Jim the Duck

Community History Curator Marek (right) & Jim
Its 1:00pm Wednesday 19th February 2014 and I’m sitting in a busy Starbucks on Albion Street waiting to meet the two lovely Debbies from Peer Support and someone I always look forward to seeing, my mate Jim.
I first met Jim a few years ago when he joined our Peer Support Cultural Partnership programme for people living with dementia. 

What is Peer Support?

The Peer Support partnership was formed nearly five years ago and I believe our work gets better with each new project. The organisations involved are Peer Support Services (Adult Social Care), West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds Libraries and Leeds Museums and Galleries. We normally run a two hour session on a Tuesday afternoon, over a 12-14 week period, twice a year. 
The sessions take place at our various sites and contain a mixture of performances, behind-the-scenes tours, object handling, reminiscence, and craft activities that all draw from our service strengths and follow a connecting theme. So far we have covered a variety of topics including: Thinking Arts, Playing the Part, Magic & Mystery, Performing Puppets, Musical Memories and recently Wild Worlds. What’s great about this work is that whatever we do, we all take part, services users, support workers and staff. It means everyone involved is treated the same.

When Marek met Jim:

During a puppet making session at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, I was paired with Jim to create a puppet, which was mainly made up of scrunched up brown paper. The beauty of the activity was anyone could do it; we were all ‘playing on a level field’. Jim and I had chatted a few times before, especially about football, after we found out we both share a love for the game, but during this simple activity we really bonded. 
The artist leading the session suggested the puppets could be animals or humans, so because I knew that like me, Jim was up for having a laugh about himself, I suggested we use him as inspiration to make an animal. Somehow we chose a duck and ‘Jim the Duck’ was born. It was great fun and since then we’ve had a real connection and laugh about it when we meet. On finishing the puppet, Jim said “well that’s my grandson’s Christmas present sorted” and when we met a week later he’d ask “where’s that duck?”
What I guess I didn’t realise until recently was how much he valued our chats and the difference our laughs made to his week. We were in between our two yearly programmes, when one of the Debbie’s from Peer Support contacted me to say Jim had been asking about me and wanted to show me his football trophies. He had brought them to other support sessions thinking he might bump into me. It was so heart-warming to hear that. The Debbies and I decided to organise a get together for a coffee so Jim and I could meet up. This afternoon we looked at his football trophies and a photo album he’d brought but most importantly we made each other laugh, slipping into the banter we share at our sessions.
The last time I had seen Jim before this meeting was at the West Yorkshire Playhouse when we went to see ‘The Jungle Book’ as a group, celebrating the end of the ‘Wild Worlds’ programme. As we were being ushered in to the busy theatre I didn’t actually get a chance to say “hello” but I saw him and his wife out of the corner of my eye and over heard him say “See that lad over there, that’s my mate Marek”.

By Marek Romaniszyn, Assistant Curator of Community History

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