Category Archives: media & communication

What’s the role of the press in explaining social care?

If a week’s a long time in politics, it’s enough to induce amnesia in the fourth estate. The changing headlines over the last week – they began with the Dilnot Commission, moved onto phone hacking and returned to social care with the break up of Southern Cross care homes – prove that today’s news really is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. Find the rest of my post over on the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) blog.

Art competition gives voice to youngsters struggling to be heard

Painting, by Jake Rose

Bold, intricate, colourful and thought-provoking – some of the artworks here wouldn’t look out of place in a city art gallery, but in fact these pieces are among the powerful creations produced by young people with autism and related conditions.

Earlier this month, to mark World Autism Awareness Day, a specialist residential college in Wales launched a national art competition (the works here are from the shortlisted finalists), Create! Art for Autism, open to those aged 11 to 25 who are formally diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). The aim of Beechwood College is to show that art can not only encourage learning and instill lifelong skills but boost quality of life and future prospects.

The college cares for students aged 16 and over with ASD and teaches students to articulate themselves through creative programmes including music, 2D art, 3D art, digital media and horticulture. As Beechwood principal Darren Jackson says, “art and creativity programmes can transform the lives of young people who previously struggled to make themselves heard”.

Drawing by Alex Fox-Robinson

There were more than 350 entries from 52 different schools from all over the UK with entries also sent from as far afield as India and Croatia. The judges have chosen six finalists in each category of 2D art, 3D art and digital media art, who will attend an awards ceremony at Beechwood College on July 24th. To support and recognise the work that schools undertake, both the winners and their schools will receive prizes and there is also a “teacher’s choice” allowing teachers to choose the winners.

Ceramic work by Nicola O'Leary

The judging panel includes Brendan Stuart Burns, artist lecturer at The University of Glamorgan, Lucinda Bredin, editor at Bonhams Magazine, Hugh Morgan, chief executive of Autism Cymru and Beechwood principal Darren Jackson.

Painting by Evan Findlay

The finalists’ work will be rolled out into a national art tour open to the public, first at The Old Library in Cardiff and then in London in September. Finalists and other artwork can be viewed here.

Silver Surfers’ Day

It’s Silver Surfers’ Day and even if you don’t like the name of the annual event (for something so future-focused, it sounds dated), who can argue with its aim of promoting digital technology among older people?

Take 79-year-old David Le Clair, for example, who’s learning new computer skills which he hopes will help him to write a book about his life. David is a resident of James Hill House, an extra-care scheme run by housing association Octavia Housing in west London, and has just joined his social landlord’s free IT training project for older people.

David Le Clair in the digital techology room of his extra-care housing scheme

According to Digital Unite, the provider of digital skills in the community behind today’s annual event, around nine million people, many of whom are aged over 50, “continue to be excluded from large parts of daily life because they have no access to a computer and are not online”. Silver Surfers’ Day is the culmination of a week of events to encourage computer skills in the community, aiming to introduce older people to technology at a local level through libraries, community centres, schools and sheltered housing schemes, with taster sessions, for example. This year’s Silver Surfers’ Day coincides with Digital Day, part of Adult Learners Week.

At James Hill House, the digital course David is on is being taught using extra large screens and keyboards and shows older people how to use the internet, webcams and how to create Word documents. Funding from the government’s former Get Digital programme means residents now have their own camcorder, colour printer, TV and Wii games console too. The digital room is always open but residents can also use a laptop if they want to use the technology in their own flats.

The aim, says Octavia Housing, is to enable older people not only to use these technologies to connect with their family and friends, but to pursue their own projects of interest. For David, a former policeman, it is a chance to use the internet to reconnect with his past including his time in Nigeria where he lived for over 50 years. He’s hoping this will help him write his life story.

Vlado Veljanoski, James Hill House scheme manager, says the benefits go beyond simply sending emails or looking up things online: “Our residents now help to put together quiz nights and have developed interests in creating their own websites; two of them would like to showcase their paintings on the internet, others have interests in flowers and plants.”

