Connect with us
  • Elysium

Community rehab

Using art to help manage the life long effects of a brain injury

Published

on

Natalie Mackenzie, of BIS Services, has worked with ‘James’ since 2002. In fact, he was one of her earlier clients in her career. She is immensely proud of the challenges he has overcome; not all of the effects of the accident have been surmounted, but none the less he has exceeded many expectations of medical professionals, with a will of iron and an exceptional talent that is finally being acknowledged. Here she shares the experience.

James is not defined by his brain injury, but his experiences and the challenges of his TBI have moulded his work and the individual we now see. As we are all aware, living with a severe TBI is a lifelong journey, and I still support Jim in the community, and have continued to do so whilst he has travelled around the world, through the now ‘normal’ virtual rehabilitation.

I have watched his art bring meaning and focus to his daily life, encouraging a motivation and structure that is always needed for individuals like James managing their cognition. Although there remain issues with some areas of function, James has learnt, consolidated and implemented a toolbox of strategies that support him to pursue his passion and bring joy to others.

It has been a pleasure to work with someone as driven as James, and I have seen him take a turbulent journey through his recovery, which I am sure many professionals in the field can relate with.

His need for increased rehabilitation through life challenges is always available and those of us that work with him remain committed to supporting him as he continues to develop his artwork further, wherever that may take him. There may even be a few of you reading this today who have been part of his journey.

Some of his artwork now hangs proudly in the BIS Services office with room for more to come.

Here in his own words, is his story.

James Cyril Gardiner was born in Woking, Surrey in 1967. Parents Margaret, a cleaner, and ‘Jock’, a hospital porter, subsequently brought him up in the village of Englefield Green, Surrey.

Despite a troubled and turbulent early life James did well in most subjects at school, excelling at Art and English. His O-level mark in Art which gave him grade A was, according to his teacher at the time, ‘the highest recorded in the borough for over 10 years’.

After gaining an A-level grade B at the local sixth form college and being offered a place at Chelsea School of Art, he was faced with a difficult choice. Either go away to London to develop his Art education, or stay and work in order to look after his older, autistic brother, following his parents’ divorce and subsequent loss of the family home.

He chose the latter, and so began the next 17 years of warehouse, stock control, purchasing and accounting roles. Beginning at a fledgling Thorpe Park, and ending at China House on Piccadilly (now ‘The Wolseley’) via 7 years at the uber-trendy Halkin Hotel in Belgravia – his aptitude for detail, mathematical exactitude and forecasting meant he had developed a successful career, although a world away from anything exploiting his early artistic talent.

Maybe this was shown in other ways, however, as he was also developing a sideline career as a talented songwriter and guitarist in indie pop, with a modicum of success, but with great hopes for the future.

Life was good, and was only going to get better. Now living in London’s Olympia, with a steady, reasonable income, an active social life, and daily gym sessions meaning any excesses from the weekend were negated, all meant life was pretty much as good as it gets for an early thirty something man in the capital…

Then, one night in early September 2001, everything changed.

That evening he visited a friends’ nightclub- the infamous ‘Uncle Bob’s Wedding Reception’- to witness the first London performance of a mutual friend’s band, The Darkness.

Earlier that day, England had beaten Germany 5-1 during the qualifying stages of the 2002 World Cup, and it was a hot, heady, boozy and celebratory evening, which spilled over into the early hours of the following morning.

Eventually, he and a friend were driving home (the pal being the sober driver) when, at about 4.30 am, ‘joyriders’ were ironically the reason for James eventually being painfully aware of the word ‘Anhedonia’.

Teenage car thieves, being pursued by the Police, were travelling on the wrong side of the road with lights off at a speed of over 80mph. The head-on collision saw James’ car being bounced off some railings and then into a traffic light, therefore involving three collisions with devastating results.

The crushed pelvis, broken arm bones, eye damage and two collapsed lungs were the immediate, obvious results, a GCS of 3 on admission to hospital meaning the medical team were less than optimistic as regards the chances of survival.

Any Traumatic Brain Injury was not obvious, even after being eventually roused from the 12 day induced coma, and the long, slow process of rehabilitation commencing.

