Why are we going round in circles? Observations by the Happy Wanderers walking group

Ellie Robinson-Carter

Whilst studying an MA in Illustration in Falmouth University, I have been researching how illustration can be used to improve the lives of people with dementia. With this in mind, I approached the Sensory Trust after reading about their work online and hearing Wendy speak at the International Dementia Congress in November: I was immediately struck by the integrity, passion and creativity at the core of the organisation and wanted to know more.

Living in Falmouth, I decided to enrol as a volunteer on the Walking Groups based in the St Austell area. The group meet every Wednesday somewhere in this vicinity to walk, have a cuppa, a biscuit and a good old natter! After only a few walks, I was really keen to work with the group and become part of it. In line with my practice/research on the MA, I created a project which I felt would build on the values of the Sensory Trust, encouraging the group to engage with their surroundings in different ways, using all of their senses and to document their experiences.

I passed around a disposable camera and asked the group to take photographs of their walks, with a particular theme or constraint in mind. The themes provide a focus, another form of cognitive stimulation and a shared topic of conversation: the group become the illustrators of their own narrative. They span a variety of ideas, such as senses, personal experiences and times of year. I have created 16 books so far, and their titles include: Texture at Treverbyn, Sound at Gossmoor and Green at Luxylyan. Some have little books inside of them, which expand further on the theme: for example, in Shadows at Wheal Martyn I depict the movement of the sun and in The First Signs of Spring at Lostwithiel I present a collection of their drawings.

front cover of three of the books

This project is a fantastic example of mind and landscape coming together: it is a psycho-geographical project which allows the people to document their experiences in the landscape, whilst nurturing and sharing their inner landscapes. It also creates visual prompts which can allow them to revisit their shared memories, and is extremely important in providing the people with self-evidence that living with dementia can still mean that they can form new connections, both with people and landscape.

The group have been absolutely fantastic to work with, and after 8 months of going along I have become very much part of it. Myself and the other volunteers often say how much we get from going on the walks, and how much we miss it when we can’t make it! The group have such an incredible integrity, they support one another with the day to day and, really, are a group of friends enjoying nature together. I have made sure to emphasise this in the collection of books: we are a group of people who meet to enjoy the outdoors and each other’s company, and the person is very much seen before the dementia.

Contact Ellie on erobinsoncarter78@googlemail.com for more information.

If you have a student project that you would like some feedback on or think would fit with our current work then please get in touch enquiries@sensorytrust.org.uk

Ellie Robinson-Carter is a student at Falmouth College of Art and a volunteer with the Happy Wanderers walking group. To find out more about volunteering with Sensory Trust read about our current opportunities

Ellie chats to a participant at an activity group at Potager gardens

Highlights from our dementia walks - find out where we've been walking and what we've been up to

Dementia walks monthly programme - full details on how to join in on one of our dementia friendly walks

Find out the story behind the St Austell based walking group.