All posts by Helen Manchester

Principal Investigator, UoB

Helen Manchester has a strong track record and reputation as an educational researcher and lecturer in the field of digital and material cultures, futures and learning across the lifecourse. She is also known for her work in arts based learning concerning youth voice, creativity and school ethos.

Helen has conducted a number of innovative qualitative studies employing ethnographic and multi-modal research methods. She is particularly interested in continuing to develop and manage participatory research projects with young people, older people, and community and cultural organisations. She has worked with many community and cultural organisations conducting participatory research and capacity building work. She also has experience of working with interdisciplinary teams including technologists, artists and educators. Helen is currently developing her existing work in the broad area of learning lives, particularly as it intersects with the role of digital and material cultures, future technologies, our digital footprint and data visualisation in cultural and everyday spaces. She currently has two AHRC grants to pursue her research interests further.

Guest blog: Karen Gray on British Society of Gerontology Conference

Helen recently convened a symposium at the British Society of gerontology on ‘co-designing technologies with older people’. One of the attendees at the symposium wrote about the seminar in a blogpost. we’ve reposted it below. Thanks Karen for permission to repost here!

A good conference can help you re-assess your own work. Perhaps not in an extreme way. Perhaps more as if a torch has been aimed loosely at some previously dim and dusty corner. Sometimes a single phrase in a presentation will do it, or conversation outside the official business of the event, in the sun, over a glass of wine, say.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if the latter had happened more than once during this year’s weather-blessed annual BSG Conference 2017 in Swansea. However, for me, attending my first (but certainly not last) of these events, the lightbulb moment came in a symposium led by Helen Manchester on the subject of co-designing creative technologies for later life. Manchester cited Myriam Winance’s wonderful definition of ‘care’ and I have been carrying it around in my head ever since:

‘To care is to tinker, i.e. to meticulously explore, “quibble,” test, touch, adapt, adjust, pay attention to details and change them, until a suitable arrangement (material, emotional, relational) has been reached.’ (Winance, 2010, p. 111)

My own doctoral work explores the methodological challenges of researching and evaluating arts activities intended to enhance the health and wellbeing of the community of people affected by dementia. I am interested in ideas of co-production in research and implementation of arts activities themselves. I am looking at how we uncover the mechanisms for changes that occur when an artist and people with dementia ‘do art’ in the kinds of varied and complex contexts in which arts activities take place. I am hopeful that we will find ways to recognise, capture and evaluate these changes more effectively.

I have been interviewing artists who work with people with dementia, as well as those who manage, organise, fund and commission and research or evaluate such work. Artists draw attention to flexibility and the interdependence of elements in their practice. They refer to the affective and material relationships that develop both between those involved in an arts activity and with the artistic and technical resources used. They will also often talk about the collective character of artistic encounters. A good artist, working with people with dementia, will ‘care’ in just the way that Winance describes.

Manchester and other speakers in the symposium spoke about the methodological implications of their work for co-production with people with dementia, including the need to challenge disciplinary assumptions and boundaries. All of this has pointed me to a new set of ideas I can use to explore my subject.

So, for me, the three days of BSG 2017 would have been well worth it for these thoughts alone. However, there were plenty of other highlights. In her keynote on the first day, Dawn Brooker, reflected on various elements of post-diagnostic support for people with dementia and their families, talked about her work on the Meeting Centres support programme, and reminded delegates that, rather than ‘us’ and ‘them’, there should only be ‘us’. She cited the Dementia Action Alliance’s new Dementia Statements, a rallying call to improve the lives of people living with dementia and to recognise that they shouldn’t be treated differently because of their diagnosis.

The ambitious cARTrefu Project has seen over 1000 art workshops being delivered in care home across Wales between 2015-2017 and Kat Algar-Skaifepresented exciting preliminary findings from the evaluation. Julian West and Caroline Welsh described their intuitive, adaptable, improvisational work as professional musicians on Wigmore Hall’s long-running Music for Life programme of creative workshops in care settings with people with dementia. Lots more caring and ‘tinkering’ going on in both these places, I noted. There were also interesting presentations on visual and arts-based methodologies, particularly useful in eliciting responses from research participants that might not otherwise be possible.

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One of the joys of a conference spread over three days and with such a diverse programme, is that you are able follow your own interests AND leave space for the unexpected. In the last session I attended, Joachim Duyndammade an argument for the resilience-enhancing power of moral exemplars for older people. He introduced me to a series of photographic portraits – The Widows of Rawagede by photographer Suzanne Liem – capturing the faces of women who sued the Dutch government for war-crimes against their husbands committed in 1947. These hauntingly beautiful images will stick in my memory for a long time.

