From Stornoway to Port Seton: Getting creative at Cockenzie House



DFEL was delighted to welcome Paula Brown from Arora, A Dementia Friendly Community based at An Lanntair Arts Centre on the Isle of Lewis. Paula kindly agreed to run a workshop. Lorna Bunney, coordinator of Dunbar Carers Support Group organised the day which was held at Cockenzie House and Gardens, Port Seton. The day was in 2 parts. A morning session where Paula talked about her work and an afternoon ‘FunShop’ for people with dementia, family and friends to enjoy an afternoon of creativity with Paula and Lorna.




Pupils from Dunbar Grammar school opened the day with the wonderful Colour Dunbar colouring books the pupils developed with local older people. They have produced a wonderful book full of familiar sights (and sites!) and scenes from Dunbar, so when people colour them in, they are familiar places that bring back memories. What was really special was that the idea came from Paula and Arora originally and we were able to take her idea to Dunbar thanks to the Dementia Friendly Communities network run by the Life Changes Trust. The Books are raising funds for Dementia Friendly Dunbar, over £900 so far with printing costs covered by the Area Partnership, Community Council and Rotary. The school hopes to encourage other schools across East Lothian to do colouring in books for their communities too.



Paula inspired us with the work of her and her team across the Western Isles. She started with a story about Norman who lives in a care home in Stornoway. Norman didn’t want to look at  a magnolia wall every day, life is too short. When they chatted Paula found out that the Harbour is the most important part of the town for Norman, he wanted to look at it from his window every day. So Paula and her team worked with a local artist to create a massive picture of the harbour for the wall so Norman can see the harbour every day. They were able to get advice from Agnes Houston and the Dementia Alumni about using colour rather than back and white (colour is a yes!). You can read about Paula’s work here and follow her Blog by clicking on here.


Paula and her team also run a Film Club where people pick the films and the themes and invite others to join them; they develop memory and sensory boxes for people, run ceilidhs and concerts in care homes and the local dementia ward and run sessions in the local museum and libraries. In one project the local library gives people tablet computers with pictures on them and they run a carers lunch. Paula’s session was inspiring and we had a really interesting discussion that went on much longer than we planned because we had so many questions and experiences to share. There were really moving stories about life and also about talking about death.



Michael brought artwork done by his wife Mary who has dementia and took up painting after getting dementia. We were struck by the colour and flow of the paintings. We also saw work by Maurine Hamilton, a lady from Gullane who painted her whole life. We talked about how powerful the creative urge is and Suzie, from Northern Light Arts spoke about how being an artist was at the heart of who she was.



The afternoon was designated for fun! People living with dementia, their families and friends and others had a go at a range of activities that Paula and Arora often use. Including hand-tied posies; modelling with Fimo, making seaweed pasta and watercolour painting using a technique used by Mairi Hedderwick, the author or the Katie Morag books. There was fantastic array of flowers, food and paintings enjoyed by all. Andy from Upstream ran a mini workshop on transport and driving. People could come and go and they made good use of the beautiful gardens with visits to the shop and allotments too.






After all that creativity, all 30 of us ascended to the glorious tearoom on the top floor of Cockenzie House. What a delight! A roaring fire (it was a dreich day) and tables set out within a stunning room, all set up with tempting morsels. The food was wonderful and we enjoyed each others’ company and planned our next day out! Next time we need a piano player as there was a grand piano sitting in the corner…. Any volunteers?


We got great feedback from the day – it was fun, people learnt things and enjoyed spending time with people with similar experiences. The catering deservedly got outstanding marks and everyone said the day was happy, friendly and caring.  We could have done better with signage and access was a problem for some, but we all managed to get in and get to the cakes! Otherwise we got good marks and great feedback:


“Its been absolutely brilliant and mostly because we have been among other people that are in the same situation”

“A very enjoyable day, meeting people with the same troubles but making the most of enjoying each others’ company”

“It has been a lovely day with a very caring, welcoming atmosphere”

“Fantastic afternoon tea – amazing catering”

“Many thanks for today and the varied delights on offer. It was a lovely day and shows what can be quite simply done to involve people with Dementia”



We know you want more, so that’s what we’re going to do! So watch out for what comes next so you can:

DANCE! We know you want to dance! So we’re planning something for October 14th at the Fisherrow Centre in Musselburgh – watch this space.

REMEMBER  – Watch out also for the To Absent Friends Festival from 1- 7 November.  Click Here for information. 


The Dunbar Carer Support Group meets every week in Dunbar Library between 2-4pm. Contact Lorna Bunney at Dunbar Library for details.

The Friendship (or DEEP groups) meet regularly in different places. Drop in or contact Sue (me!) for more details:

  • Haddington at the Maitlandfield House Hotel, 10.30 – 12, the first Tuesday of the month
  • Musselburgh at the Fisherrow Community centre, 2.30 – 4, the 2nd Wednesday of the month
  • Dunbar at the Royal Mackintosh Hotel, 10.30 – 12, the 3rd Friday of the month.
  • Prestonpans – coming soon….

AND we are about to start a new project working with Paula and Philly from Innovations in Dementia on digital eating – interested? Want to now more? Get in touch or sign up for the newsletter here. 



Sue 🙂



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