Rhys Andersonsinging to Ruthven Towers residents

Award-winning care home group, Balhousie Care Group has entered into its latest collaboration with Pitlochry Festival Theatre as the two groups adapt to the ongoing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a unique project, residents have been enjoying performances which will be leading on to an educational partnership and ongoing collaboration in the New Year in which theatre professionals will help care home activities teams develop music and drama-based skills.

Residents in nine Balhousie Care Group homes across Perthshire have been joined by Ali Watt and Rhys Anderson for solo performances of local tales, Scottish poetry and memorable tunes.

The one-person shows are designed to spark a sense of nostalgia and pride in local landscapes and culture. Ali, a familiar face at Pitlochry Festival Theatre first took performances into Balhousie Care Group homes when the partnership began in 2019. This time, to comply with all COVID-19 guidelines, the actor-musician has been a solo performer.

Rhys Anderson, fresh from his run in BBC’s Vigil, took over from Ali part way through the run and said, “I’ve really loved spending some time telling absolutely wonderful stories, reciting beautiful poetry, old and new, and singing away to classic Scottish songs. It’s been a great tour!”

The other part of the collaboration is for the theatre to run virtual workshops with Balhousie care homes’ Activities Coordinators from across the whole group of 26 homes, which operates in six regions of Scotland.  The virtual workshops will help develop care home staff’s skills in utilising drama and music to create a sensory experience for Balhousie Care Group residents.

Deborah Dickinson, Producer at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, explained the reasoning behind specifically helping Activities Coordinators.

“We recognised, across the last 18 months, and especially during lockdowns, it must have been really tough for Activities Coordinators to constantly find new ideas and think of things to engage residents and, even more so, when visitors were not allowed in. So, the work became even more intensive and essential.

“We wanted to give something back to the Activities Coordinators: a source of fun; to re-energise and rejuvenate; some external invigoration and perhaps a little respite from having to constantly come up with the ideas. We knew they were all doing amazing jobs, but by delivering sessions through our artistic practitioners, they could perhaps give different perspectives with theatrical and dramatic techniques, as an extra tool for their ‘belt’.”

PFT staff and Activities Coordinators have liaise closely on the content of the workshops, which will be set up to practice techniques in storytelling to help build a world around their residents. By the end of the hour-long sessions, Activities Coordinators should have experienced and practiced flexible activities which they can apply directly to their work.

Balhousie Care Group is also supporting the theatre in building up their Archive of Memories as part of their 2020-launched, three-year artistic project, Shades of Tay – a love letter to Scotland. Residents will be encouraged, especially following the performances, to reminisce over their lives around the local area and around the River Tay in particular. They will then be invited to record or write their memories and add to the Archive – an ambitious attempt to collect 1000 memories for an audio exhibition to be hosted in Pitlochry in spring 2022.

Sheilah Harvey, Head of Operations at Balhousie Care Group said: “We are thrilled to be able to work with Pitlochry Festival Theatre once again and really value a partnership that is now more than two years old. The challenges of the last 18 months, working in a pandemic, have meant we all have to get imaginative with the work we do, and use online resources much more. There will be performances in nine of our homes this festive season while the online artistic sessions are available to all our activities staff across 26 facilities. And we know our wonderful residents are a precious resource for the Theatre’s Archive of Memories. They have amazing stories to tell and we’re looking forward hearing their contribution.”

Part of the ongoing aim for both parties is to develop the relationship into a long-term partnership, so that when actors are back in productions at Pitlochry they can return to perform in homes again on a regular basis.