The Imagination Café – My Favourite Event

The Imagination Café is a pop-up installation that offers creative activities and morning tea designed for people with dementia.  The reason I enjoy it so much is that, although originally conceived as an intervention for people with dementia, it is more like hosting a fun party with lots of interesting visitors.

The Café was inspired by art made by people with dementia as part of the Dementia and Imagination research project, and by visiting colourful, pop-up food vans that travel around e.g. to summer festivals. The artwork from Dementia and Imagination wasn’t made for exhibition, but it was interesting, colourful and often intriguing. I thought it would be great to create a social space around the artwork, as a tribute to the artists involved and to provide positive imagery that challenges negative stereotypes about dementia, a condition that is often associated with suffering, loss and fear.

Since its first outing on the market square in Nottingham in 2017, where it was visited by the amazingly talented actress and dementia ambassador Vicki McClure, the Imagination Café, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has travelled to Llandudno in North Wales, Edinburgh in Scotland and has made several appearances in London, proving a hit across the country. In each location it changes according to its surroundings, with diverse catering, creative activities and languages included to meet the needs of the local community.

Each event welcomes people with dementia, their families and care staff, but we’re popular with the general public as well. The Imagination Café’s magic ingredients are accessibility, fun and a warm welcome. Instead of focusing on dementia friendliness we’ve found that inclusivity, diverse activities and local partnerships facilitate access for all. Working in partnership with a range of organisations, including Dementia UK and the Alzheimer’s Society means that visitors can access specialist health care support as well as having a wonderful time.  Organisations such as MOSTYN and Nottingham Contemporary have provided inspiring and creative input that elevates our mission and creates opportunities for cultural engagement beyond the project.

Most recently the Imagination Café has been working in partnership with CW+ and our friends at the Harlequins Foundation. The Stoop rugby stadium in Twickenham has transformed one of its function rooms into a community venue, welcoming ex-players, local residents with dementia and others experiencing social isolation to regular Imagination Café events. The Club’s players, coaches and junior squad have shown huge support for the project and the Stoop Cafés have included chair exercises, indoor ball-skills, and close encounters with team memorabilia that offers a unique atmosphere. Morning tea served by the Club squad and selfies with the players are highlights. Musical interludes by favourites such as Shirt Tail Stompers, and arts sessions led by A Space Between and Pitzhanger Gallery provide something for all tastes, and bring lots of interactive activities that combine to create a joyful atmosphere. Oh, and there’s excellent tea, cakes and lunches that are enjoyed by everyone! The catering is integral to the project, with a special emphasis on creating delicious and enticing food for visitors with dementia who may experience dysphagia (swallowing difficulties) and hyposmia or anosmia (partial or total inability to smell). The Imagination Café has been lucky to work with talented teams at Nourish by Jane Clarke and UWL- Geller College of Hospitality and Tourism.

The Imagination Café is a real highlight in my calendar. It’s a chance to socialise with people living with dementia, their families and care home staff and a time to enjoy art, music and cake together. I can’t wait for the next one.

The next Imagination Café will be announced when it becomes appropriate to resume these events.