A Nottingham student found an inventive way of helping patients with dementia at Queen’s Medical Centre.

Clare Branson, in her final year studying BA Decorative Arts, created easy-access, soft handbags and wallets so elderly patients could keep personal items together in style.

The 23-year-old Nottingham Trent University student said: “People with dementia have this habit of nesting, where they like to have their objects in a bag to make them feel secure.”

The brief Clare came up with for the bags considered this, as well as infection control and ease of use, with Velcro access.

Art therapy involves working with vulnerable people, like those grieving or dealing with dementia, using art to unlock what they are feeling subconsciously so they can talk this through in a non-invasive way.

Clare, who is from Middlesbrough, says it has a powerful effect on people.

She added: “Art therapy is a great way to immediately benefit people, it’s incredibly important and improves quality of life.

“As a child, all you want to do is be creative but as you get older and reality sets in, you lose that creative streak and need to tap back into it and practice it.”

The bags, which took around three months to make, feature innovative designs such as the council house and the lions perched in front, retro 1940s themed designs, and some with more neutral colours.

She said: “The designs were reminiscent of memories and using things that would make someone say, ‘oh I remember being there when I was younger’.

“Getting back memories and warm feelings was a big part of it.

“Many of the patients would have been around in the 1940s so I went to retro fairs, antique shops and looked at old railway posters to pick beautiful retro colours from.”

From this inspiration, Clare then created collages to design fabrics which she printed, cut out and then used to make the bags all by herself.

Bags with a retro theme, designed by Clare. Photo Credit: Clare Branson

Jo McAulay, an Occupational Therapist at Nottingham University Hospital, attended a Fusion Arts event last year at Nottingham Trent University, giving a talk about art therapy in hospitals that inspired Clare to get involved.

Jo said: “Clare was working in textiles, and we started speaking about how sometimes our patients with dementia come into the hospital with no belongings, and a deep feeling that they have lost something.

“This can cause distress and worry to them. We found that having a bag to carry and put a few things in, like tissues in, can help.

“We met to discuss design, and Clare presented some ideas which incorporated the client needs I had described – for example, difficulties with fastenings, need for washable fabrics due to potential infection control issues and need for eye-catching designs due to visual impairments in the patient group.

“The bags she made were beyond anything I had expected in terms of finish and usability. I’m truly grateful, on behalf of our patients, to Clare and look forward to seeing her achieve amazing things with her considerable talent.”

Jo McAulay and Clare Branson at the QMC. Photo Credit: Nottingham University Hospitals

Clare sees the importance of using skills to create a physical product.

She added: “Nothing can replace the feeling of thinking of a design and making a final product that you can be proud of.”

Clare has shared the sewing pattern she used for the bags with a local sewing group, so they can continue to make them for patients and add to the ten she has already given out at the hospital.