After over a year of appointments, hard physical work and bewilderment, other professionals ‘in the trade’ suggested that there was possibly another subtle, yet massively important result of the accident which would have a permanent effect on his cognition, mood and subsequent PTSD.

After eventually accepting that the previous working life was now gone forever, James was happy to see that although his hemiparesis meant his guitar playing was also a thing of the past, he could still draw – a long dormant avenue of expression was gleefully available to be explored again.

Although fatigue, scar tissue, recurring eye issues (a lens replacement and detached retina being just two) all hampered progress, the relief from the Anhedonia -with which he was now all-too familiar – was only felt when successfully completing a drawing.

The next five years were spent exploring differing media, instruction, approaches, ideas and styles, and probably meant the Foundation Course and Degree missed in the Eighties was now complete. A particular favourite was the drawing of cities around the world,

Though London was a readily available source of material. The idea of just replicating what was there in front of the artist always seemed unsatisfying, however, ‘I had done many still life works during my teens. I knew the ability to reproduce things I see accurately was still intact… but there had to be something more to be explored…’

Eventually a theme was developing in the artworks – one of recording the space occupied by people, questioning when a person REALLY exists.

‘ I think this came about as a result of thinking about my friends and family coming to visit me in hospital, when I was comatose.I was there, lying in that bed, alive. But I wasn’t there. I was occupying the space. We had an experience there, together. In that space, at the same time.

‘But, although my body was there, my personality wasn’t. And I have no memory of that time.’ This idea soon started seeping through into the artworks. Thin, black outlines of people were drawn ‘over’ a background of monochrome cityscapes, sometimes with a minimum of primary colour to provide relief.

‘I would often sit in a place, drawing the background of the city structures. And, during this time, I would take many, many pictures with my iPhone of the passers-by in my view. I would therefore record the people that had also been in that space with me, during that time.

‘Later, I would choose the stances and shapes that appealed to me from the photos, and make a composition that I felt recorded that time I was there. But all I recorded were the outside shapes of the people. Not really them, themselves , with their personalities, and thoughts and feelings…’.

The U.K. lockdown during 2020 meant the artworks suddenly had an increased level of pertinence, and this prompted a series of new works entitled ‘The City Missing The People’, showing London landmarks – this time drawn in colour – empty but with the now familiar trademark ‘Outline people’ drawn with white lines, suggesting an almost ghostly feel…

‘I wanted to show the city with a personality, but mourning the sudden absence of the multitudes of people that normally give the city it’s life, it’s feeling… it’s personality… as if it was therefore missing that part of itself’.

These drawings were included within BBC Radio London’s ‘Make A Difference’ feature, the proceeds from selling online and original purchases being donated to ‘The Big Issue’.

This work has prompted further developments – ‘ I liked the idea of looking further back – other people have also been in the same space, perhaps themselves looking back – perhaps looking forward, imagining us – a future they could not comprehend. But they WERE there then. They DID occupy that space…’

So another series of drawings has been made, redoing the ‘The City Missing The People’ works, but with the addition of Edwardian and Victorian characters posing, as if for the camera, in those same spaces, the juxtaposition of the white outline contemporary figures with the more solid, yet partially drawn grey antique poses raising all kinds of questions…

‘I look forward to continuing to develop this – and other -styles. I think I am a person with a chequered history first – and an artist second. Maybe the injury to my brain has enabled me to see things in a different way. Maybe I would never have thrown myself into Art again – there’s just no way of knowing. I hope there is still enough of the pre-accident ‘me’ to inform my Art accordingly, as the last thing I want to create is needy, ‘damaged’ pieces asking for sympathy. I hope I am now exploiting the unique approach my experience has given me…’

James’ work can be viewed and purchased on www.jamescyrilgardiner.com

Brain injury

Breathe Care creating ‘new generation’ of ABI support

The provider is creating an initial two new independent living developments, with more planned

Published

on

A care provider is creating a new generation of independent living accommodation to maximise the recovery potential and future opportunities of people living with acquired brain injuries (ABI). 

Breathe Care is set to open two new developments in the coming months – comprising a total of 17 one and two-bedroom apartments – to help bring new and much-needed choice in ABI provision. 

