Audience members enjoying dementia-friendly screenings at The Dukes, Lancaster
In recent years, more and more cinemas UK-wide have been holding regular screenings for sufferers of dementia, their carers and family members. As we are living longer, the number of people suffering from dementia in later life is constantly increasing; by 2025, the Alzheimer's Society estimates one million people will be living with the condition in the UK, despite inroads made by ongoing research. The emotional and physical toll of dementia is often devastating and very isolating, both for those with the condition and their loved ones, and so activities such as cinema-going that offer a change of scene, the chance to elicit and revisit memories, restful entertainment, and an opportunity to bond with others, are invaluable. Johnathan Ilott, Film Programme Manager at The Dukes in Lancaster, tells us about the pioneering initiative they undertook at their cinema and the impact it's had on local audiences.
“Singing along in the film interval brings back the woman we used
On Valentine’s Day 2013, The Dukes held
a screening of Singin’ In The Rain for people living with dementia and
their families. It was a pilot screening for what become a new project on-going
called A Life More Ordinary.
The idea came out of a three-year study
undertaken by Age UK Lancashire that investigated the needs of older people in
the county. One of the major findings of the report was the increasing sense of
isolation experienced by older people. This issue was further compounded for people
living with dementia, due to a loss of confidence and fear of going out in
public. This had an impact on family relationships, too, with partners feeling
less able to go out and socialise, leaving both feeling isolated.
These findings led to a partnership
between us at The Dukes and Age UK Lancashire in a bid to explore the potential role
of cinema and the arts in enabling people with dementia and their partners or
family members to enjoy ‘ordinary’ activities in everyday public spaces.
One of the ideas developed by the
partnership was a tailored programme of cinema screenings which aimed to:
- Increase feelings of involvement and reduce feelings of isolation for people attending.
- Provide appropriate transport to support attendance at events.
- Provide a dementia-friendly environment for patrons and their partners or family members.
Above all we wanted to offer an
everyday activity in an everyday setting. Our first screening was of Singin’
in the Rain - we’d picked the Gene Kelly favourite as our consultation showed a
strong preference for Golden Age musicals. As well as being our audience's clear preference, musicals were considered a good choice because the narrative is
carried along by the songs - many of which audiences would be familiar with whether
or not they had previously seen the film.
The Dukes' initial consultation showed that musicals were a firm audience favourite
The initial success of this screening
saw the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation agree to fund an expanded six-month
programme, which allowed us to reach out to a larger audience and introduce
workshops. This in turn led to a longer, three-year project.
At every dementia-friendly screening we try to strike a
balance between keeping the environment as much like a regular screening as possible
while also ensuring that everyone is comfortable. Before beginning the pilot we held a
walkthrough of the building, with the help of Age UK Lancashire staff, to
uncover any access issues. As a listed building, The Dukes unfortunately has
numerous such issues, but the walkthrough highlighted several small but
significant changes we could easily make. For example, we changed the signage
on our toilet doors, which had previously relied on illustrations that weren't really
clear enough, and the layout for our menus was simplified to make them more
Our staff all received dementia
training as well. This was not only Front of House staff but across the board,
from projectionists to finance and marketing to stage management. Before each screening we have lunch
offers and Age UK staff on hand to provide support. We encourage audiences to
arrive early, giving them the opportunity to socialise and for new attendees, the
chance to acclimatise to the venue. During the film, the lights are on slightly
and the volume is slightly reduced. For all screenings, we have an interval to
break up the runtime. These intervals
include entertainment - for example a sing-a-long, or for a screening of a George
Formby film we had a ukulele player.
All dementia-friendly screenings at The Dukes include an interval with added entertainment for audience members
Programming & marketing
There’s always a lot of discussion when
programming the films, as we have to consider several factors. Firstly, the length
of some films is simply prohibitive, and we couldn't include several lengthy titles like The Sound of Music. One of the key
aspects of the project was the setting up of a Task Group to ensure that the
programme was developed in line with the needs of the audience.
This group consisted of patrons (those
living with dementia), family members, general audience members as well as
staff representatives. The group helped to inform our programming choices as
well as giving insights into how we could further improve the audience experience.
In our marketing we state that the
screenings are dementia-friendly but have always specified that the films are
open to the wider cinema-going public as well, and the films are all included in our general
cinema listings. This
feeds back into keeping the screenings as ordinary as possible - and we’ve had
audience members who don't suffer from dementia coming just because they like the set-up and the chance to see some
classics on the big screen.
On top of this, we do more targeted
work with specific flyers distributed extensively across the district to older
people’s groups, libraries, leisure centres, GP surgeries, care agencies, and
key stakeholder groups, including Lancaster and Morecambe Alzheimer’s Society. We also received a lot of press
attention, with local press and BBC Lancashire running stories. It’s rare for a
one-screen cinema in the North to get national press attention, but the project
has also featured in The Guardian and on BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour.
“So often people don’t know what to say to you, so to just sit there and let yourself go and have a laugh was lovely.”
We were lucky to receive significant
funding to support A Life More Ordinary from various organisations. Three
things in particular have made this possible. Firstly, The Dukes is a mixed-arts
organisation - a producing theatre as well as a cinema - and this blend of
expertise and interests means we are able to develop a programme
across art forms. As well as film screenings, we hold arts workshops and have
produced plays that explore the themes of ageing.
Secondly, we have a strong relationship
with Lancaster University which has a Centre of Ageing Research. This meant we
can combine our programme of work and their research - significantly improving
the evaluation of the impact of the project.
Lastly, a few years ago The Dukes
invested in creating a new Business Development Role. Rather than being an
added luxury this has proved crucial, because it takes time and resources to
develop relationships with trusts, foundations and other funding bodies. Having
someone focused on this has significantly improved our ability to write bids.
One of the organisations funding the
project is Film Hub North West Central who have supported The Dukes in
expanding A Life More Ordinary to five more venues in our region (Chorley
Little Theatre, Wem Town Hall, Picturehouse at FACT, Liverpool, The Light Cinema in New
Brighton and Ludlow Assembly Rooms).
The screenings offer a chance for dementia sufferers to socialise, with Age UK staff on hand to support
Impact and audience feedback
The audience response to the screenings has been overwhelming positive, with many participants focusing on the relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity once again to enjoy an everyday activity without the feeling of being judged.
They’ve also had a profound effect on our staff, and many will tell you that the project is one of the most rewarding aspects of their job. The screenings have really highlighted the joys that a trip to the cinema can have, and the significance of when something we take for granted is lost.
has been really good for us. It’s mainly from my point of view …it’s just that
I feel comfortable with people who have got the same sort of needs as J [her
husband] because sometimes in public it can be quite hard because J can’t
follow a conversation and people don’t understand and so… here, I’ve got people
to talk to that understand – you can bounce ideas off one another and you don’t
feel as isolated, you can relax.”
If you're interested to find out more about The Dukes' project A Life More Ordinary, contact Project Manager Gil Graystone at
firstname.lastname@example.org or find Johnathan on Twitter at @thedukescinema.