Our Team

The Chief Executive of Creative Dementia Arts Network is Maria Parsons Over 30 years of practice, teaching, research and consultancy in health and social care enables her to take a long view of the development of services for older people especially those with dementia. After professional social work and management in London, Maria taught care home managers on the Certificate in Social Services and then joined Oxford Brookes as Senior Lecturer in Social Work, becoming Head of the Social Work Degree programme. In the late 90s she was instrumental in setting up the Oxford Dementia Centre. A university partnership with Anchor Trust, Oxford Dementia Centre was one of the first of what became a national network of Dementia Services Development Centres providing information, specialist training, consultancy and research. Maria led work with local councils, health trusts, voluntary organisations and the commercial sector on improving services for people with dementia and went onto be Director of the London Centre for Dementia Care at University College London. More recently she has acted as a specialist consultant with a number of large care home providers on dementia strategy, training, technology, the built environment and arts. Maria is on the editorial group of the Journal of Dementia Care and is a member of the British Society of Gerontology. The Creative Dementia Arts Network will be drawing on her extensive knowledge and experience of working across and with health, social care and arts sectors.

An alternative art bio goes something like this

My father had a fantastic engineering workplace where I was often found making things out of wood and metal. Despite attending a girls’ grammar school where I excelled at art, the view was those who can, go to university to read classical subjects, those who can’t, go to Art College. However I used mother’s ancient sewing machine to turn out all manner of costumes for the swinging 60s and painted to my heart’s delight whilst reading Politics at Sheffield besides running a radical arts magazine. I managed to continue making baby quilts, recovering sofas and introducing children to Dali whilst enjoying agitprop and comedy clubs in London then moved to Oxford. A friend returning from a sabbatical at MIT Boston enthused about artists opening their houses to the public. A group of us came together in 1986 to start Artweeks. 30 years on it’s a charity that offers 3 weeks of art and artists at home. In 2000 I curated an exhibition of works by artists who had dementia. Christophe Grillet and Henry Gajewksi came to the opening though Mitzie Cunliffe Davies was too ill. I was fortunate to travel to India with my daughter doing her Textile MA at RCA where I learnt to print with vegetable dyes on long pieces of fabric near Sanganer in Rajasthan.

In my specialist consultancy roles I challenged the under occupation of residents in care homes sourcing and bringing in 1930s dressing tables, evening glasses, jewellery, powder puffs and brushes and combs, sports kit, workbenches and tools  and trained staff in engaging residents in play and reminiscence, making narrow corridors gallery spaces and introducing artists in residence. A few years ago I evaluated Ladder to the Moon’s Grand Hotel theatre residence in a North London care home, worked with ARTZ Arts for Alzheimers in the USA and began developing CDAN joining a large wave that is rising throughout the world as arts are embraced in health and social care.

Maria is supported by her Directors:

Danielle Battigelli, is a freelance arts and charities manager/adviser with a legal background. Her work includes the role of Education and Community Coordinator for the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building in Oxford, where she manages Moving Music concerts for people with dementia and their carers.

Elizabeth-MillsElizabeth Mills, OBE DSc(Hon) (CDAN Chair) was Chief Executive of the national medical research charity, Research into Ageing, until 2001 when she led it to merger with Help the Aged (now part of Age UK). She was awarded an OBE for services to ageing research in 2002 and an honorary doctorate for lifetime contribution to the voluntary sector by the University of Brighton in 2013. She established the charity consultancy, Eminence Grise and is the lead associate. She has worked closely with Maria Parsons on several projects, and has administered all the conferences for CDAN.

Paul CannPaul Cann, joined Age Concern (now Age UK) Oxfordshire as its Chief Executive in April 2009. Age UK Oxfordshire works at grassroots level to help older people and their families live in comfort, with support and enjoying opportunities to live life to the full.

Paul read English Literature at King’s College Cambridge, also holding a Choral Scholarship. After teaching for five years, he joined the Civil Service where he held a range of postings at the Cabinet Office, including working as a Private Secretary to successive Cabinet Ministers, including the Minister for the Arts. A subsequent spell in the private sector included working for ‘The Independent’ newspaper. He joined the charity world in 1992 as Director of the British Dyslexia Association and subsequently of the National Autistic Society. He was a Trustee of the disability charity Contact a Family for five years, a charity which supports carers and people with special needs or disabilities.

From 2000 to his arrival at Age Concern Oxfordshire he was Director of Policy and External Relations at Help the Aged, where he had responsibility for research, policy, international strategy, media and external relations. He brought together research and policy, and was particularly involved in Help the Aged’s work on pensioner poverty, social exclusion and care issues. As Director with responsibility for international affairs, he helped to reshape the charity’s international programme and increased Help the Aged’s own profile and activity. From 2004-07 Paul held a Visiting Fellowship at the Oxford Institute of Ageing.

In 2008 Paul was awarded the medal of the British Geriatrics Society for an outstanding contribution to the well-being of older people. In 2009 he was appointed an Associate Fellow of the International Longevity Centre and also in that year a Charter Member of the charity Independent Age. He co-edited ‘Unequal Ageing (Policy Press, 2009), which examines in turn the injustice and inequalities experienced by older people in income, housing, health, and many other aspects of daily life.  Paul chairs the Public Policy Panel of the national charity Age UK.   He and Age UK Oxfordshire are founding members of the national Campaign to End Loneliness.

A keen singer and lover of the arts, Paul believes that “the arts” should be at the centre of our lives and public policy; taking part in the arts simulates, connects, fulfils us and makes us happy. The charity’s project www.ageofcreativity.co.uk aims to promote and celebrate arts activities of all kinds and their value to older people across the UK and beyond.

Marion FiddesMrs Marion Fiddes has worked in a local authority or the health service for the past fifty years, either as an accountant or as a project manager dealing with capital investment, site planning and leading project teams for developing new buildings at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. Since retirement she has set up her own consultancy and worked on the finance elements of the business case to rebuild Broadmoor Hospital and a Medium Secure Unit in Ealing. Marion is a member of one of the Oxford Health Research Ethics committees, a trustee of the Baptist Building Fund and is a keen member of New Road Baptist Church in Oxford.



Alex Coulter

Alexandra Coulter is Director of Arts & Health South West (http://www.ahsw.org.uk), an advocacy, information and support organisation for all those who believe in the value of creativity in enhancing health and wellbeing. She represents the south west region on the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing (www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk) and provides the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg). Trained as an artist and art historian, Alex has formerly worked as an art teacher and an arts project manager in the acute and primary care health sectors. She studied at the Courtauld Institute and Chelsea School of Art and for an MSc in Management Development at Bristol University. She lives in Oxford with her husband, the writer Gijs van Hensbergen, and has three children.

We shall appoint several other Directors over the next few months.