What people are saying about Silva Lining’s Care Plan

Silva Lining’s Care Plan…. Three brains, two bodies, one secret plan: an absurd journey into the invisible world of carers. Written and directed by Elspeth Penny

See Silva Lining’s Care Plan trailer

Developed in collaboration with University of Nottingham, based on real care diaries, Silva Lining’s Care Plan shines a light on the experiences of paid carers of individuals with dementia.

What people are saying:

“Silva Lining’s Care Plan is a wonderful and moving exploration of the complex relationship between carer and cared for. Both heart-rending and laugh-out-loud, it takes you on a roller-coaster of an emotional journey through Silva Lining’s story, with many an amusing aside from her Brain.” Alex Coulter, Director, Arts & Health South West. Chair, Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance

 “This play must be watched/shared with carers old and new and care agencies. Good to see a positive care/relationship and the importance of getting it right. Very powerful. I was completely engaged for the whole piece” Claire Angerson, Person Centred Planning, Bristol Community Links North. “Sticking up for carers” Anonymous carer

 “Professional carers are hidden from view, yet are at the heart of support to people with disabilities or disabling illness, particularly dementia, helping them to live at home as long as possible. This play portrays the complex relationship between a carer and a woman – a retired doctor – living with dementia. Mutual respect, misunderstandings, anger, beauty, frustration, jokes and, above all, love, drew me into this poignant play with beautiful acting and even a brain puppet.”Gene Feder, Professor of primary health care Centre for Academic Primary CarePopulation Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol

 “Everyone involved as Commissioners of care services or as carers should immerse themselves in this play.  You will forever see “Caring” in a new light. I was immediately captivated by the scene and the setting – familiar to me as a GP. Difficulty in gaining access to the patient’s house using door codes has been part of my lived experience for many years. The conversation between Silva Lining and her carer, the profound insights and astonishing puppetry engaged me throughout.” Dr Malcolm Rigler FRSPH, Health Ambassador at: www.patients-association.com

Opportunities to see the play:

Tandem Conference on Sept 20th

Nottingham Contemporary on Sept 21st

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“Letter to my grandchild”, for the older person who would like to get connected the easy way.


At the end of 2017, I ran a pilot project at 65 High Street, Nailsea, inviting participants to throw themselves into technology, sometimes for the first time. They’d create something creative and satisfying – a photo book letter to their grandchild or any young person, including some written text in the form of brief stories. It was a project that pushed both participants and myself out of our comfort zones, but the results were more than worth it. Part of the course was looking at imaginative story creation, construction and structure and other exercises I’ve used in previous creative writing courses. This was an essential part of the course, though because of time constraints, in most sessions this became secondary to the IT skills learning.

Nailsea town Clerk Ian Morrell and I have been in conversation for several years over the importance of arts-in-health, and ways of introducing some creative and community activities skills to address wider community needs in the town. All this whilst providing something which Nailsea residents themselves would welcome, enjoy and accept. The council were due to launch their new resource – 65 High Street, an informal community digital hub supported by The Good Thing Foundation. I wanted to invent a course to work into this launch, and encourage people through the door. The course was free except for a small contribution to the cost of printing the books.

Nine beautiful, ambitious photos books have been made, a plethora of skills have been learned and a community has been created, both live and online. We had a Christmas party where participants received their books, shared mince pies and drinks.

Much of the feedback, and a lot of anecdotal comments during the course are helpful to learn from and take forward, including comments about the space and having an assistant in the room: all to be considered carefully in developments of the course. All ten participants would recommend a friend to come on the same course, or already had. Participants also expressed that they wanted another ongoing course for themselves.

Everyone, naturally, had sessions that were more pleasurable or useful for them than others. However, those who came regularly and experienced the week by week build up of skills, expressed appreciation at the planning and teaching – ‘It was a great course. Elspeth kept the momentum going well.’

Gratifying for me of course, but the most rewarding thing of all was to see the end products, the books, and to see the faces of the participant learners when they received them. One, aged 85, who had arrived with few technical skills, created a stunning 50 page photo book, printed multiple times for her grandchildren. Her family commented that she generally found the Christmas period hard, but this year was different: she’d loved researching, gathering materials and learning the skills to make the book and her spirits were high. Another wrote to me to say she’d given the books to her grandchildren and they’d loved them. I bet.

 I regularly asked participants what it was they wanted to get out of the sessions and what they were learning. Three areas quickly showed themselves to be important, so I concentrated on these:

  1. Learning technical skills
  2. Finding more creative ways of making photo books, and learning story-telling skills
  3. Being part of a community, countering loneliness and isolation.

