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Older artists paint portraits for new exhibition

Older people in Newcastle-under-Lyme are aiming to make themselves as famous as Mona Lisa as their self-made portraits take pride of place at the Belong Heritage Gallery, the local landmark documenting the town’s rich history and integrated with their home, dementia specialist care village, Belong.

Led by the in-house experience team as part of its activities programme, the special classes saw Belong’s residents and independent living apartment tenants schooled in the skill of self-expression with only pencils, paints and the art of memory to bring their creative ambitions to life.   

Emma Palin, experience and Heritage Gallery coordinator at Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme, explains more: “With a reflections theme for the project, we wanted to challenge our budding Leonardos technically and get them to think about how they perceive themselves.

“They each had a personal photograph to work with, and, after teaching them what to do, much concentration was required to translate what they saw and could remember onto canvas, as well as get the proportions right, the eyes in the correct place. The rest was up to them, and we encouraged the group to have fun communicating their self-perception through their work.”

The theme was inspired by a project launched by the National Activity Providers Association (NAPA) championing the use of arts in care environments for the benefit of those involved. Research evidences the positive impact on participants’ wellbeing gained from the pleasure of taking part, sharing ideas with others, and the sense of achievement earned on completion. The arts can also help support brain function and memory through the thought processes and concentration needed to carry out the activity.

Vera Billington, 93, apartment tenant at the village, said: “I think mine looks nothing like me! But I’m proud to have it on display in the gallery for everyone to see – it’s been a wonderful project.”

Emma continues: “The result has been a fascinating insight into how people see themselves, particularly for our customers living with dementia. We’ve enjoyed a lot of laughs, and our customers told us they appreciated the opportunity to learn a new skill and have their portraits showcased for families and friends to see. We invite everyone to visit our mini-Louvre to view the final pieces!”

The Reflections exhibition is available to view at Belong Heritage Gallery, Lower Street, Newcastle-under-Lyme, ST5 2RS. For more information, contact 01782 986300.

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