Both developments, in Wellingborough, will have an integrated multi-disciplinary team (MDT) on site around the clock, which clinicians specialising in neurotrauma and ABI rehabilitation. 

St Heliers in Wellingborough site

And plans are already underway for Breathe Care to expand its accommodation and care provision further across the country. Kettering has been identified as the next location, with hopes to bring 14 apartments to the town by the end of 2022, followed by a move into adjoining counties.

Breathe Care has shaped its ABI model based on the expertise of its leadership team, bringing together years of experience spanning brain injury rehabilitation and care, commercial development, supported living and architecture and design. 

Its chief clinical director, Amanda Swain, has over 30 years of experience of developing, establishing and reinventing ABI and neurological care services.

Its new developments – flagship project, St Heliers, and Edwards Chambers – build on its experience of operating independent living apartments in specialist mental health care across Northamptonshire for over a decade.  

“We did a lot of research into what the current offering for long term living with slow stream rehabilitation in ABI looks like in this area and realised that we could make a really big difference,” says Stephen Crouch, founder and chief executive of Breathe Care. 

“A lot of the client group is aged between 20 and 30, but the choice is often living in an HMO or care home with older people. Independent living apartments, done at a high standard, can bring huge benefits to this group in particular. Our projects are very specialist and answer an exact need. 

“Not only are they beautiful apartments, but they can help to reduce anxiety and anger through   clients having their own space and privacy, while having the support there 24/7 as and when they need it.”

The combination of living space designed for the exact requirements of its residents, coupled with a specialist MDT on site that includes specially-trained support staff, is already helping Breathe Care and its model to stand out from the competition, says Stephen. 

“Because our team is there around the clock, and the clinicians or Amanda are there, we are creating a new level of support. We can introduce new or better processes for these people as soon as they are needed, which will lead to better outcomes,” he says. 

While the focus is on getting everything ready for a January launch for St Heliers, Breathe Care is also turning its attention to future plans and replicating its model elsewhere in the country. 

“For now, the main thing is getting the care team established at Wellingborough. This style of independent living accommodation is badly needed,” says Stephen. 

Continue Reading

Brain injury

How the power of football is increasing brain injury support

The partnership between Liverpool County FA and The Brain Charity is helping to raise both awareness and funds for survivors

Published

on

A new partnership is harnessing the power of football to help increase support for people living with brain injuries and other neurological conditions. 

Liverpool County FA is working alongside The Brain Charity to raise both funds and awareness around the impact brain illness or injury can have on individuals and families. It is also supporting the frontline work of the charity in delivering support across Merseyside and, increasingly, the wider UK. 

The two-year partnership is building on the love of football to help engage people, and hopes it can particularly target men, who can be a hard to reach group who are reluctant to seek support. 

In another strand of the initiative, Liverpool County FA will work alongside its new charity partner to help grassroots football clubs and leagues to be more dementia-friendly, and learn how to recognise early warning signs and offer support. 

It will also help to raise awareness of the growing links between football and neurodegenerative illness – building further on the work of the FA nationally with its guidance around high-force heading in training to help grassroots players understand the risks. 

Daniel Green, CEO of Liverpool County FA, says the partnership will offer support to brain injury survivors in a host of ways. 

“We hope it will be quite diverse. As well as the financial support we can hopefully give to The Brain Charity, we are looking at areas which could potentially include employment and volunteering and how we can work together, be it through support around education, coaching and CPD qualifications, for some of the their clients,” he says. 

“If we can use football to tackle some of the social isolation they may have been experiencing and rebuild their confidence, then then we believe we’ve got a real role to play locally. 

“Football can cater for all demographics, male and female, young and old, but we know the male population can be particularly hard to reach. Football is still quite a male dominated game, and while this goes more broadly than just neurological issues, men don’t tend to talk very openly, or will maybe be more flippant, in talking about what troubles them. 

“The Brain Charity have identified a real target audience that they want to work with, and to potentially use the power of football to get to those individuals to feel more comfortable talking about and identifying what those issues may be.” 

Another key aspect of the partnership focuses on the high-profile issue of dementia in football, with Liverpool County FA working with The Brain Charity to raise awareness of the signs and impact of the illness. 