Some participants would have, no doubt, preferred the sessions to stay on one or other of the points above, but everyone understood that we were a reasonably large group with different needs; we could have spent each two hours going down 15 different routes. Everyone in the feedback forms said they’d achieved a) some said they’d achieved b) and the majority ticked c).

My personal interest lies most firmly in b) and c). I don’t particularly enjoy IT myself, except in so much that it can enable creativity and enhance communication. So why did I run this course? I believe that sometimes the best people to teach a subject are those who find that subject challenging: they don’t take the learning steps for granted. If you can keep in mind the achievement of the result of your labour, i.e. a beautiful photo book of your life that you’ve made yourself, then you are more likely to sidestep your own horror of technology. To enhance the learning experience for the participants, I invited in an IT teaching expert twice in the process. He did a grand job and I learned a lot from him, for example how to effectively address those in the group who are living with conditions that inhibit learning. Humour and gentle repetition are large factors in this.

At the beginning of the workshops it was clear that most participants were bemused by the ipads, and the app. By the end, some of them were irritated by the constraints of both. This could be said to be a mark of how much they’d learned: they were keen to get onto the next level of learning. One participant bought a tablet after the second session and she went on to take great advantage of the facilities at 65 High Street, learning many IT skills.

On asking learners to write about what they’d learned, these were some of their comments:

‘I learned ever such a lot about myself doing this course’

‘Being an absolute novice at technology I was really thrilled to discover that it’s not so frightening after all.’

‘I learned so much from the way the book was made.’

‘How lovely to look back on family experiences’.

‘I learned the concept of the make up of a book. I would love to do more in the future.’

Several of the participants have offered to be volunteers for further sessions, which could be a good way of reusing the skills they have learned and for them to cement their own skills and learn some more. Creating photo books in time for Christmas presents was a good motivator and goal.

So, my tips for future similar projects are…

Explore several different photo apps. The one we used provided a simple way to get to grips with the technology of the ipad (when the app was working), though I think for some people it was a bit pedestrian, and this may be because it was developed for care homes.

Ensure you have an extra person in the room to help with minor (but very time consuming) niggles that people have with problems on the app, or just simple technical issues people have with their own devices. Things like not remembering their passwords, not getting past an Apple ID screen. I’d originally planned for teenagers or grandchildren to join the sessions to act as technical advisors. The sessions were held on school days so this wasn’t possible if we were to complete before Christmas. Minor technical hitches were frustrating. It would have been easier if all of the devices that we were using had been the same. Another reason I needed more help was that some learners had memory problems, others coordination challenges, and the range of ability ranged from one end to the other.

Provide alternative activities for learners who are not so open to creative activities. The first session involved making hand written letters to a grandchild was a great way of setting up ideas for the course for most people, and set off imaginations. People took photos of the letters and used them in their books. Another time I will provide an alternative activity, as one person made it clear that being creative wasn’t their cup of tea.

Learners were invited to contribute to pay for the printing of their photobook. I took participants’ advice and went to local printer Adroit, who gave a great price for a spiral bound photo book. This did mean more work for me but meant we were able to order multiple copies.

It’s essential to ensure that all participants can hear properly. Table layout helps, plus if possible choose a space with appropriate acoustics.

Working in pairs to explain what each person is doing helps consolidate learning.

On a course like this, which builds knowledge week to week, people need to be encouraged to come every week. I wonder whether a small financial contribution would help?

One learner, a retired teacher, wrote to me afterwards: ‘I think up to 12 people all with different skills and needs is a lot to be expected of you.’ I think she was probably right! However, I trust that some of the above considerations would make another course not only possible and easier to manage, but be even more successful.

As an arts-in-health practitioner, I was a bit frustrated not to have much time on the storytelling aspects of the course. However I loved pioneering this project, and in particular working with these wonderful people. It was rewarding to see important events in their life emerge visually on the screen, then printed in a book, to celebrate with them along with the welcoming staff at 65 High Street and to feel I was part of the beginning of something new for them.


“So – was it therapeutic?”

I met Jessa Fairbrother today at a nourishing movement workshop called Flummery Room run by Brenda Waite at The Island in Bristol. Beautiful sessions: Brenda is generous and gentle in how she leads and she manages to encourage us to give something of ourselves, without even asking. Working together, our bodies moving in space to silence or music, we explore repetition, pauses, distance, folding and unfolding. All of us in the group have a chance to get to know ourselves better and to perhaps discover something about each other too. All of this is beyond words, although words are not banned, and they may appear at times in the space too. Something is freed up and we remember how to play again.
At the end there is a chance to talk to some of the other participants; I like that the talk comes after the getting to know another person a little through their movement and how they move with others.
Jessa told me a little about her work – photographs, embroidery, her themes – I became curious. Now home, I’m meant to be sanding down my front door ready to be painted, but how much more enjoyable it is to be reading some of Jessa’s blog posts – nuggets of inspiration and observation. Here is one.


