Dance group helps Gogarbum residents prepare to move

How do you explain to a profoundly mentally _ handicapped adult that the 9 hospital they’ve called ' home for years is about to close? An innovative special needs project may ' have found a way, ' discovers Eddie Gibb.

Gogarbum Hospital is made up ofa series of low. utilitarian buildings set in rambling grounds on the edge of Edinburgh‘s greenbelt by the airport. For years the hospital staff and management have been arguing that this kind of institutional care for mentally handicapped adults is no longer appropriate. Over the last ten or so years the number of residents has halved to around 300 as the more able have been discharged.

Now. under the Govemment‘s care in the community programme. the remaining residents many of whom have called Gogarbum home for many years are being moved out. By the end of 1999. the hospital will have closed completely. For many residents. the hospital's closure will be a traumatic upheaval, and with four years to go. the staff have already started an intensive programme ofactivities to help them prepare for the closure.

Communicating the idea of change to “the most withdrawn and profoundly handicapped residents presents a huge challenge. It is ironic that as the hospital winds down. more time and resources are being spent than ever before on helping the people who charge nurse lain Dick describes as ‘difficult. but not impossible, to reach'.

Dick is head ofthe Music. Communication and Allied Therapies Department (MCAT) which is now directing much of its effort to preparing | residents for life outside Gogarbum. Many will go to sheltered accommodation in the community run by housing associations and the voluntary sector where they will live in groups of four or five. with full-time. residential care. Life in small groups will be very different from the hospital's large wards and self- contained world.

As a pilot project it may be extended if successful MCAT has brought in dance group Peoplekind. which specialises in working with special

group of seven of Gogarburn’s most

spending two hours with Peoplekind's ' dance ‘facilitators‘. It‘s a clumsy term.

needs groups. For several months a profoundly handicapped residents. none

of whom have linguistic ability. will be

but one that is used to avoid the connotations of ‘therapy'. To pile on


Peoplekind's Sara Best makes contact with one ol the group members

the level ofability in this group they

3 must pick up on these anxieties.‘

By creating a calm but stimulating

; environment using drums and other : musical instruments. the group members are encouraged to express

themselves freely. This is not a dance

class in any conventional sense. but in

the absence of language. rhythm and

movement have become the basic

‘Movements and vocalisation are a form of communication which are not usually engaged with on their own terms. We’re trying to form a bridge to enter into their world.

means of communication.

So for instance. Andrew (not his real

name) spends much of his day slapping ? his chest and making sharp. percussive sounds as ifcontinually clearly his throat. Working closely with him.

1 dance co-ordinator Sara Best mimics

this so-called stereotypical behaviour

i and plays them back to him in a rudimentary form of communication

. thejargon. this is a ‘client-directed

activity‘. According to Dick. Peoplekind‘s way

: of working is completely different to

traditional styles of institutional therapy _

i which tend to be aimed at some kind of behavioural change. Peoplekind’s main

objective is to develop a sense of

: individual identity within the group.

and encourage its members to relate to each other. ‘There‘s a lot of anxiety . from residents about what's going to

happen to them.‘ says Dick. ‘Even with

which. crucially, Andrew has initiated. Stereotypical behaviour. which is

3 exhibited by many members of the

group. is often regarded as anti-social; a sign of a person who has withdrawn into their own world and is excluding

1 others. Peoplekind turn it into a form of 2 play.

‘lt's teasing. but not confrontational.‘

3 explains Peoplekind member Ruth

Holloway. ‘Movements and

! vocalisation are a form of

communication which are not usually

engaged with on their own terms. We’re trying to form a bridge to enter into their world. It‘s about building communication using their sounds to help them develop a sense of themselves in relation to other people.‘

lain Dick has been videoing each session as a way of showing the change in the way the group behaves over time. To an outsider watching the group for the first time its impossible to judge the impact of Peoplekind‘s work. but after eight sessions MCAT staff who have been working with Peoplekind say there has been a definite. if subtle. change.

It's too early to say exactly what the significance of the changes are or whether there will be a lasting impact. says Dick. But any kind of stimulating activity which encourages the development ofthe individual is welcomed. Now staff at Gogarbum are trying to ensure this kind of enriching experience will continue when the residents leave for their new lives in the mythical ‘community‘.

‘We know the people we‘ve been caring for can thrive in the community.’ says Dick. ‘Our only concern is that they get a better quality of life. The bottom line is that it has to be better than what is being provided.‘

I List award The List has won a prestigious award for a report by regular contributor Thom Dibdin on drugs in Scotland‘s club scene. The Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence‘s Media Awards were set up to ‘encourage balanced and genuinely informative reporting of drugs issues‘. The List won the regional neWSpaper and magazine category for Thom’s article ‘Too Damn Hot’ published last year after the deaths of :[WO young ravers at Hangar 13. The campaign to combat overheating in clubs and the provision of a plentiful

g shopkeepers to stop selling bongs. pipes and other soft drug accessories in

; Bill Perry. The council's trading 5 standards officers are now trying to

water supply continues, with draft guidelines for club operators due to be submitted to the Scottish Office later this year. Other award winners included BBC Scotland for a F rrmiline Strut/and investigation into temazepan abuse.

I Cannabis crackdown Strathclyde Council is appealing to Glasgow

its ‘Cut the Grass’ campaign. Stocking such items was described as ‘anti-social and irresponsible‘ by Council convenor

work out ifthey can prosecute shops that sell items which are clearly

designed for drug use.

I Free speech Amnesty International this week announced details of a major arts festival to be held in Glasgow. Arts organisations and performers are being called on to join Amnesty‘s Freedom of Expression campaign which will focus attention on dissident artists around the world who have been imprisoned

because oftheir work. A series of

special events starting with an opening gala on 10 Sept will run until January 1996. and featuring an exhibition by fifteen contemporary artists at Kelvingrove.

I In debt The number of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux clients with debt

problems in Scotland has trebled over the last ten years. with people on benefit forced to take on credit which they cannot repay becoming a particular problem.

I Challenging racism A new publication urging voluntary groups to adopt a ten-point plan to help combat racism within their organisations has been produced by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. The Roads to Racial Equality was produced to challenge a ‘complacent view' amongst some charities that they operate an ‘open-door policy‘.

For details contact SCVO on 0131

556 3882.

the List 30 Jun-l3 Jul 1995 5