Pupils pull all the right strings for puppetry project

As part of the preparations for this year’s Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival (TWPF) organisers have been working with teachers and pupils from St Barnabas Primary School on a special outreach programme with Age UK and puppet theatre company Rust & Stardust.

The group’s latest work is entitled Sea of Stories and takes the theme of the sea as its starting point. Over the past few months children from St Barnabas’ Year 3 Maple Class have been working alongside Tuesday guests of Age UK Tunbridge Wells during a number of sessions in order to invent stories, sing shanties and create puppets to bring their stories to life.

Aiming to reveal what the young and old can learn from each other, this art and performance project offers further development of literacy, arts and crafts and independent learning to children, and the opportunity for conversation and craft for adults living with dementia. 

“Bringing together different generations encourages communication, respect and trust through the sharing of stories and experiences,” a TWPF told the Times.

“The puppetry at the heart of these special sessions also builds the fine motor skills of those taking part. The children have been busy practising their stories and have made some wonderful mermaid and fish puppets which were used in their final session earlier this month when they did a performance for parents and other guests.”

Linda Lewis, Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival creator, commented: ‘Seeing the children come bounding in with excitement and anticipation, and getting ready to work with the adults in their groups, has been fantastic. The adults have enjoyed the younger company, chatting and helping each other in designing and making their puppets, and relationships have definitely been made here. One of the ladies used to be a teacher and told us it brought back memories of the children she had taught. The conversation and laughter between the two generations has brought a great energy to the group and put a smile on everyone’s face.”

Jo Dementia Support Service Manager, Age UK Tunbridge Wells, added: “Our clients have really taken to working with the children.  They arrive on a Tuesday and ask, ‘Are the children coming today?’, so we know that the activity has increased their enjoyment of the Day Centre.  It’s good to see how both sides learn to communicate with each other – especially the children, who have no preconceived ideas about dementia, and so have a natural acceptance of communication differences.  Our clients also benefit from the cognitive stimulation of learning something new.”

This year’s Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival, which runs from October 11-13, is being supported by many of the town’s organisations and businesses including the Dulverton Trust Fund, the Pargiter Trust (through Kent Community Foundation), AGE UK Tunbridge Wells, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Kent County Council and Arts Council England. And there will be many more collaborative projects to follow ahead of the festival.

The TWPF spokesperson added: “For 2019 the festival is taking on an international flavour, with acclaimed puppetry from Spain, Italy and Poland joining the very best from the UK to bring an exciting three-day programme of world-class puppetry to the Kent community and visitors to the town through shared enjoyment of live performance.”

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