Kathryn Gilfoy is Director of Resonate Arts, a pioneering arts programme for older people living with dementia and other mental health issues. Kathryn developed this programme from scratch and has since helped many arts organisations to develop work with people living with dementia. She was previously a Community Arts Facilitator and Director at Studio 3 Arts.
Please tell us about some of the work you have done to support, improve and contribute to the lives of, people with dementias?
I developed the Resonate Arts programme from scratch, fostering great partnerships, helping arts organisations to develop work with people living with dementias and changing the culture of those organisations, leading to an increased awareness amongst all staff.
I’m particularly proud of the monthly concerts we hold at Marylebone Parish Church and Wigmore Hall. These concerts developed from Music for Thought, a project now running in 3 boroughs, which brings together Royal Academy of Music students and musicians from Wigmore Hall who want to work with the wider community.
People bring their friends to the concerts and nobody knows who has a dementia and who hasn’t. It’s always a really joyous occasion!
A recent project at St Vincent’s care home used the V&A‘s Gilbert Collection in group and bedside work to create individual art pieces and led to us creating a research training programme for paid carers, helping them access the collection.
What was your motivation for getting involved in the field of dementia?
When I was younger, as a churchgoer I had friends of all ages and it felt normal to me. I’m naturally inquisitive and having the chance to meet people from different walks of life and to hear about their fascinating lives has always been a draw!
I’ve been a Community Arts Facilitator and project manager most of my working life. While Director at Studio 3 Arts, I set up the work with older people, which is still going.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement or highlight?
There are many wonderful things. Recently we took 11 people living with dementia and 10 carers from the Singing with Friends choir to a spectacular event at Buckingham Palace. It was potentially challenging: a whole day and evening, but we weren’t going to turn down the opportunity and everyone really enjoyed it.
The next challenge is to find the funding to keep going and there are many exciting opportunities. We are working with frontline staff at the V&A to develop dementia-friendly tours, and to bring bespoke tours (LGBT and Black History for example) to people with dementias.
If you could change one thing now to improve the lives of people living with dementia, what would it be?
We need to find a cure for dementia-related illnesses but that should never be at the cost of helping people living with dementias to live full lives. Policy makers need to understand that this work not only reduces hospital admissions, but is important because we care as a society about how we treat everyone. A society that doesn’t support its elders does so at a grave cost to itself.