Through the passage of time, life becomes history, stories fade and become forgotten and objects represent a tangible means to fix memory onto history and speak of lives lived, with familiar things offering potent reminders. Such memories make us who we are and give us a sense of our time and place.

But crucially, for us all memory can prove to be elusive, confuse facts and shift with time. Cultural pressures to remember have given us unrealistic expectations as to how memory should work, we tax our memories to the limit at a time when we are living longer and anxiety about our overworked memories leads us to fear the loss of our memory. Memory loss is one of the most terrifying aspects of a for an individual diagnosed with dementia, and the fear, stereotypes and stigma surrounding dementia make the experience of the disease worse than it needs to be.

Dementia has always been and may always be a frightening experience for those who experience the disease and their families who care for them. Medical science may provide the prospect of a cure, but meanwhile dementia is a growing issue for our aging society. Culturally our fear of dementia leads us to see it as a death sentence and the dread and stigma surrounding Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in its most prominent form, contribute significantly to the difficult conditions of living with it. Through changes to our attitudes we can reduce this fear and find meaning within the disease experience.

This project has intended to connect with people who are experiencing dementia, and to create tools to be used to improve their lives and all of those who care for them. The focus is to create objects that promote interaction; a creative, in the moment engagement, that looks past an individuals memory loss and develops and connects with their remaining skills. The aim is to provide a model for people experiencing dementia, for their loved ones who may struggle to find ways to be in their company, and additionally to professional caregivers. A model that gives rise to the opportunity for all to express themselves and to promote these relationships, that assume their ability to grow and respond in ways that move through fear. This programme based upon a collaborative enterprise with Arts for Health at MMU has provided the opportunity to work with people who are at quite advanced stages of the journey of dementia and to design experiences for them that create meaning in their lives and promote openings for facilitating communication and interaction in new and innovative ways.


A Bird in a Gilded Cage

fortuitous novelties (Seed Pods) 2Fortuitous Novelties have been published online on ixia – art in the public realm. 

Darren Browett is the only named designer in the paper entitled A Bird in a Gilded Cageby Clive Parkinson that is very much of the moment, post Francis Enquiry.

Clive Parkinson is the director of Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan University and chair of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing. An advocate for the field, he is also currently engaged in strategic development in the field in Lithuania, Italy and Turkey and is embarking on a 3-year AHRC funded research project exploring the place of the visual arts in creating dementia-friendly communities. He is co-curating an exhibition at Manchester’s Holden Gallery this summer. Mortality: Death and the Imagination will explore the relationship between contemporary visual art and how we live and die. He regularly blogs at:http://artsforhealthmmu.blogspot.co.uk/

In a post-Francis world where institutional neglect and cruelty towards some of our most vulnerable citizens has been exposed, A Bird in a Gilded Cage suggests that the arts might offer something of an antidote to the way we support people affected by memory loss. A gentle polemic that sweetly kicks the ankles of those obsessed with understanding the impact of the arts on human wellbeing through crude pseudo-scientific measurements, placing creativity, culture and the arts at the heart of a conversation about quality of life.

Click here to view the black and white easy read version.

Click here to view the full colour emotive version.


Anne Basting

For those of us who attended the evening The North West Arts and Health Network event with Anne Basting at Manchester Metropolitan University, I think its safe to say, that we were all blown away by her imagination, passion and vision for the potential of people affected by dementia.  Author of the seminal book, Forget Memory, Anne Basting shared her thoughts on the arts and dementia. Anne has a vast experience in this emerging field and brings fresh perspectives to understanding of dementia and imagination.

This was an exclusive opportunity to hear from one of the true innovators of arts and health. She shared her work on Time Slips; the Penelope Project and some of her new developments around Shipwrecked. She emphasized the liminal nature of our work, existing between disciplines, investing social capital in people who are largely marginalised to the extreme.