I also had the opportunity during the conference to present my own work in progress to a generous and thoughtful audience and to have a good discussion afterwards. The vast expanse of the University of Swansea’s Bay Campus beach, minutes from the main conference hall, let us all feel warm sand beneath our feet in between sessions. Both the catering and social activities were excellent and the academic programme over the three days was tightly and interestingly scheduled. I am very grateful to the BSG Bursaries Panel for the generous award which enabled me to attend.

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Welcome to Parlours of Wonder

Welcome to Parlours of Wonder!

We are delighted to welcome you to the Parlours of Wonder project, which aims to co-create and co-develop a new space of discovery, connection, meaning making and mystery in three care settings across Bristol and the wider region, where older people, carers, local community members and families can connect with each other.

We hope to engage multigenerational audiences, in particular working with local  schools, to bring younger people into care settings in order to connect with older people through sharing stories, objects and ideas.

This project is being led by researchers at the  University of Bristol. You are most welcome to contact them and they are keen to hear from school-aged children and younger people who would like to get involved! The researchers are:

Dr Helen Manchester –  helen.manchester@bristol.ac.uk

Dr Hannah Rumble – h.rumble@bristol.ac.uk

The key project partners they will be working with in order to deliver this project are:

Alive!

Stand + Stare

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The StoryCreator app

We will be using an app designed during the Tangible Memories project.

You can download this from the iTunes store:

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/tangible-memories-story-creator/id1006573343

The Tangible Memories app allows you to tell stories and listen back to them in easy and accessible ways. It has been designed particularly with older people and their carers and families in mind, but can also be used by anyone.

You can create pages that combine a photo, text and an audio recording. These can be viewed within the app or printed out. When printed, the audio recording is represented by a beautiful shell illustration. The scan function within the app recognises the shell on each printed page and, as if by magic, plays back your audio.

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Tangible Memories app and Scarborough Museums Trust

We were delighted recently to be contacted by Emily Nelson at Scarborough Museums Trust. She wanted to talk to us about a project idea they had in which they wanted to use the Tangible Memories StoryCreator app .  We were able to offer Emily advice and will continue to work with them as their project develops. It’s great to see the app being used in different parts of the country.  Emily has sent the following update on their project, ‘Outside the Box’:

Scarborough Museums Trust and social housing provider Yorkshire Coast Homes are pleased to introduce the ‘Outside the Box’ project, a 12 month reminiscence project which will run monthly reminiscence sessions in 10 different community locations across Scarborough. The sessions will be a great chance for the older people in our community to socialise and meet new people, facilitated through objects from the museum’s handling collections, and the remembrance of the past. Each session will also involve young volunteers, who will be offered oral history and reminiscence training. Once funding has been secured to purchase a number of ipads, these young people will be able to use cutting edge technology, in the form of the Tangible Memories Story Creator App, as they record important oral histories from the local community. We are very excited to work alongside the Parlours of Wonder project through using and providing feedback on this wonderful app.

Parlours of Wonder AHRC Follow on Funding awarded

We’re really excited to announce we’ve just been awarded AHRC follow on funding for our ‘Parlours of Wonder’ project.

This new project will enable us to continue the close work with Alive!, Stand + Stare, an app designer and colleagues in care settings to further embed the project outcomes in their practice and in care settings more widely.

Community engagement is increasingly recognised by the care sector and social care commissioners as vital in tackling issues of social isolation in our older populations living in care. Together we will be co-designing engaging community spaces (parlours) where older people can interact with evocative objects and the StoryCreator app to record and share their memories and life histories. This will involve imagining and creating a new space of discovery, connection, meaning making and mystery, rather like the ‘cabinets of curiosity’ or ‘wonder rooms’ of old. Unlike cabinets of curiosity, our ‘Parlours of Wonder’ will not be designed and curated by us as arts and humanities researchers, artists and computer scientists. Our vision is that these spaces will be co-curated by and for residents, care staff, families and community members. Care managers who have been involved in the TMP project believe there is huge potential to use these Parlours of Wonder for community engagement where local school children, community groups and isolated older people will be encouraged to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat or a more formal encounter, sparking questions, connections, new interests or opportunities for contemplation.

The project builds on and further extends our excellent working relationships with Alive! and Blaise Weston Court (an extra care facility[1]) but will extend our activities to engage new multigenerational audiences, outside of the care settings, with our work. We will also engage with new groups including Hanover (a social housing provider), BrunelCare (a care provider), Britannia Centre (a day care facility) and Deerhurst (a large care home specializing in dementia work) and work closely with policy makers and other influencers (Age UK, Bristol City Council and Bristol Ageing Better) to expand the reach of the work. The development of a new Android version of the app will decrease costs and thereby increase access to the app.

