Wellesley Park Primary School is taking part in the ‘Archie Project’ which aims to ‘make communities more dementia friendly’. In front of the whole school plus guests from nearby Oaktree Court Care Home, the project team brought their mascot Archie to life by dressing two willing members of staff as scarecrows.
TV cameras from BBC Spotlight recorded the assembly. Wellesley Park is the first school in the town to become involved and now joins 24 others in the region which are taking part.
At the core of the project is ‘Archie’s Story’, “an inspiring and uplifting tale of how to avoid a person with dementia becoming invisible”. It is designed to “explain simply and without being patronising that there are many types of dementia. It illustrates the main signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s – the most common type, the fact that there is no cure, the things we should say and do to prevent a person with dementia from feeling ignored, invisible and unloved and to ensure they feel a meaningful part of their community.”
Fiona Mahoney is the author of ‘Archie’s Story’, the starting point of children’s involvement in the project. As a former occupational therapist working with dementia-sufferers she has used dolls and mascots as a source of comfort and attachment and as a way of encouraging reminiscence. In the preface to her book she says, “Archie is named by a gentleman called Bill who was part of a European research project called “Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today.” Every reminiscence session Bill would greet the mascot, Mr Scarecrow, saying “Good morning Archie”. He was familiar with the mascot and there was a sense of continuity at each session, making him feel safe and secure.”
Archie the scarecrow has become the central character in the book, in Archie workbooks for pupils in Key Stages 1 and 2 and in ‘Meet Archie and his Friends’ for reception children. Fiona Mahoney explains that the colours used by illustrator Peter Holmes are significant: “Red and yellow are the last colours to go in the aging eye. I used the idea of colour being drained from Archie when he felt in a state of ill-being and unloved, and returning when he felt loved and treated no differently from his friends.”
“Although the book was originally written for adults it occurred to me that it could also be used for children to enable them to understand the basic facts about dementia and how they could relate better to grandparents, parents or family members with dementia.”
Pupils at Wellesley Park will be taking part in a range of activities to reinforce the Archie story, including creating scarecrows for a Scarecrow Parade on Friday 14 March, followed by visits to 2 care homes.
Fiona Mahoney and Emma Green paid tribute the support the project receives from Taunton Deane Borough Council, Somerset Care, Debenhams, Majesticare, Somerdale International, DMA Stairlifts and from individual donors.
The ‘Archie Project’ is derived from the work of Reminiscence Learning, a Somerset-based charity providing specialist training in dementia care and reminiscence therapy. The charity works alongside carers and care assistants to run activities and specialist projects encouraging integration among isolated individuals, the elderly and those with long-term physical and mental health problems. The Archie Project aims to reach the wider community, in its own words, “dispelling the stigma associated with dementia.”