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Company News, Hempstalls Hall, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

Poetry Workshop at Hempstalls Hall

Dilys, Beryl, Pauline and Ruth, residents at Hempstalls Hall Care Home in Newcastle-under-Lyme, took part in a Poetry Workshop on the 4th of August with Birmingham poet Mandy Ross and Terry Heath from Staffordshire Libraries. To begin the session, Mandy brought along a range of household objects, asking each resident to choose the one which they felt was of interest to them.

Beryl picked up the paintbrush and spoke about her time working as a painter in a pottery. Dilys chose shoe polish as it reminded her of helping her father polish her brother and sisters’ shoes when she was younger – there were six of them! Dilys also spoke about her time working in a nursery, where she taught children English as a second language. Ruth chose the cotton reel as it reminded her of her love of cross-stitching in her spare time and reminisced about her time working as a Primary School teacher, singing along to some of the songs she taught the children. Pauline went for the measuring cups as she used to enjoy cooking for her husband and two sons.

Mandy made notes throughout the discussion and put together a poem with a verse including words from each resident. Have a read of the poem below:

The Sounds of Memory by Beryl, Dilys, Pauline and Ruth
after reading Pleasant Sounds by John Clare

Quiet concentrating work of the freehand paintress
decorating plates with colourful flowers, leaves, trees and grass.
The soft clink, one by one, of a dozen plates carefully stacked to dry,
then one by one, onto the wheel,
the quiet scraping slap, mixing a little pot of precious paint.
Dipping the human-hair paintbrush for a gentle slosh in the turps,
then sh-sh-shhh, rubbing it dry between your palms,
ready to paint black around the edges,
till into the roaring kiln, it’s fired to gold.

The clock on the desk ticks the time,
sponging and knifing the pots to smooth the seams,
lifting the big board onto your shoulder,
a pile of sample pots for costing,
how long they took on the floor,
the girls laughing, ‘Don’t go so quick, Pauline!’
Imagine the clatter and smashing if you dropped them!
Never! It’d come out of your wages.

The owl and the pussycat…
Silent discipline in the classroom. The look. They knew.
Very strict. So it was a quiet classroom? Not really.
We sang folksongs, hymns,
Morning has broken, like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken…
And at home, the hush of embroidery and cross-stitch,
quiet needlework framed on the wall.

Small children in the nursery school,
with lots of opinions, and all worth listening to.
Songs and chanting to learn counting
and English for new arrivals speaking Urdu.
And longer ago, the swish of the brushes and smell of the polish,
sitting on the floor, shining all the shoes with Dad,
a big family, lots of shoes, and talking all the while.


Mandy and the residents also created another poem together, about life at Hempstalls Hall:


Here at Hempstalls by Beryl, Dilys, Pauline and Ruth               

                after reading My Old Friend Prepared a Chicken with Millet

On Saturday we look forward to Sunday,

when Dave the Chef prepares a lovely roast with creamy mash,

and there’s always a choice, here at Hempstalls,

where the red-brick six towns – seven really – girdle the walls,

and the green Staffordshire countryside stretches beyond.

We look out of the window to inspect the summer garden,

remembering the Jubilee garden party,

and a visit from Elvis. He did his best, singing Tom Jones.

Wait until Christmas. There’ll be singing around the big tree.

And we look ahead to next spring, when we’ll enjoy the daffodils,

flowering again like old friends.


Berni Williams, Well-being Co-Ordinator at Hempstalls Hall, described the poetry workshop as an invaluable experience. Through discussion, residents recalled memories of their careers, laughing along at each other’s anecdotes. Working in a smaller group helped to increase their confidence, and Pauline was praised for her reading voice. Remembering all that they had achieved over the years made them realise how important their roles were, increasing their self-esteem.

Looking back through the poems they had created together proved to be an emotional experience for residents, as Beryl proudly showed her verse to her daughter, who took a copy away to be laminated. Ruth felt an immense sense of achievement, and Dilys was looking forward to sharing the poems with her family. Pauline was moved to tears when she received her own copy of the poem, saying it was “beautiful”. She was reading it again the next morning!

Berni also noted how the workshop was useful as part of Life Story Work with residents who are living with dementia. At Avery, Life Story Work is a central element of our ReConnect Strategy, as knowing more about the life story of a resident can help team members to engage with them in a meaningful way. By understanding previous interests, hobbies and routines, staff members can create and maintain opportunities for positive engagement.

Jo Crossland, Head of Dementia Care, said: “The poetry workshop was a fantastic experience for residents with dementia living at Hempstalls Hall. Utilising everyday household objects has the potential to unlock many memories for people with dementia, and as seen in this example, can lead to very powerful creative outcomes that have a range of positive impacts on well-being.”

Berni and the Well-being team at Hempstalls Hall are looking forward to working with Mandy again, continuing to use poetry and literature as a basis for meaningful engagement.

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