Persephone: Jenny Joseph

RIP Jenny Joseph.

Jenny Joseph’s Obituary in The Guardian

Jenny Joseph is a name I’m familiar with. It’s on the spine of a book that’s always on my book shelf, and is now on my bedside table, to read for the first time as an adult.  When I was 15, Neil Astley of the newly formed Bloodaxe Books asked me whether I’d like to be on the cover and the back of Jenny’s new book ‘Persephone’.

The pouty photos were taken and tinted by Irene Reddish, and I got paid something like £60 (this was a lot to me, we’re talking about June 1986). Unusually, there’s also a photo story in the middle, with models – my friends – Diana and Judith Taylor, Farne Conway, Fay Gilder, Thomas Gilder and my first boyfriend’s dad, Roger Neville. My life mentor and friend Moira Conway took the pictures for the photo story in the coffee shop of my mother’s bookshop, The Bookhouse, in Newcastle Upon Tyne.


‘Great Cultural Knock About!’ Narrative – and Theme… my BEEF workshop feedback

Theme is one of my favourite subjects to teach as it informs the heart of any piece of creative work, whether it be film, fiction writing, theatre, photography, non fiction, textile work… you name it. Plus it’s about emotion, which is the cornerstone of creating anything meaningful. This workshop, and my recent Creative Sparkle workshops have taken me back to the material I taught on the Narrative MA module at Norwich University of the Arts (I loved that job!).

Film maker Dr Vicki Smith asked me to run a workshop at BEEF over the summer. A privilege to be running the first in a series at BEEF’s current home: The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft.

BEEF – Bristol Experimental and Expanded Film – describes itself as ‘a film and sound collective with an analogue heart’, it’s well worth looking up and getting involved in. Vicky is a true experimental film maker and thinker and it’s been great to get to know her through this.

It’s a joy working with creative people, giving them a pile of tools to explore and improve their work and sharing stories. In these workshops – there is a cultural knock about, as one of the workshop attendees wrote in their feedback. Indeed – I view any workshop as essentially being a process of, ‘I am nourishing you and you are nourishing me.’

BEEF workshop.jpg

More about the workshop details:

Details: SATURDAY 30th July  at BEEF’s current home: The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, 14 Hillgrove St, Bristol.

This set of workshops may be taken singly or together. Close attention will be paid to the role of sound and the senses in experimental film, the advantages and creative applications of different film formats and the consideration of audience.

10-12 am: Elspeth Penny: Narrative – Communicating through Media

A narrative is the unfolding of a structured communication to an audience. Story, genre, time, space, theme, style, plot, characterisation and dialogue, sound, movement, image. This workshop uses practical exercises to explore theme – and how a well worked out theme affects everything we communicate.

Elspeth Penny makes films, tv, literature, theatre…. always ideas led. An experienced creative workshop leader, Elspeth has taught for over fifteen years, including running an MA module in Narrative at Norwich University of the Arts, and loves to work with people of any age and level of experience.

More at:  http://www.beefbristol.org/portfolio/break-the-rules-beef-experimental-film-workshops/


Now for the feedback.

Thank you to all of the participants who gave feedback:


Very open and dynamic in approach. It did need more time perhaps! Good location and resources. Made me think more about the direction of my work and how to develop it.


The exercises were good and energizing and brought the group together in a dynamic and creative way. The film and book examples were well chosen. The exercise at the end of using colours, projection and camera to rapidly explore a filmic theme was really fun and a great idea for an explorative tool.


– The creative exercises are very inspiring and helpful.

– The drawing on overhead and filming is brilliant help to see your theme in action.

– It could be an hour longer.

– Please do more of these workshops.


Really stretched by boundaries.

Felt like I could think more freely.

Very interesting.

Wow have something/pointers to take away and follow up.



Good points.

  1. Great cultural knock about
  2. Made me relax and share
  3. Great set of tool kit to go away with that could be transferred to all/most creative processes.
  4. Great sense of security in the group.

Points to improve

?? Too much in 2 hours. Needs a day.

Thanks all.


Note to self: Don’t try to do too much in an hour!

Thanks to Vicky and Esther for your help in planning and on the day.



Letter to my lungs: Spring 2016


Breathe Easy, the Forest of Dean April 19th 2016

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‘My Dear Breath, I have lived with you for 83 years, the first 23 were good! but you have been unkind’ – one eighty-five year-old, Clare, writes to her own breath in large pink letters – she’s been using Beetroot ink and a feather to write with. She tells me she had Asthma since she was a child, ‘I used to wonder if I’d wake up dead.’