Clive Parkinson, Director of Arts for Health at MMU said of the evening, “For me, what Anne did, was up the ante, and for those of you who couldn’t come to the event, but who read this, two things to ponder – part of her work with people affected by dementia involves not only getting to grips with Homer’s The Odyssey,  but also learning passages of ancient Greek. Forget the status quo, this is aspirational stuff.”  There was opportunity to share some of our practice concerning Fortuitous Novelties with Anne and get her feedback…

Thank you Anne.

To find out more about Anne’s work, here are some links:





Arts for Health Comes to Riverside Ward, Newholme Hospital

A  wonderful statement by the staff of the Riverside Ward about their experiences of working with the Fortuitous Novelties to be featured in their local press…

Specially-commissioned art pieces presented to Riverside Ward, Newholme Hospital


Arts and crafts has always been central to therapy on Riverside’s older people mental health ward.  Therefore the occupational therapy team, who look after patients with dementia at the Bakewell Hospital, had no hesitation in seizing the opportunity to work with Darren Browett, an artist from Manchester University. Continue reading

What they said…NHS Derbyshire Community Health Services

Press Release

Special Art Gets Dementia Patients Talking

SPECIAL objects eliciting some dementia patients to talk lucidly for up to an hour have been unveiled at a Bakewell Hospital.

Crafted from a springy material known as aeroply, the six ‘Fortuitous Novelties’ pieces were created by Darren Browett, a 3D Design MA graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University. Darren, (37), of Belton, Leicestershire, presented the objects to occupational therapists at Newholme Hospital’s Riverside Ward on Thursday 14 October. Now health bosses at Derbyshire Community Health Services hope they will play a major part in the future care of patients there. Lorraine Turner, an occupational therapist for Derbyshire Community Health Services who works on the ward, said: “We were approached by Manchester Metropolitan University about the possibility of presenting some objects to our dementia patients as part of a project they were doing.

“The effect was a revelation.”

“It was literally like turning on a lightbulb – patients not normally able to engage in meaningful conversations were just tuned in, totally absorbed by the objects.”

“Some were even able to talk lucidly for up to an hour.” Continue reading

Manchester MA Show Private View

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The show opening was a great success for all involved and had a lively buzz about it.

Fortuitous Novelties gained some very positive responses and many commented that they enjoyed being able to handle the objects, breaking down the ‘don’t touch’ approach to the gallery experience.
Check out the surprising comment!

Presenting Fortuitous Novelties

Darren Browett presents Fortuitous Novelties; and cordially invites you the private view of his work featured in the Manchester Metropolitan University MA Show 2010.

Fortuitous Novelties are found in MA Show Exhibition Two

Private View: 14th October 6-8pm

14th October – 21st October

Weekdays 10am – 4pm,

Sunday closed,

Saturday 11am – 4pm

A diverse exhibition of work by postgraduate students of the Faculty of Art and Design at MMU, includes work by MA Design and Art Direction, MA Art as Environment, MA Textiles and MA Three Dimensional Design students.

Press Release:

Recently graduating from MA Three Dimensional Design at MMU, Darren Browett’s work represents a succinct example of crafted objects in a given context, concerned with a philosophical ideas-based approach alongside an investigation of materials and techniques. Exploring human rites of passage he elected to create meaningful objects that aim be cathartic in situations of enforced change. These outcomes were founded within a real-life healthcare setting in a collaborative venture between Arts for Health at MMU, and Derbyshire Primary Care Trust, offering him the opportunity to develop a number of devices to support therapies concerning the wellbeing of patients experiencing Dementia.

Browett states, ‘Dementia is a growing issue for our aging society, and the stigma surrounding the disease contribute significantly to the difficult conditions of living with it, through changes to our attitudes we can reduce this fear and find positive meanings. I aimed to produce objects that would stimulate, provoke and excite and aimed to test them with people. This project brings to light the immediate work that can be done to enrich the lives of those experiencing Dementia and those who care for them’.

I hope to see you there…


Exhibition Venue:

The Holden Gallery

Manchester Metropolitan University

Grosvenor Building

Cavendish Street

Manchester M15 6BG

For further information, please visit



MA Show 2010 New eflyer