Open Doors and Open Hearts at Anam Cara

Deep in the Garnock Valley the vitality of childhood knocks on the door of aloneness, and magic happens. “Very young children don’t know their own power”, says Clare Mills. “Children don’t see dementia, or age, or worry about whether they can communicate or not. They see a person, and they respond. It’s as simple as that”.

Clare manages Anam Cara, a communitybased respite facility for older people living with dementia. Since 2015 Clare and Sarita Taggart, Senior Practitioner at St Bridget’s Early Years Centre in Kilbirnie, have been bringing together very young children and older people living with dementia to build relationships that are mutual, authentic and transformative. “It’s amazing what we end up doing”, says Clare. “It can be anything from physical and creative arts, to singing together, to sharing poems and playing games. Our guests and their wee pals celebrate festivals and customs together throughout the year. This work isn’t a project, really. It’s a way of living, and we cherish it”.
Anam Cara’s guests and ‘wee pals’ meet every second Thursday either at Anam Cara itself, or at the school, community hub or local
library, depending on what they are going to do together. “Once a girl brought a hula hoop”, says Clare. “Kids have no inhibitions whatsoever. She saw no reason why our guests could not hula hoop. She was right. They ended up having a competition with the kids. I had no idea that so many of our guests could be that limber!” Clare goes on to describe a moment of connection between a guest and a wee pal that shatters any assumptions about what is possible between people. “One of our wee pals is a boy who is severely autistic and really doesn’t want to be touched”, she says. “As we see it, he lives in his own world of carefully constructed rules and manages everything from there. One of our guests, who you might also describe as living in her own world, was upset and crying. He saw her, came over to her and began touching her face and cuddling her. Then he climbed on her lap. She hugged him, and was soon laughing and her face full of joy. His mum couldn’t
believe it. I will never forget it”. Clare and Sarita have been recognised for Excellence in Intergenerational Work by Generations Working Together, a charity dedicated to this work across Scotland. “The results speak for themselves”, says Clare. “Evaluation shows that our guests have improved mobility and flexibility, reducing the incidence of falls. They laugh and sing, revive old skills, learn new skills, and have
fun. All of this reduces isolation and improves wellbeing”.
What about the wee pals? “It’s a really mutual relationship”, Clare reflects. “The kids benefit equally. Their physical and motor skills improve, as well as their confidence and ability to connect with others. This work has a life of its own now. We are excited about the future and where we will go from here!”

18th June 2020