Cheryl Beer

Cheryl Beer
Award Winning Creative Director making social change through the mediums of sound, story & mantra

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Storytelling Empowering Dementia

The strength of Storytelling as an empowering tool for the older community living with dementia, is far reaching. Storytelling can quite literally change, not just how we perceive ourselves, but how others perceive us. It can change strategy & make the world a better place. Sounds like a tall story, doesn't it, but I know this first hand and present to you here, some personal reflections regarding my work.

I have just returned home from a Storytelling workshop at Llanelli Leisure Centre kindly funded by Artscare Gofal Celf & Communities First. It was not an ordinary Storytelling Workshop. Let me give you some background as to why.

I first met Louie at a Dementia Friendly Care Home in Llanelli in my Storytelling & Music Workshop, where she asked me if I would 'save her story'.

At 92 years of age, with her memories falling like autumn leaves to the wind, we set about creating a resource that would not only help her to remember herself, but be a beautiful reminisence resource for those who, like Louie, grew up in a different era.

Together, Louie, her son, daughter in law and I, created a book & a talking CD, where Louie tells her stories & I sing them as folk songs, as well as a Story Map of her memories. 

The family very kindly gave permission for me to use the work as part of my MA Drama, where I achieved a Distinction & won an Outstanding Contribution Award from the University of South Wales.

Postcards from Louie book & CD became part of the RNIB talking book service, and is now held by all Carmarthenshire Libraries, as well as archived at The National Library of Wales. There is also a Welsh Language version held at the People's Collection Wales.

We held a performance sharing of Postcards from Louie at Greenspace Gallery, Carmarthen, just up the road from where Louie's Dad use to park up the horse and cart for Llamas Fayre.

I went into Primary Schools with Postcards from Louie and trained children how to collate life stories with older people living with dementia in the local Old People's Home.

I went back the The Atrium, Cardiff and lectured to undergraduates and told them Louie's Story.

We held a Postcards from Louie tea party for the local children & the older people living at the home and their families, who listened and smiled and laughed and cried along with Louie's Stories of her childhood in Rural West Wales. 

What Louie and I had created, was not just a story but a methodology that empowers an older person with dementia to carry on contributing to their community in a meaningful way, in keeping with who they are,  and who they have been throughout their life.

In addition, we could see how Postcards from Louie changed attitudes and stereotypes within wider circles about Dementia. People opening up and talking for the first time about how dementia had affected their families.

I was invited to give a talk about our book at Llanstephan Historical Society where many members of the community came to hear about their friend that they had lost touch with since her dementia. Storytelling re-connecting communities with their older members.

And Louie's Story did not end here. I was approached by Nick Andrews from Swansea University and began a contract with his team for the Development of Evidence Enriched Practice: A Better Life, collating research on better ways of working with older people. 

Now Louie & I were changing strategy through our storytelling. I worked with 2 further older people creating Storytelling Resources and won a Gold National Care Award for Excellence in Dementia. Louie's daughter in law Jill came with me to the Celebrations in Cardiff.

I went onto create a Dementia Friendly Online Radio Station making and sharing digital life stories with the older community as well as sound maps of places people could no longer get to.

Louie set me on a path that I really did not expect to take. She chose me to save her story & in so doing, we are changing the story of dementia. All this, and  I am a songwriter, a storyteller, a poet, an author. I am a creative. I am not a scientist or a medical professional. I am living proof that the Arts is not just to entertain, it is not just to engage, it is a powerful tool in enabling older people to retain their dignity & empower their own well being & can provide tremendous support for each other.

And today, Jill and I were invited to tell Louie's stories again. It was really quite moving. There were 8 people in the Storytelling Group. 3 little ones, 2 Mums, an older person living with dementia, a teenager & a carer. The 10 of us were transported & I saw again first hand the power of storytelling.

The woman with dementia began the session calling out seemingly inappropriate things but as Louie's stories and songs began to unravel, so she started to shout out her memories instead. I showed her Louie's old collection of postcards that Jill had kindly brought along. 

'Do you remember these stamps?' I asked. 

She ran her fingers over them and looked me straight in the eyes.

'Yes, I do. But I don't know who this is?'

'I think it's King George.' I replied.

'Yes, it is. It's King George.' and her furrowed brow relaxed for the first time.

At the end of the session, I went over to thank her for coming. She held out her hand.

'Hold my hand.' she said and so I did. 

We held hands looking into each others faces, smiling for quite a while. There was no need for words.

On the floor were 2 little ones, sisters. They were drawing their own Story Map like Louie's putting onto it all the things they would like to still remember when they are 92.

There was Nanna and Granpa's house in Scotland, thier home, school, all the family in the car  ...  & London.

'Have you been to London?' Jill asked the children.

'No, but I think it is an important place and so I am making a note to remember it when I am 92.'

As we packed up, I found myself looking forward to our next Postcards from Louie Adventure at Llanelli Library next week. This feels like more than Storytelling or perhaps it is the true essence of what storytelling really is.

We are donating the proceeds from Workshops to the re-launch of the 'Postcards from Louie' book & CD later this year. If you would like to book a workshop, make a kind donation to our work, or pre-order your copies feel free to email  me :

Our Sound Memories Group Page on facebook is:

Our Gofundme page is ...

Thank you for reading,

Cheryl Beer
Sound Memories

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

If I told you, you wouldn't believe me

So, I go to the mobile phone shop because my mobile is on the blink. The very friendly Assistant smiles, takes me to the seated area and says (as he has no doubt been trained to do) 'So, what have you been up to today?'

I am silent for a bit ... shall I tell him? 

'If I told you, you would n't believe me.' I reply.

'Try me,' he says.