Veljanoski and the James Hill House residents know that getting online brings more than simply social benefits but new research published yesterday suggests that the practical advantages are not exploited by older people. Research by the Payments Council, the body that sets the UK’s payments strategy, showed that, despite increasing numbers of over-55s getting online, not many take advantage of online or telephone banking. In a survey of 4,500 adults across the UK earlier this month, says the Payments Council, only 32% of over 55s use either telephone or internet banking, and only 24% of over 65s, compared with 60% of 16-24 year olds, 71% of 25-34 year olds, 69% of 35-44 year olds and 57% of 45-54 year olds.

While technology allows isolated or vulnerable people to access online social networks – to complement face to face interaction, not replace it – digitial inclusion is equally important for an ageing popultion from a more practical perspective, encouraging new, time-saving ways to manage daily chores, accessing public services or locating information online. Given that public sector and gassroots organisations are key to spreading the digital message in communities, how long before the digital drive is adversely affected by the spending cuts impacting on other local services and campaigns?

Whether silver surfers are just dipping a toe into the digital waters like David in west London, or are on the same tech-savvy wavelength as their younger counterparts (sorry – the title of today’s campaign makes obvious puns irresistable), the reasons to get online are brilliantly put by an older IT-fan from a previous blogpost, “When you get to your 90s you feel you want to keep up with things.. it makes you feel you’re up with the world.”

Art for autism’s sake

Tim, 17, had not uttered a word for five years when he arrived at Beechwood College. Two years into his time at the specialist residential college in Cardiff, Wales, the teenager with Asperger’s syndrome started speaking. Two years after that, at 21, he passed his GCSE Art and Design with a grade B, had a work placement at Tesco under his belt and has since left the college and got a job.

Beechwood, a further education college for students aged 16 and over with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), uses art and creativity programmes as the backbone of its personalised education programme. Students study music, 2D art, 3D art, digital media and horticulture and learn to articulate themseleves through these activities.

Batik Tiger created by a student at Beechwood College
Beechwood College student draws pebbles after visiting the beach in a project led by University of Glamorgan lecturers working at the college

Earlier this month, to mark World Autism Awareness Day, the college launched a national art competition to showcase the creativity of young people with autism and related conditions. The competition project, Create! Art for Autism, is open to those aged 11 to 25 who are formally diagnosed with an ASD, with the aim of showing that art can not only encourage learning and instill lifelong skills but, as Tim’s case shows, also boost quality of life and future prospects. Shortlisted entries to the Beechwood-led scheme will be exhibited in a national art tour, starting at The Old Library in Cardiff and moving to London galleries from the summer.

I know my sister has developed a newfound independence and confidence thanks to activities from painting to pottery, bakery, art and horticulture during her time with the Camphill movement. The Beechwood competition gets my vote not only because it encourages young people with special needs to find their own voice through creativity and practical action, but because it aims to bring the artistic talents of the learning disabled to a wider, more mainstream audience.

Darren Jackson, principal of Beechwood College, explains: “It’s my belief that creativity is essential to those with an autistic spectrum disorder on more than just a therapeutic or enjoyment level. We have seen how engaging in such programmes can transform young people who previously struggled to make themselves heard.”

Jackson says stop motion animation is a particularly effective way of encouraging confidence and self esteem: “The use of this creative multimedia tool has enabled many of our students to gain greater confidence and self esteem which, indirectly has resulted in them demonstrating a greater willingness to share their thoughts and ideas within their peer group. Many students who in the past have displayed high levels of anxiety are now willing to record voiceovers for their animated characters and use them as a vehicle for communication.”

Competition entries in categories including 2D, 3D and digital media art, can be submitted until June 10. The judging panel includes Brendan Stuart Burns, artist lecturer at The University of Glamorgan, Lucinda Bredin, editor at Bonhams Magazine, Hugh Morgan, chief executive of Autism Cymru and Beechwood’s Jackson. Finalists will be announced on June 24 and the awards ceremony will take place in Cardiff on July 24.

