Monday, 11 April 2016

The Sterling work of the Sally Army with old and young is showcased by Paul O'Grady

Paul O’Grady continues his exploration of the work of the Salvation Army.
In this instalment he works with people on both ends of the age spectrum. He faces his fears as he tackles the effect of dementia head on and learns more about the foundations in Christianity on which all the Salvation Army works are rooted.

The first challenge Paul is set is to give a bible study for the children at an after school club for children of cadets and staff. His story is the Good Samaritan which Paul says is strikingly resonant even today as we  address the fallout from the conflicts across the world, most notably Syria and it’s resulting refugee crisis. The children are enthusiastic , if a little exhausting and the lesson goes well.

William Booth’s  famous “Go and Do something” remark is part of the foundation of the movement. The Christian Faith is integral to how the Sally Army undertake their work. That there is Comfort  and Hope in the idea that with Faith  we might end up somewhere better; is something very important to the people who carry out the work of the Army and their recipients.

Part of the spiritual work that the Army does is to be able to distil the Word into a message that is the most digestible to the audience they are working with. Cadets are trained in this extensively as  they will need to be able to simplify a bible story so that young children can learn good values and morality.  They should also  able  provide a more lyrical and poetic approach for the older Generation who may be used to a more traditional form of service and teaching, but equally need to be able  take the message directly and without artifice; to people in need on the street or in Prisons for instance, where clarity and directness are most appreciated.

By his own admission , lapsed Roman Catholic that he is, Paul has a tenuous relationship with the Almighty.

He relates a humorous story of the family having a little Virgin Mary in their hallway at home in Birkenhead with Holy water in it and that whilst his Auntie Chris was on the phone, putting on a bet, that she would flick cigarette  ash into it so when the next person came to mark the sign of the cross onto themselves they would get grey smudges everywhere. Not exactly an example of devout piety, that is for sure.

He tells Captain Jo that he errs more towards the idea that we,  like all Organic material returns to the Earth . You can tell he struggles with the idea of an omnipotent and omnipresent God.He wants to believe and hopes there is a Magical illuminated escalator up to the Pearly Gates. Where  St Peter checks his books for misdemeanours and takes him to see God, but he says that his religious explorations to date have him “Tied up in knots” .Captain  Jo says part of the study part of the training is being allowed to doubt and to question, but to be able to distill the essence of the antiquated language and inexorable rules to get to the nub of what Jesus wanted from us.

As a treat she shows him the very Bible that belong to William Bramwell Booth himself carefully preserved at the Booth College in London.

Next Paul Learns to walk a mile in another man’s shoes. The average life expectancy One hundred and fifty years ago was Forty now it is Eighty. There are now more people in the UK over Sixty than there are  under Eighteen. The Salvation Army is one of the biggest providers of care for the elderly in the country.

Dressed in a boiler suit, heavy gloves, yellow tinted  goggles, Ear protectors ,destabilising shoes and tension wires on his shoulders, Paul is given a practical demonstration of the physicality of Old Age. Vision becomes opaque and yellowish, the gait is less sure, the body stoops, hearing is diminished and dexterity and balance are  also affected. He begins  to feel more fragile and exposed as she persuades him to do a circuit around the college and up some stairs to really demonstrate how normal ageing can affect a person’s mobility and confidence.

This exercise however doe not take into account the affect that mental deterioration takes on the person.

Paul’s next port of call is the Eva Burrows Centre in Glasgow. Every day 20 pensioners  come to the centre to give family members some respite. The Centre aims to bring laughter  and happiness to the sufferers by bringing the past back through nostalgia. The lounge is furnished with old style furniture, ornaments and even fragrances to bring forth memories which encourages communication. 

Music in particular appears to be a gateway to unlocking memories and bringing a person out of themselves, a communal song or dance creates an environment where interaction might be easier for a person who may feel isolated within themselves.

Paul meets some of the folk in the early stages of dementia first. They key seems to be to get a conversation started about something they have done in the past, be that being  a land girl, riding a bicycle internationally and  it is thus important to make the person feel special and prized for it.
Paul really does struggle to interact with Georgie a lady whose dementia is pretty far advanced. She worked for many years in a Hat factory  and had a 35 year marriage but now she fails to recognise her Granddaughter Claire. However the simple act of doing the dishes seems to unlock  something and she begins to sing and by maintaining that song and getting her up and dancing a breakthrough is made. 

Georgie is full of fun and a confident singer, but it seems that the key must be turned to enable her to break out of the shell the dementia has formed around her. Music  and movement appears to be the best medicine and Paul’s joke to one lady about the waltz being by Jonathan Strauss is met with a tart, no it is “Johan”which  made me chuckle!

My own family has seen the damaging effects of dementia, we were blessed enough to have our Great Grandmother still with us until she was 92 and her dementia progressed exceptionally fast and with very severe mood swings and other disturbing and upsetting side effects.  This has  meant that my Grandmother now 93 herself and  in the early stages of the disease is fully cognisant of her forgetfulness and it upsets her often as her distant memories of her own mother’s decline is vivid for her and as her long term memory is better than her short term one.

This year  225,000  people  in Great Britain are expected to be diagnosed with dementia , which is an average of one every three minutes. 

The Salvation Army do a truly sterling job and in  this area alone should be commended. We as a nation do not do enough to care for our burgeoning elderly population. That person who seems frail now was and is a person not a burden, they have life stories and adventures to share with a person patient enough to find the key that unlocks their passions and the key to their door back into society. The Sally Army appear to have the particular skills inherent in doing just that!


  1. I have learned SO much from
    reading these distillations of these shows. THANK YOU. They do such great work, and indeed, the parable of the Good Samaritan is incredibly relevant today, as it is in every age. Thank you, Emma.

  2. Paul refers to himself as a "Lapsed Catholic," yet I would argue that trying to reach out and help others is the most Christian of acts. There's also no question that music or smell can quickly evoke a long-forgotten moment! Being a History Geek since I was in grade school, I've long realized what a resource of information and history are for our society.

  3. This third article concerning dementia was most touching. Alzheimer's runs in my father's side of the family. Both my uncle and grandfather were affected by it.

    This has been a wonderful series and I have loved all these articles. Thank you for all the work you have done. I have learned so much!