I spend a lot of time alone working in my she-shed thinking up grand plans to change the world and make it a bit better. I look for ways in which I can share my knowledge and experience as effectively as possible. One such grand plan was to apply for a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Award.
On Churchill’s death in 1965 thousands of people donated money to establish a memorial trust fund. To this day this legacy is managed and utilised to enable UK citizens from all walks of life to travel overseas to learn about innovative practices in other countries which will benefit UK residents – how cool is that!!! Anyone can apply, follow this link to see the amazing achievements of previous Fellows Get a large mug of tea and a comfy chair as you will soon be engrossed in all the amazing projects.
The call goes out every September to apply for the Award. My fabulous friend, Alison Ward (amazing researcher and lovely person doing interesting work using photography in dementia care – please check that out too ) was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2015 so I tentatively asked her if she thought I should apply. A resounding YES! and a glass of wine later and I’d done it. I was fortunate enough to get through the first round, then the second, then the interview, then OMG I’ve been awarded 🙂
At this point, I must give a massive shout out to the best boyfriend in the world. Travelling for me is no mean feat. I have three teenagers who whilst potentially could be self-sufficient, aren’t really. Made slightly more problematic as I am the primary carer for my son so logistically upping sticks for a few weeks to foreign parts will involve a lot of support from others. This support was unashamedly there from my partner right from the beginning which frankly brought a tear to my eye (I pretended it was hay fever so as not to damage my super cool image).
So, here I am with a great big fabulous opportunity to change the world with work I am passionate about. My cunning plan is this:
I am interested in sexuality, intimacy and dementia. I think this is a hugely complex, contentious, sometimes beautiful issue which we just don’t like talking about. When you live in a relationship affected by dementia sexuality and intimacy can be ignored or swept under the carpet, just when you need to talk. I have mostly worked with people in the community but increasingly became interested in care home living and how this may rupture intimate relationships when perhaps what these couples needed most was the comfort that intimacy can bring.
During the course of my academic work I had heard and read about RiverSpring Health which is a New York based care provider. RiverSpring Health hold the opinion that intimacy and sexuality are good for wellbeing and encourage residents to maintain their intimate lives. I am really interested in how residents and their families feel about this, how this ethos impacts on wellbeing, how are safeguarding issues managed and assessed. I love the dominant idea that sex is important across the lifespan. I will be jetting off to NYC hopefully in January/February 2018 to work alongside the staff and residents at RiverSpring Health.
During the course of my research and practice I have had discussions with a range of people who have disclosed a real varied private life. I became more and more interested in how these divergent identities were supported (or not) in care. The second leg of my awfully big adventure will see me travel to Melbourne, Australia to work with the LGBT+ communities on some really lovely projects which are underway there. I will be looking at LGBT+ specific training, how this is developed, managed, rolled out. I will be looking at LGBT+ specific care homes, talking to developers and potential buyers to understand the barriers to building specific facilities and why the are seen as sorely needed. I will also be working, hopefully, with the trans community to better understand the fear that dementia may have on identify and how professionals can better support this community.
An important aspect of any Churchill Fellowship is dissemination. There is no point in having all this great knowledge if we don’t share it far and wide. I am planning to blog about this amazing adventure, so brace yourself for gushy, excited blogs telling you about EVERYTHING. I grew up in a very small village, going to London is still a massive adventure for me, I will be unbearable when out in the world 🙂 So, lots of blogs, I’m also linked with various organisations – DAA, Dementia UK, Health Education England Thames Valley, University of Northampton, Opening Doors London, TONIC housing, to name but a few and will be sharing my experiences via reports, seminars, webinars, features, conferences, network meetings – however I can. I will write what I think will be an article but will probably be several articles about the findings to the academic press. The best bit, which I really hope works, is that I would like to invite the residents I meet to share with me an image which epitomises intimacy for them and to share their love stories. I hope then to create some sort of exhibition which I can show at various places. I think once you link a face and a story to a particular topic it stops becoming so taboo and starts to become human. I hope to be able to challenge some of those stereotypes about older people and intimacy. You know the ones that say anyone over 65 is ‘sexually retired’ (or over 40 if you live in my house, in the opinion of my teen offspring). Intimacy remains important at whatever age for most people and I hope to question some of the assumptions about that with this project.
There are other plans afoot, but I’m not sure if I can make those happen just yet, so watch this space.
If you are from an organisation which would like to hear about the outcome of my awfully big adventure please do get in touch on 0753 819 5755 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to share knowledge, always.