The Storybox Project

The Storybox Project

The Storybox Project is a creative storymaking project which engages, enlivens and empowers people living with a dementia, alongside the people that support them.

Originally funded as a pilot my Manchester City Council in 2010, it was then developed further through 3 years of funding by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Now it is predominantly a commissioned project, working with CCGs, public health teams, and individual care-homes.

The project is built around 8 to 12 week residencies, comprising of weekly workshops. These can be tailored to take place within any setting used by people living with a dementia. To date residencies have taken place in daycentres, acute hospital wards, care-homes, social groups, art galleries and museums, and supported housing schemes

Description of the arts activity

The Storybox Project workshops are designed around different themes using theatre and stories as a starting point, alongside a variety of music, props and costume. They are sensory experiences where games are played and stories are made up to encourage togetherness, improve concentration and lift mood. The emphasis of each session is on the present. Whilst naturally stimulus may evoke memories it is not a reminiscence project – it is our belief that working with personal memories can be confusing for people living with a dementia so sessions are designed as a celebration of the moment. This has a fun, freeing effect where there is no right and wrong, and where each participant is made to feel valued and valid.

The project is built upon the philosophy that creative participation can improve wellbeing and reduce social isolation for people living with a dementia. Alongside the idea that people living with a dementia can use creative engagement as a stepping-stone to empowerment and self-expression.

Details of the project participants

The project is targeted specifically at people living with a dementia, and the people who support them both formally and informally. The way participants are recruited depend upon the group that we are working with, and the setting that we are working in. There are two main types of groups that we work with:

  • Existing groups – this is normally in a setting such as a care-home or a hospital ward where a group already exists. For example, a group of residents in a care-home, or patients on a hospital ward. In his case the setting identify the participants that they feel would most benefit from the residency.
  • New groups – this is normally in a setting within a local community such as a library or an art gallery. In this case the project is open to anyone from the local community  and participants are engaged either via local publicity, or referral via other dementia services within the local area such as memory clinics, GPs…etc…

Project management

The project is managed by Small Things Creative Projects; a social enterprise sing creativity and creative engagement to fuel learning, change and development. Small Things work in partnership with commissioners and local partners to develop residencies and deliver them from conception to completion. Alongside project management the company engage a small team of specifically trained facilitators to deliver the workshops.

Quality is maintained in a number of ways:

  • By ensuring that all facilitators have specific training and support to deliver this specialist project.
  • Through the use of specific, tried and tested structures and plans in the development and delivery of each residency.
  • Through use of ongoing reflective journaling within each residency which encompasses the ideas of and reflections of participants, facilitators, and carers who are supporting the project.
  • By the development of clear partnership agreements with each partner and setting to ensure there is a defined aspiration and vision for each residency.

To date all residencies have been free of charge for all participants.
There has been no need for specific ethical approval in order to deliver this project.
The project as a whole is built upon the foundation of the creation of a safe space in which people can participate in the way that they feel comfortable – their mode of participation may change from minute to minute or week to week but all modes of participant are made to feel equally valued and valid. This means that nobody is “forced” to participate or do things they do not want to do – the space we create is an open on and people are welcome to join or leave as and when they want to, though people are encouraged to stay for as much of the session as they can. The project is also built upon the basis that everyone within each workshop is participating as an equal, whether they are a facilitator, person living with a dementia, or somebody who supports those living with a dementia.

Evaluation methods and findings

The project is evaluated by use of reflective journals during each residency that focus upon individual and group engagement from the perspective of the facilitator and all participants, facilitators and those who support the sessions. These documents mean you are able to track progress during each residency, and longitudinally over a number of different residencies. During the early stages of the project it was also evaluated by Manchester University under the heading “The Storybox Project: Examining the role of a theatre and arts based intervention for people with dementia. A document that can be found here:
In addition to this the project has been documented / or is being documented in a number of different papers:

  • “Participatory Theatre and Dementia”, by Nicky Hatton in “Applied Theatre : Performing Health and Wellbeing” Bloomsbury.
  • “How Do You See Me? Using performance to explore narratives around age and identity” (Liz Postlethwaite, Small Things Creative Projects) in “Late Life Creativity” Routledge.
  • “Privileging the play: Creating theatre with people with dementia” Hannah Zeilig and Lucy Burke in “Social Research Methods in Dementia Studies: Inclusion and Innovation” Routledge.

The project has been seen to:

  • Create shared experiences
  • Allow for an affirmed sense of self
  • Improve physical health
  • Improve mental capacity
  • Improve self esteem and confidence
  • Explore and enhance inter-personal relationships
  • Explore and enhance workplace culture


Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England