Recently Nicola Payne, MacIntyre’s Best Practice Health Manager, told me about, in her words:

 “The most thorough life story I’ve seen at MacIntyre.”

I really wanted to know more, so Nicky introduced me to Caroline (Frontline Manager) and Emily (Support Worker) at The Cherries. Caroline and Emily have supported Barry, with help from his sister Rita, to create a ‘This is your life’ book.

Read on for the story of how Barry’s brilliant book was created, as told by Caroline and Emily.

Beth: “Why did you create the book?”

Caroline and Emily: “We knew that Barry liked the TV programme ‘This is Your Life’. He used to say: “Barry, 1948.” We always said it would be really good to do a This is Your Life book for Barry but we’d just never done it.

We had Barry’s first in-person, person-centred review since Covid in February 2022, and Emily asked Barry’s sister Rita if she would bring in a few photos. Rita brought a box of old photos and Barry was so focused on them. You could see him remembering things, taking it all in. Barry doesn’t usually talk very much, but he started to talk about things from his past and his memories, despite his dementia. It was lovely to see. 

Beth: “How did you create the book?”

Caroline and Emily: “We talked a lot in supervision about how we would go about doing this. We do lots of creative work at The Cherries, and Emily in particular is really artistic.

We spoke to Barry and Rita, and decided that as well as including photos we’d add some historical moments because Barry really likes history.

We bought a blank ‘This is Your Life’ book on Amazon, and we created a timeline from 1948-2022 to get all of the contents into the right order. It took Emily around six weeks to stick the photos into the book and caption them. The book was finished in time for Barry’s birthday (leaving some pages blank for more memories to be added) and given to Barry.”

Beth: “What does Barry think of the book?”

Caroline and Emily: “Barry doesn’t say a lot, but you can see him processing what’s in front of him when he’s looking at the book. We know Barry very well and we can see that the book means a lot to him from his actions and expressions.

Barry was so grateful to Emily for creating the book and has often acknowledged her efforts. What has been particularly lovely is seeing Barry independently enjoying the book. The book lives on Barry’s chest of drawers in his room, and staff have often seen him take it off his chest of drawers and sit down to look at it on his own.”

Beth: “What does Barry’s sister think of the book?”

Caroline and Emily: “Barry’s sister Rita has told us she really likes the book, and we are so grateful for her support in its creation.”

Rita: “Emily worked so hard on this book and it is amazing. It’s wonderful to see Barry responding as his memories are all still there. I found it really emotional to see him interacting with it, and even more so as Emily and Caroline were able to identify some of the things he talks about that they didn’t understand, eg; he calls our dad ‘Lol’ (Lawrence) which is the name our Mum used for our Dad.”

Beth: “How are staff using the book?”

Caroline and Emily: “The staff team use the book with Barry in the right moments, when he indicates he wants to look at it. Barry is very much part of the conversations sparked by the book, and he will speak to staff about who’s who and what’s happening in the photos.

The book has definitely helped staff, particularly newer staff, to get to know Barry and have conversations with him. It’s becoming very difficult to have a dialogue with Barry, but the book has sparked discussions. We use the book to focus on things Barry knows, and by doing that he will usually contribute more to the conversation. For us, and for Barry, these are precious moments.”

Beth: “Is there anything in the book that really stands out?”

Caroline and Emily: “One of the most emotional aspects for staff has been seeing photocopies of some handwritten letters Barry wrote to his sister when he lived in South Africa. We’ve never known what Barry’s handwriting looked like when he was younger and he is now living with dementia and isn’t able to write. To see his neat handwriting is really special. Reading what Barry wrote is very emotional too.”

Beth: “What would be your message to anyone thinking of doing life story work?”

Caroline and Emily: “We are really proud of the book and we hope by sharing the story of its creation more people supported, families, staff and services may be inspired to do life story work. We will continue to add to the book, and what’s fantastic about it is that it will always be there for staff to learn more about Barry. It can also move with Barry if he ever leaves The Cherries.”