Photo courtesy of Alzheimer's Society
Photo courtesy of Alzheimer's Society

The potential for creative writing and poetry to empower and uplift those affected by memory loss will be celebrated during the first National Memory Day in May 2016.

A flagship event of the UK’s Dementia Awareness Week, it will attempt to raise the profile of the challenges that living with memory loss can bring, not only for the individual but also their wider circle of family and friends.

The day itself will feature a prestigious event at which leading poets, writers and actors will present and read the winning entries from an open writing competition focused around celebrating memories.

But leading up to that, there will be a year-round programme of talks and workshops with poets and writers working with the nationally successful Memory Cafes to ensure everyone can become involved in the enjoyment and writing of memories and new creative work.

The annual event will also aim to raise funds to increase the number of Memory Cafes, an initiative run by Alzheimer’s Society, and particularly to establish new ones dedicated to groups of veterans.

The National Memory Day is being managed by the charity Literature Works in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Society, the Plymouth Literature Project at Plymouth University and The Poetry Archive.

Sir Andrew Motion is the project's President, with broadcaster Angela Rippon – Co-Chair of the Prime Minister’s Dementia Friendly Challenge Group – as Vice President, and the steering group also includes Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes.

Ian Sherriff, Plymouth University’s Academic Partnership Lead For Dementia and Chair of the Prime Minister’s Rural Dementia Task Force, says:

“There are 800,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK, and it has been proven in the past that the arts can have a positive impact on their experiences. This project has the potential to expand on that previous work, and reach more people with the condition, their families and carers. It is also an opportunity for Plymouth University to build on its various research and support projects, which are already transforming the lives of those affected by memory loss.”
Sir Andrew Motion says:

“Research is beginning to show how the metre and rhythm of poetry can help calm and relax listeners who live with various forms of memory loss. I’ve seen at first-hand how the practice of reciting and creating poems can help to unlock older memories which encourage new conversations and new, positive memories for people living with memory loss to share with their families, friends and those who care for them. This project will have fantastically positive benefits, not only on individuals and families living with memory loss and those who attend Memory Cafes dedicated to individuals with dementia, but also for the poets and writers involved in working with these groups.”

Angela Rippon, an Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society and Honorary Graduate of Plymouth University, says:

“The National Memory Day and the programme of events we have planned around the year to support it, recognises how the effects of memory loss can impact on a wide group of family, friends and community. The creation of new poetry and writing, inspired by and with the active participation of individuals at Memory Cafes, will provide fantastically positive new approaches to living with memory loss, and the resulting collections and archiving of people’s memories in such creative forms will provide support to the participating families for years to come.”

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society, says:

“There is widespread recognition at the highest level of government about the present and potential future impacts of dementia. The search for ways to enhance the quality of life for those affected is a constant and complex one, combining clinical research with innovative and creative projects such as National Memory Day. Alzheimer’s Society is excited about this initiative and the potential it has to open up new ways and partnerships to communicate about dementia to a wide audience.” 

Tracey Guiry, the CEO of Literature Works, says:

“This project demonstrates how Arts and cultural activities provide enormous and measurable benefits to key challenges facing the UK, such as health and wellbeing and the rise in the costs of care. The Memory Day will ensure we can continue to develop and support the talent of new and existing writers and poets to provide them opportunities to enrich their work through community engagement.”