Home | Practical Living | Words from the wise: new program makes literary critics of aged care residents

Words from the wise: new program makes literary critics of aged care residents

Chelsea Dynan writes among the fruit trees on her plot of land in Gembrook, Victoria.

It’s a quiet spot, more precisely between some willow trees, where Chelsea and her husband got married. It’s peaceful and calming, a place you can switch off and where, hopefully, the words will flow.

It’s here that Chelsea ekes out time to devote to her hobby, writing fiction. And during her recent maternity leave she’s even managed to enter the odd competition here and there.

It’s in that idyllic spot, as the cicadas buzz and click and the horses graze nearby, that I imagine Chelsea came up with the idea for Pages for Wisdom.

The program aims to connect budding writers with older people accessing aged care services Australia wide. By offering to read unpublished writing residents become editor, critic and confidante for writers who need a sounding board.

The ultimate goal is to foster a relationship with the older population, especially as they have often been cut off from the wider community during the pandemic.

Chelsea is a psychologist in her day job, and has some experience working with aged and palliative care, and she has a professional understanding of the mental hardships older people face.

As she initially explored the idea of sending her own work through to aged care homes, she heard that many homes removed all of their books as COVID restrictions came into force, and so Pages for Wisdom was born.

“Originally I had the idea come to me about sending pieces of writing to aged care facilities. Once I thought about the idea, obviously I wanted to contact them directly to see if it was something that was feasible, and their staff could deliver it, or what would need to happen for it to take place,” she says.

“The first facility I contacted was Lifeview Emerald Glades. They spoke about the impact of COVID on their services… They had no resources for the residents to read anything, technology was pretty limited, and also staff onsite was limited.”

“They didn’t really have people supporting through any of the pleasurable activities that they could be usually running during normal life, before COVID. Knowing that, I asked if something of this nature would interest them, and they were just absolutely over the moon with the idea. Because it meant that they didn’t have to get something sent in. They could just print it onsite.

“It was new pieces of writing, it was something that their residents hadn’t previously read or seen before. Then it also gave a bit more purpose and meaning to their role in the relationship, as well. They were honestly really excited about it, and for me, as soon as I got that bit of reassurance that it could work, then I just went with it and it’s blown up pretty quickly.”

Chelsea set about searching for hungry writers who yearned for feedback, or in some cases just liked the idea of offering up their work for a good cause.

“It wasn’t just about doing something nice for those in aged care. It was actually about doing something where they played an active role. Obviously the feedback is beneficial to our writers as well, as they can reach a wider demographic that they wouldn’t probably target usually. I find that a lot of people seem to miss that age bracket,” Chelsea says.

Camilla Hullick is one of the writers Chelsea has recruited. She tries to fit an hour or so of writing in each day. In between pulling down fences or looking after the cattle or any number of other farm work she tries to grab some time to journal out on the veranda at her farm in Middle Tarwin, South Gippsland.

Writing is therapeutic for Camilla and as someone who used to be a nurse with experience in aged care, Pages For Wisdom ticks a lot of boxes.

“Writing is kind of my happy place. I just love to do it. But it’s always about my own experiences and I think that’s best for me because then I can put the emotion behind it as well, because I lived it,” Camilla says.

“When I saw Pages for Wisdom, I thought my stories would be great for the elderly, because a lot of them have gone through the same thing and they’re just always uplifting.”

Camilla enjoys the feedback, but more than anything she likes to imagine putting a smile on the reader’s face. She sends stories to Chelsea – she has already sent over 16 – and lets them go. Any feedback she gets from Chelsea is a bonus.

“I think it’s fantastic. I mean, especially for confidence, like people who aren’t confident [enough] to actually send their stories anywhere or they’re struggling to do that. I think sending their stories, gaining their confidence, I think it’s great.

“I mean, as much as I love the feedback, I just want to make these people happy, but of course, as soon as the feedback does come in, I get really excited because I’m dying to see what they say.”

The feedback can be varied and is very much the essence of art criticism.

Many urge the writers to keep writing. Some say the work evokes memories of times gone by, while others say the work they read has helped them get in touch with their feelings.

“It’s good to read feelings we may feel but don’t want to talk about. A simple and enjoyable read that left me smiling,” says one reader.

Some of the critics’ responses highlight why a program such as this provides a much needed service for aged care recipients.

“The true feeling, felt by so many of us, caged like an animal not able to even hug our loved ones, but trying to accept what we can do if only in a small way,” one resident of an aged care home wrote.

“It was really interesting. That particular one was a comment on a poem that was written by one of our writers that was obviously very much about COVID,” says Chelsea.

“It was quite interesting to have someone else’s perspective on the experience, as well. For them being locked up the way they are, it’s very different to us. As much as we might have had restrictions, we weren’t in one facility or one room. We weren’t controlled by the people around us as much. It’s a very different experience.

“I think it’s quite eye-opening to read feedback like that, and to be honest, I’m really open to any feedback that we get and the stories that come from it as well is just fantastic.”

The program has caught the eye of people in the aged care sector. Pages for Wisdom has recently partnered with Meaningful Ageing Australia and is being delivered exclusively to their members Australia-wide.

And for the future, Chelsea wants to build on the early success of the program and reach as many people as possible, young and old.

“I’m actually wanting to raise startup funds to become registered as a not-for-profit organisation. That would allow us then to apply for grants and additional funding, so that we can really take it a lot further than it is, and maybe support facilities with printing costs.

“I would love to see us be able to provide Kindles and iPads to facilities. Also easier ways to provide feedback as well, because I know that one of the notes that we’ve had so far in the ageing community is it’s hard for the residents to handwrite the feedback,” she says.

Ultimately Chelseas says she wants to expand Pages For Wisdom to become a not-for-profit publishing house that services vulnerable communities Australia wide. Not just the ageing sector, but also youth mental health, the disability sector, or any disadvantaged groups that may benefit. 

“[Maternity leave] gave me more time to think. What do I actually want to do with my time? Especially with lockdown as well. I think everybody faced that same conundrum. What do we want to spend our time doing? Do we really want to be working all the time? Do we want more time for our passions?

“I love that it’s grown so quickly, because it’s motivated me more to put the energy into making it a success. Having Meaningful Ageing Australia behind us is just incredible,” she says.

“I would have never thought that we would get to this point so quickly. It’s allowed us to access more services more quickly. It’s actually so rewarding to see it already passed around and have lots of emails back from other services wanting to engage and support us, and they’ve already handed out plenty of our writers’ work. It’s great to see it grow.”

More information about Pages For Wisdom can be found here. Their GoFundMe page can be found here.

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