Being visionary about sight loss

A new exhibition aims to challenge prejudice about sight loss and explore notions of sensory perception by showcasing works by visually impaired artists inspired by the sense of smell.

The two-day pop-up exhibition, Scents and Sensibility, is organised by sight loss charity RNIB and opens at central London’s Vaad Gallery on Monday. The theme is fragrance expressed through exhibits including painting, sculpture and photography. Read about it in my Society Guardian piece today.

Artist Rachel Gadsden will be exhibiting her work at the Scents and Sensibility show in London from Monday

Digital switchover boss pledges help to the hardest to reach

Peter White must be the only chartered accountant in the country with a corporate slogan that could belong to a social exclusion charity – “Nobody left behind” – a clutch of charity partnerships under his belt and a network of neighbourhood activists whose grassroots knowledge helps him do his job. Read my Society Guardian interview here with Peter White, the head of the BBC’s digital switchover scheme who is trying to ensure nobody is left with a blank TV screen.

Putting an ‘oh’ into OAP

Given the scrap heap syndrome surrounding ageing women, how refreshing to nod to the centenary of International Women’s Day with a photographic project that shatters the stereotypes of older women. In fact, some of the glorious images I’ve been looking at (below), not only shatter the stereotype, but pick up the splinters and waggle them defiantly into the faces of those with age prejudice.

Hermi, 85, above and below: “I don’t really feel like an older woman, even when I’m hobbling about because my knee has got arthritis in it.”

A series of exhibitions entitled Look at me! Images of Women and Ageing opens in Sheffield today, part of a joint project by the universities of Sheffield and Derby, cultural development agency Eventus and photographer Rosy Martin.

The project asked how older women feel about their public representation and the series of exhibitions in Sheffield feature images by local women. The women took part in workshops to create new and alternative images using photography, art therapy and video techniques. The workshops revealed not only how women feel silenced later in life, but how common it is for older women to feel pressure to deny ageing and or feel their sexuality marginalised.

Take one participant, 57-year-old Shirley (is 57 really that old, by the way?) who, when asked to pick an object to represent herself, chose a red high heeled shoe. She recently bought a red sports car to match her shoes: “The car and the shoes are things that aren’t safe, aren’t comfortable but are still part of me because there’s still that bit of me that has a bit of fire and sparkle… Yes, there’s the part of me that’s ageing, there’s a part of me that’s falling to bits but there’s this other bit and this car represents that.”

Shirley, 57, above: “There’s still that bit of me that has a bit of fire and sparkle”.

Shirley, who had a career in business management, wanted to participate because she was aware that she was entering a transition period and feared that these life changes signalled “the beginning of the end.”

Another participant, Hermi, 85, says: “I know I’m 85 so I know I am classed as an old woman. But I don’t really feel like an older woman, even when I’m hobbling about because my knee has got arthritis in it.”

If age brings widsom, then Hermi proves this by sharing a firecracker of a life lesson; the advantage of being an older woman is the freedom which accompanies age. Somehow, though, her own words pack a characteristically better punch: “If I want to wear a sleeveless top, I shall wear a sleeveless top and if my bra bothers me, I shall bloody take it off. That’s it. I mean there’s got to be a silver lining in everything, the silver lining in old age is that you can do what you like and nobody can tell you any different.”

To find out more about the ‘Look at Me! Images of Women and Ageing’ project and the free exhibitions, visit the website

Shattering UK gangland stereotypes

A powerful image of a black teenager, eyes downcast and his bare arm criss-crossed with knife scars, is among the striking images in a photographic exhibition about the UK’s gangland culture.

The photograph of ex-gang member Jean Claude Dagrou, who was scarred during a fight between rival south London gangs in his late teens, is part of Another Lost Child, which opened at the Photofusion Gallery in Brixton, south London, earlier this month. Read about it in Saba Salman’s Society Guardian piece today.