It’s the first time I’ve been to the Forest of Dean. I get to Great Oaks Hospice, Coleford an hour early. A man is cleaning a lawn mower, whistling away, and I feel at ease. I consider how I’d not mind spending time at any hospice if I could hear someone going about his tasks so happily. He helps me carry in four boxes and several bunches of different coloured rolled up paper into a warm open room in the basement. I set up, ready for the Breathe Easy group to arrive.

I have arranged to do something for the first half of the meeting for Forest of Dean Breathe Easy group. Mike Green is Secretary of the group – he and his wife greet me, then the participants begin to arrive.

‘This looks interesting, intriguing!’ says one slim friendly man, Archie. The table is all set with tablecloth, homemade inks, pens, pencils, chalks, charcoal. There is something about him that reminds me of my Geordie grandfather Grumpy. Grumpy had chronic bronchitis from years of dedicated smoking and spent the last fifteen,or was it twenty years of his life? – looked after by Gran – he was largely bedridden towards the end.

As we start the workshop, there are six people at the table, and a few more trickle in until we are thirteen.

I introduce myself and tell the group how I have developed my letter-writing project Scent (www.scent.buzz). I warm up with a drama exercise using the breath, play a specific kind of consequences, appropriate for the group, ask everyone to write five messages to their five-year-old self in the past, then ask everyone to write a letter to their own breath.

Mark is a jovial man whom I immediately feel at ease with: he chats to me about parenting boys and various theatre pieces he’s seen.

‘I wrote a letter to my lungs actually,’ he tells me. He has written, ‘We are behind you with this’ at the bottom of his chosen piece of humble white A4 paper. He continues – ‘It has helped me to be less critical of myself. That’s because of the five messages that you asked us to write to ourselves as a child.’

It’s harder to be mean to a child, so addressing ourselves this way does tend to help us be more compassionate with ourselves.


‘My letter is basically all about what breath and I can do together’, Clare tells me, with a little regret in her voice. She then says more cheerfully, ‘This is another way we look at ourselves and our illnesses – there is a lot we can do without medication.’

Everyone reacts to the workshop in their own individual way. Participants talk to their breath in tones ranging from kindness and friendship to reprimand, such as Clare’s, ‘But you have been unkind.’

There’s a discussion in the group about whether keeping the letters is a good idea. I suggest that they might like to pin them up to remind themselves.

I know from previous groups that people have admitted that they think their partners will laugh at them if they pin them up. It’s not out of unkindness, but perhaps out of embarrassment about expressing emotions or needs.

Mark tells me that he’ll take it home and throw it out, the way everything else goes in his house. One participant suggests to him that he might benefit from seeing it – why not put it on your wall?’ He considers it, then he says that he’d like to keep it for a while.

Here’s another thoughtful extract.

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It’s tea and raffle time. I am offered a raffle ticket, but I say that I wouldn’t like to win and take away the prize from one of the others. The raffle master insists. Luckily I don’t win.

‘I think we all enjoyed that and wish you were here for longer. Perhaps you could come back?’ Mike tells me.

‘That was tremendous. I really did get a lot from that’, Carol says as I’m leaving.

A few days later I get a letter through the post from Mike:

‘Your workshop last Tuesday gave our Breathe Easy members food for thought and a creative outlet not experienced often enough on third Tuesdays in the Acorn Suite. I hope you agree that the varied response, in words and images, is proof of the value of the afternoon to those present, not least the fun of it.

Mary tells me that the procession of the exercises led her to realise she could rise above negativity and begin again to enjoy life.’

I am both moved and humbled, in particular by Mary’s feedback. To me it shows that this is not just simply about letter writing and communicating to some part of yourself, as profound as that might be. It’s also a procession of exercises, a progression of ideas, a transition which participants can go through. If it helps a single person to ‘begin again to enjoy life’ then it’s worth doing.



Thank you to: Mike Green, chair of the Forest of Dean Breath Easy group for all his help and for the photos (when I discovered I’d left behind my camera); all the participants, whose names have been changed for purposes of privacy; Great Oaks Hospice, Coleford for their welcome; Dr Alice Malpass, NIHR Research Fellow for referring me to Forest of Dean Breath Easy group after we both delivered talks at the Life of Breath research group; Jess- Farr Cox; Philosopher Professor Havi Carel,  http://www.lifeofbreath.org/ for inviting me to talk at her Wellcome Project Funded project research group in Bristol.

Elspeth’s letter writing project Scent can be found at http://www.scent.buzz or via http://www.2buproductions.org