year, and was pleased when we booked an interactive session with some of our nursing and sheltered residents as part of this year’s Croydon Heritage Festival. Hale does a lot of community outreach work using art. So one Monday morning in June, we gathered fifteen folk ready to try something new.

I met Hale, (who helpfully told us that her name is pronounced ‘heli’ as in ‘helicopter’). Of petite build, she is full of energy and enthusiasm. Along with Hale, we welcomed a young team of four volunteer helpers from her current project, Elements of Transformation. I also had three young people on work experience, so we had plenty of helping hands.

We all assisted Hale in setting up in our spacious community room, with trestle tables in a large circle. Her idea was to get alongside our senior residents and encourage them to record their life experiences in different media. Those of us who were art novices were shown how versatile oil pastels are. Hale also suggested that if ideas did not begin to come, we could ask about their favourite colours as a way in. But that was not really needed.

A few folk have short term memory loss, but enjoy living in the present moment and returning to earlier memories

Soon some of our lovely residents were settled at the tables. A few folk have short term memory loss, but enjoy living in the present moment and returning to earlier memories, so we hoped they would feel relaxed. We had enough help to offer one-to-one support where it would be beneficial. As an ice breaker, we helped folk to create a name badge and to add some pictures that reflect their life and interests.

All the young volunteers soon built up a rapport with the residents and gradually encouraged them to bring out ideas and memories from their long lives. A few brought out their talents at drawing, while others preferred to direct their helper to record for them.

Within a relatively short time, results were appearing. One Welsh lady, in her 102nd year, with her granddaughter and great-grandson beside her, sketched out a beautiful lady in Welsh costume. Later her granddaughter helped her add some significant life events around the outside. Although she cannot remember much in recent time, she happily returned to her Welsh roots. Beside her a retired church minister and civil servant produced a lovely sketch of a church and garden. Another lady created a very jaunty cyclist, remembering happy times out on her bike, whilst her hubby drew some great ships – recalling his days inspecting oil tankers.

Another lady encouraged her helper to draw a beautiful ball gown and high heeled shoes, which she used to happily wear. Happy evenings of ballroom dancing were revisited. Another bright lady with memory loss loves to recall her early years in West Africa and how her mother brought her home to England. She produced a great map of west and northern Africa.

Hale has a positive and creative manner and we all felt inspired 

A retired army officer and chaplain, who recently attended the D-Day commemorations in Normandy and also a World War Two event in Rome, regaled his assistant with tales of his long and exciting life in both words and sketches. Another gentleman chose some key events in his life, including seeing the first doodlebug, and produced simple but effective illustrations, culminating in his final working days heading up the Croydon Parks department.

A lady with poor eyesight but a talent for poetry recalled a moving poem she wrote many years ago about coming to terms with bearing and bringing up her disabled daughter. This was a sad spell at first for her and her husband, but they were then able to move into a more positive place.

The session was so positive and interesting

Every so often Hale brought us together and shared an image someone had created to encourage us. She has a positive and creative manner and we all felt inspired and challenged. Hale was sensitive to the needs and concerns of working with our clients and gave the helpers some good advice and guidance.

As we drew the session to a close, Hale went around the room, exhibiting results (if the artists wanted to – and most did). In some cases the residents shared their own background to the artwork, while others were shared by the helpers who had thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them.

After I had taken some copies of our work, Hale bore it off to be put up in her studio in the Whitgift Centre. I look forward to trying these ideas with other residents in future or maybe seeing Hale work with other media such as painting in oils and watercolours or developing her current project further.

To find out more about Hale Man visit her website or arrange an appointment to visit her at the Whitgift Centre.

Whitgift House is part of The Whitgift Foundation and has 36 bedrooms for full nursing care as well as 34 warden assisted flats with an on-call alarm in beautiful grounds bordering Whitgift School.

Alison Symonds-Taylor

Alison Symonds-Taylor

Originally from Essex, but not your typical Essex Girl, Alison Symonds- Taylor has made Carshalton her home for 22 years. After enjoying 26 years of teaching, nine years ago she moved to the other end of the age range and now loves to provide a varied range of social activities for the lively Residents of Whitgift House, one of the Care Homes run by the Whitgift Foundation in South Croydon.

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  • Rosie E

    Lovely to hear such a positive and indeed moving account of creativity being used so constructively in this context.