“There is the wider issue and ongoing work around dementia linked to football, and back in July the FA issued their updated guidance for amateur and youth football, both male and female. So this is something we are raising awareness of, and how to spot those early signs of dementia too,” says Daniel. 

“This could be among people who have had a career in football, or they may not have done, but it’s about how we can all work together to spot those symptoms, and identify the actions that friends, family and people’s wider networks can take to support people from recognising the signs through to managing the symptoms. 

“And also, one of the big challenges The Brain Charity have identified is, it’s one thing that clients receive the medical support and advice that they need, but it’s another thing to look at their own physical wellbeing alongside that.

“We’re keen to use the facilities at our disposal to link the two elements. So an individual may receive some counselling through The Brain Charity, and we’ll then help facilitate a walking football session, or something of that nature, so that they’re getting not only the medical advice that they need, but also that physical wellbeing piece for them. 

“We can provide that safe environment whereby they can talk openly, to try and find that normality again for them and rebuild that confidence. We’re also keen to work with our local clubs to see how we can work together to reintegrate people back into a football environment, but in a manner that is sensitive to some of the challenges they may face – but that’s in its early stages.”

Nanette Mellor, CEO of The Brain Charity, said: “We can’t wait to get to work delivering a programme of physical activities, awareness campaigns, fundraising appeals and volunteering opportunities in partnership with their staff and wider grassroots network.

“Liverpool County FA’s key value of ‘Football for All’ matches our own wholehearted commitment to fighting for an inclusive society.

“We are excited to improve the health and wellbeing of people with neurological conditions across Merseyside, with their support.”

Daniel adds: “Through discussions very early on with The Brain Charity there’s a lot that we need to try and get to grips of, but there’s also a lot of opportunities as well. 

“We hope that through the two-year partnership we will be able to put in place the service provision and structures so that when the two years come to an end, the work will be able to continue, so we can continue to support people with neurological conditions for the long term.”

Continue Reading

Community rehab

UK City of Culture uses music to support people with dementia

Published

on

The UK’s City of Culture is seizing the power of music to increase its support for people in the community living with dementia. 

Coventry University is working with The Orchestra of the Swan to bring classical music to the city and use this to aid those living with the neurodegenerative condition.

The Orchestra of the Swan is a British chamber orchestra and will be the university’s, as well as the city’s, orchestra-in-residence for the UK City of Culture year, which began in May 2021.

As well as hosting a number of concerts at prominent venues across the city, including its Drapers’ Hall and iconic Cathedral, the orchestra will also help to train Coventry University students in music therapy for people with dementia. 

Once trained, the students will then volunteer with the orchestra’s client care  homes, as part of a joint outreach project to help increase the levels of provision for those with dementia. 

Dr Geoff Willcocks, Coventry University’s director of arts, culture and heritage, said: “We have many great musical groups in Coventry, but we really lack a professional orchestra. 

“In a small way, for the City of Culture year, Coventry University is filling that gap, and we are thrilled to be working with our long-term partners The Orchestra of the Swan to make this happen.

“Music is one of the most powerful ways in which we can connect with our memories and our past. 

“The dementia music therapy that our students will be undertaking over the next year will help many people who live with dementia. I hope that this will be the start of a legacy program that sees our students helping older generations live better and more fulfilled lives.”

The Orchestra of the Swan is based at the Stratford Play House in Stratford-upon-Avon and has a history of helping people through outreach work.

Debbie Jagla, managing director, Orchestra of the Swan, said: “Since 2014, The Swan has delivered hundreds of workshops in care homes, dementia and wellbeing cafés benefitting over 10,000 people living with dementia in Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Birmingham.

“The benefits are extensive, with improvement in cognition including memory and attention, whilst reducing agitation, anxiety and depression. 

“We are thrilled to be working with Coventry University students to pass on our knowledge and open up more opportunities for students to engage with the Warwickshire community. 

“Having the chance to perform regularly in the newly-refurbished Drapers’ Hall is icing on the cake, and we look forward to sharing our cross-genre approach with the Coventry community.” 

Continue Reading

Newsletter



Get the NR Times update

Trending