Reimagining life stories

Charlotte Overton-Hart, talks to Created Out of Mind about the journey that led her to develop an innovative storytelling tool to capture the experiences of those living with dementia. She has recently launched a new social enterprise called Story Chaplain, which brings together creative arts and meaningful moments for people living with dementia.

Charlotte storycomb.jpg
couple storycomb.jpg

'How might it be possible to visualise a life story told in absolutely any order? Taking inspiration from a honeycomb structure, I thought about how hexagonal images could show the rich moments that make up life, and Storycomb was born.

I first had the idea for Storycomb in 2015, during my time as an apprentice in Westminster Arts' Remembering Together programme, a twelve-week guided reminiscence of life events with about a dozen couples, and as many apprentices. In each couple, one is living with dementia, and the other is their carer. During the programme, I was matched with David, who is living with dementia and his carer Vanessa.  However, first and foremost they are David and Vanessa, married for over fifty years, and one of the warmest and most hospitable couples I have ever met.

Remembering Together closed with an afternoon of celebration during which each apprentice presented an artwork to the couple they had spent time with, inspired by their life. Having spent time with David and Vanessa on the programme, and in their home, I was keen to capture the richness of their lives, celebrating new memories as well as old, but not necessarily in chronological order. What mattered most was not exactly when the good times and milestones had happened, so much as the fact that they had happened. At the same time, I was aware that any artwork I was able to create would be a partial and incomplete picture of their lives together. I didn't want to present them with a polished, finished article so much as a flavour of their life together, from their courting days through to times with their granddaughter in more recent years. 

David and Vanessa's Storycomb taking shape 

David and Vanessa's Storycomb taking shape 

A few mini hexagons used in the Storycomb workshop I ran for the Westminster Arts’ Creative Befrienders, hosted by Created Out of Mind.

A few mini hexagons used in the Storycomb workshop I ran for the Westminster Arts’ Creative Befrienders, hosted by Created Out of Mind.

Rather than creating a photo book which would have a definite beginning, middle and end, I was inspired by the structure of the humble honeycomb. Gathering about seventy photos of David and Vanessa throughout their lives, mixed with photos I had taken when spending time with them, I cut each photo into a hexagon shape so the deck of photos could be arranged in an almost infinite number of ways, and in one way or another, connections could be made between the images.

Once Remembering Together had finished, I became a Creative Befriender with Westminster Arts, visiting David and Vanessa about once a month to explore some of the ways the Storycomb could be used together. So far, it has has inspired guided poetry and creative writing, collage making, and talking about the seasons, as well as more general reminiscence and conversation prompts. We continue to find that, each time we look at the Storycomb, we spot things we hadn’t seen before. It turns out that the opposite of chronological or right order isn’t necessarily wrong so much as an alternative perspective, often creating opportunities to spark in-the-moment connections.'

   

Storycomb is part of a series of projects that make up Story Chaplain, a new social enterprise founded by Charlotte aiming to bring together creative arts and meaningful moments for people living with dementia.