Perceptions around elder communities in the 21st Century are often enshrined in one dimensional narratives that elevate youth. Yet our changing and aging demographic is of critical interest to health, care and wellbeing practitioners and policy makers in Scotland and beyond. Social isolation and loneliness have detrimental affects on health, including health-related behavioural and biological factors as evidenced by University College London’s study (Steptoe et al, 2013), which established a link between social isolation and early death. Additionally, loneliness and isolation (Shankar et al, 2014) were associated with poorer cognitive function among older adults. Within Scotland and in particular post 2014 referendum, there is recognition that the long standing problems of loneliness and social isolation will not be addressed through policy papers but through genuine creative engagement – blending stories with statistics to inform and influence policy.

The Seannachies (pronounced Sen-a-hees) research project sought to develop a deeper understanding of elder communities through the creative practice of storytelling and performance towards the changing of socio-cultural perceptions of older people. A variety of storytelling events were held, and for both tellers and listeners there were deep lessons in experiencing another’s vulnerability –  provoking empathetic responses and feelings of mutual connectedness and support. As part of the Seannachies programme, Broth was a commissioned performance that gave voice to older people about their transitions into later life, and sought to raise awareness of loneliness and social isolation in our communities. Broth was an exploration of the human condition and the inherent wisdom and creativity of elders told through their shared experience through the everyday ritual of making soup. Connecting the key themes of time, identity and memory through a process of informal interviews with communities of elders, Broth is a contemporary reflection on what it means to age and moreover a call to action for what it is to care in the present-day.

Our specific focus was the changing and ageing demographic with the aim that this programme of work will mobilise future research and development amongst other challenged and vulnerable communities to inform policy change that delivers real impact.

Seannachies was funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute.

Photograph by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


Dr Lynn-Sayers McHattie, Glasgow School of Art

Dr Deborah Maxwell, Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh

Professor Chris Speed, Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh

Dr Pete Seaman, Glasgow Centre for Population Health

Anna Winters, Scottish Government

Mel Woods, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design

Dr Michael Williams, Michael Williams StoryCoaching

Dr Jayne Wallace, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design