'Well, I have been barefoot in the woods doing a promotional shoot for my new online business, wearing a pair of adult sized, feathered angel wings,' says I.

And from the look on his face, I don't think they covered my reply on his training course.

Random Gifts of Kindness for World Sounding Healing Day

It was World Sound Healing Day last week on the 14th February. I had so many offers to come and play my sound healing instruments with others but it felt really important to be with my loved ones to celebrate in our own small & special way.

Me, Maisy & Jeff went to listen to the sea. I figured Sound Healing is a 2 way process. It's not just about us giving positive vibes to the earth, it's about listening to earth giving positive vibes to us. Reciprocity is key, give and receive.

As we stood on the beach together wrapped up, I almost wept. The sea sang so beautifully that eventually I was compelled to chant with her. To stand bare foot on her sand and let her lap her icy fingers around my toes, was immense joy.

Off course Maisy was oblivious to such majesty because there were seagulls that needed chasing and water pools to splash about in and most importantly, holes to dig.

And Jeff was happy too, saying in true Valentine style that if I am happy, so is he, which is quite remarkable given that we are divorced.

It was such a heart warming experience that I decided it would be rather lovely to share it with whomsoever would like to share it.

I chose 12 shells from the beach, took them home, washed them, wrapped them in blue tissue paper, and then offered my facebook friends a Sound Healing Day Shell. 

It was truly beautiful wrapping them up and sending them off to everyone. It made my heart absolutely swell. 

Since, I have been thinking alot about random acts of loving kindness .. Actually, I wrote a song about it just today.

All or Nothing

Well, in true me fashion, I am doing that all or nothing thing. I've always been the same. If I am passionate about something, I'm on fire! I don't eat or sleep or think about anything other than that thing ... and right now that thing is ... a total immersion in the creative digital world. 

Actually, total immersion is not quite true because I still find time to got to the beach and the woods and the ashram ... and to meditate ... Oh yes and to do my other contracts ... but the rest of the time, I am pushing myself beyond what I thought myself capable, & I love that! I love the surprise I get when I learn things beyond me ... even now at 51 years of age, I am shocked to find that I am in fact, not the flibberty gibbet that Miss Brown convinced me I was, all those years ago. Bless her, she did like to tell us Gals what for. I wonder what she would make of it all.

I remember going to see her when I was about 14 and asking please could we do typing like other schools. 'If you wanted to type,' she snorted,' you should have gone to the comprehensive.' 

How funny. We all need these skills now but Miss Brown had science & maths in her eyes for us gals and nothing else counted, except perhaps hockey, which was my saving grace, being one of the only gals brave enough to put on the goal keeper protector shields and come out baring teeth, but that's another story for another time.

So, here I am spending 12 maybe 14 hours at a time transfixed and transported to another dimension, a digital dimension. And it has made me realise that there is quite literally a Universe of opportunity out there that could be reached whilst still wearing my pyjamas & cuddling up to Maisybobs (woof).

So, I have set about creating a new potential online business for myself. I am so excited about it I can barely breathe. It brings together everything that I am but running a business online is such a steep learning curve. 

I think what has given me this enormous lift is securing the Digital Creative Developer Contract for the Storytelling & Health International Conference, creating a website resource for new storytellers in well being.

I thought I knew a lot about social media but since starting the contract a month ago I would say my digital knowledge base is at least twice what it was. And off course, these skills are wonderful to then apply to my own creativity. So, not only do I get to do what I love doing, learning experimenting and creating digital loveliness, I also get to push my own creative digital boundaries for my own work. Seriously, my brain feels like it's wired.

One final thought ... 'Being' the Arts in the way that I am, is truly wonderful. Sorry to say Miss Brown, it gives me more joy than any amount of Science & Maths ever could have.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Gosh! It's February Already!

Well, where on earth did January go? Kicking off 2017 with a NEW CONTRACT for the  Storytelling & Health International Conference as the Creative Digital Developer  kindly funded by The Arts Council of Wales. 

I have also been busy EDITING A NEW BOOK FOR ARTS IN HEALTH as my Poet in Residence at Renal Dialysis came to an end this month, so I have been working on the Anthology due for publishing in March, as well as a report for Nursing Journals 

Throughout January I have been busy in Rhondda Cynon Taff working as a Resident Digital Storyteller & Guest Songwriter with the Voices of the Valley Project touring 8 Primary Schools, training children to interview older members of their community, led by my dear friend Patricia Price, Head teacher at Penpych Primary.

In addition, I was invited to join the whole of Penpych School for their LOVE IS ... Innovation Days, commissioned to write a whole school song about core values. I workshop'd with 180 children to collate their words and ideas for the song which I then recorded so that the children can learn it for their transition concert! 

I have secured a new contract for Young Promoters re-visiting Fenton Primary School which will be lovely because I have worked with the Head Matthew Harries for some years and it is always a pleasure. Again, kindly funded by The Arts Council of Wales via the Night Out Scheme.

I continue my work for Sound Memories maintaining the Digital Radio & have been in meetings on a re-design of our Award Winning Postcards from Louie, a wonderful dementia friendly book and CD created by myself in collaboration with Louise Davies.

For some time, I have been on a deep journey of creativity and self exploration. I am finally coming to a cohesive understanding of my current work ... I have given myself a whole week dedicated just to my own work in February and in April to start formulating tangible outcomes. 2017 is for sure a time for me to step into my power as multi genre artist in my own right and get my own work out there for the world, as well as supporting others.

In between all this, I spend as much time as I can in my woods, chanting ancient Chakra cleansing Sanskrit mantra, as well as my newly written English mantra & sacred songs. I find the Earth most welcoming of such loving vibrations; likely the best listener too. 

So now I understand where January went ... 
What an incredible planet we are.