Capital Theatres On Their Dementia Friendly Programme

The programme has been running since 2015

By: Feb. 06, 2024
Capital Theatres On Their Dementia Friendly Programme

BWW spoke to Creative Engagement Coordinators Alex Howard and Lucie Jeffrey at Capital Theatres to chat about their dementia friendly programme.

How long has Capital Theatres been running its dementia friendly programme?

It all started in 2015 for us here at Capital Theatres. We noticed many of our subscription members – our “Friends of the Theatre” as we call them – had stopped coming to shows. When we gave them a call to say hello, we often found a new dementia diagnosis was behind their recent non-attendance.

We were determined to find ways to try and help these people feel comfortable enough to visit us again, both as audience members and as participants in our widening programme of creative engagement activities. 

Who is the programme aimed at?

Our programme welcomes anyone who has ‘lived experience’ of dementia. The great thing about this is that it’s very broad – we have welcomed carers, family members who once cared for a loved one with dementia, and of course people living with a dementia diagnosis themselves. 

Why it is so important to make theatre accessible?

All the research shows us that a happy society is one where all voices are responded to equally. This is one of the many ways we can give people equal opportunities and stave off social isolation.  It is also worth remembering that access to a cultural life is a fundamental human right.

We’re lucky at the Festival Theatre to have a lift to all levels, with level access into the auditorium, while the King’s Theatre is going through a major redevelopment that will make it fully accessible both for audiences and visiting companies.

Speaking as a Creative Engagement Coordinator, it’s wonderful to not only facilitate a customer’s access into the theatre, but also see how their creative abilities flourish as a result of the adjustments we make to help them feel creatively included. If there was one way to combat social isolation it’d be to implement full and complete accessibility across all the arts. 

Is it only in person events or do you offer remote activities?

Since lockdown, the majority of our events have been in-person. This is partly because we have nice, big access-friendly spaces at the Festival Theatre. However, we do run a care home tour each year, and we’re always looking at ways to reach individuals, residences and communities who might not otherwise be able to make the trip into central Edinburgh. We have a few ideas in the making…!

What sort of range of take part activities and performances are available?

Our range of activities is enormous, and decided upon largely by our dementia-friendly steering group. From “Tea & ‘Jam’”, our lively monthly jamming party, which we also run as an intergenerational activity, to lyric writing and music making sessions, to our podcast “All The World’s A Stage,” there are many ways to get involved in our dementia-friendly programme. We also publish a quarterly magazine, DementiArts, which is full of creative contributions from the community and a calendar of dementia friendly activities taking place across Edinburgh. We’re always trying out new ideas – our latest project was Comfy Ceilidh an adapted ceilidh dance to be enjoyed seated. It was a brilliant success!

What happens at an accessible live performance?

We work with many of the brilliant companies visiting the theatre to offer accessible performances – companies like Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, and even our King’s Pantomime! Access performances are designed to make you feel welcome, relaxed and well-supported. We have lots of trained staff on hand to help with any access needs, and people don’t need to feel pressured to stay in their seat the whole time or remain completely silent. We keep the lights on, but dimmed to reduce anxiety, there’s often a narrator to help audiences follow the story and we provide break out spaces with a live stream of the show so that if people feel the need to leave the auditorium, they won’t miss the action.

How has audience response been to the work?

There has always been great appreciation for our work among the individuals we serve, and their families. Many attend every month, donate to our fundraisers, and spread the word to other interested parties. Last year, however, our dementia-friendly work was recognised at a national level through our winning the Excellence in Inclusivity category at the UK Theatre Awards! Here are some of our favourite responses given by our dementia-friendly participants:

“It’s no exaggeration to say that getting involved with these folk helped save my life.”

– Willy Gilder, participant living with dementia 

“This is my happy place, however you feel when you come in you leave feeling happy”

– Tea and Jam Participant

“I enjoyed looking at the residents faces as they sang along and laughed at the jokes. It was

   a wonderful experience for staff to see our residents looking so happy.”

– Care staff member from Gilmerton Neurological Care Centre


“I feel that I have a friend in the Festival Theatre with the [DementiArts] magazine. I felt quite stuck for a while but your kindness and the magazine has helped.”

– Irene Clarke

Tell us a little bit about the podcast.

Our podcast All The World’s A Stage was created by one of our team, Alex Howard, and a regular participant of ours called Willy Gilder who has lived with dementia for the last four years. We could see Willy’s eyes light up when he spoke about his former career working as a BBC journalist before his dementia diagnosis. We decided it was high time to get Mr Gilder back behind the mic!

In each episode of All The World’s A Stage, Willy brings together behind-the-scenes staff at Capital Theatres with a different guest star from our dementia friendly community. There’s a lot of music, laughter and friendship-making. In our final episode, we even had novelist Sir Ian Rankin join Willy to talk about about writing his legendary character, DI John Rebus, into retirement.

How can people get involved in your dementia friendly programme?

We are always happy to talk to people about our programme. You can find out all about our upcoming programme through the Capital Theatres website at or DementiArts magazine, or just drop us an email at