 

Our specific aims are:

  1. To co-design an engaging community focused space in 3 different settings (one existing and 2 new settings – a large care home and a day care centre) where older people and others can interact with evocative objects, sparking questions and new interests and use our StoryCreator app together to record and share their ideas, memories and stories.
  1. To co-design, with interactive designers Stand + Stare, a DIY blueprint for any care settings to design their own ‘Parlours of Wonder’ and to use our StoryCreator app effectively within them. This will include ideas for engaging older people in co-designing the rooms and interactive case studies with evaluations of the approaches taken across the 3 sites.
  1. To work alongside Alive! and care home staff to develop multigenerational community engagement activities in the Parlour settings.
  1. To co-design, with Alive!, a training toolkit for care staff to introduce a suite of approaches to engage residents, staff and those in the local community within the Parlours. To include ideas for sustainable staffing models.
  1. To further test and develop the iPad StoryCreator app and create a brand new Android version, enabling us to reach new audiences. Both versions of the app will then be made freely available on the relevant app stores.
  1. To co-curate an exhibition to officially launch the Parlour idea and the app with Alive! and care settings.
  1. To engage policy makers and influencers throughout the project in working together to identify platforms for sharing the value of the work with new local and national care networks.

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Some feedback for our StoryCreator App

We recently received this rather lovely message from someone who has been using the Tangible Memories StoryCreator app with their relative with quite advanced dementia,

‘A short email to let you know that your Story Creator app is making waves.  I used it last week to stimulate memories for my Dad who is living with quite advanced dementia.  When I looked through it with him he did not recognise pictures of himself although he lingered over a photo of his father.  On another occasion when my sister went back through it with him there was one page that got him laughing and laughing and trying to communicate an anecdote about something funny that he got up to on his father’s boat in the 1950s.  This was wonderful in many ways.  Firstly, he was laughing his wonderful belly laugh, secondly he was telling my sister and my mother about an event that was new to them and thirdly it broke through my mother’s reservations about the power of reminiscence.’

We’re delighted to hear about the power of the app. Why not download it and share with your relative over the Christmas period? And do let us know how you get on.

Quilting: Cradle to Grave

Last week Helen presented at a seminar at the University of Bristol organised by the fantastic Ann Rippin who collaborated with us as a member of Bristol quilters in organising interactive cushion production at our conference. Ann is an academic in Management Studies who works closely with the Bristol Quilters on a number of projects. Ann has Mary Beth Stalp  visiting as a Benjamin Meaker Fellow who has worked extensively with quilters  in the US.  The seminar last week was a great opportunity to talk about Tangible Memories to a different audience and the other presentations really gave us food for thought, especially in relation to taking the project forward using textiles and quilting.

Ann blogged about the event so for those interested do read below – and if you’re really interested do visit Ann’s blog in which she talks about all kinds of fascinating events.

Ann’s blog post: Quilting Cradle to Grave

The day started with a great presentation from Tom Keating who is a PhD student in Geographical Studies at the University of Bristol.  He was talking about the work of Josh Barnes, who is working on putting together technology and textiles for children in hospital.  The technology will enable children to get video messages from their parents while they are in the ward so that they can keep in touch.  They do this by scanning a code on the quilt and seeing the message on an iPad or iPhone (other smart technologies are available).  I thought, as he was talking, that this links with academic writings on portraiture, that they allow the absent other to be present – so a monarch can be present in 2D form in any part of the kingdom or empire, and this helps to maintain presence and thus control over the subjects.  Hence, as Simon Sharma was telling us on tv last week, there are so many standardised and ritualised portraits of Elizabeth I.

This departure was interesting because it allows children to play and move around, and gives them the comfort of the quilted textile.  It is active because children are playing with it, and passive because it remains a watching and listening activity.  What was so great was that Tom was dealing with high-end, difficult theoretical work but adapted it really well to an audience of non-specialists on Deleuze and Guattari.  I think he also loved meeting quilters who gave him the kind of fearless critique of his work that only women of a certain age can give, but which was constructive and positive and helped him think through some of his ideas on making.

Next up was our very own Val Dixon from Bristol Quilters who talked about the work that the group does providing quilts for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.  We make tiny, light and bright quilts for premature babies and fabric covers for the incubators.  Val said that we had made 200 a year for ten years, and as we saw at the group’s AGM later on in the day, there are still plenty more to come.  Every baby gets a quilt and regardless of whether they survive or not, parents get to keep the quilt.  I was interested with my academic hat on about the uses that the incubator covers have.  They are backed with dark fabric to protect prem babies’ eyes, and they make the room much less stressful for the mothers, but they also have what is described as user-determined uses.  They are used as playmats when the babies go home, and also as physiotherapy mats as some of the babies require so much care.  What came across to me from Val’s excellent presentation was that the quilts are as much a gift to the mothers as to the babies, and, to use the academic jargon, that are very tangible actors in an economy of care.  These are the very first possessions of these tiny babies, and although they are sometimes buried with them, the quilts are always theirs.

Marybeth came next and talked about quilts as life bookmarks.  They keep the pages on our special life events and memories.  Although most quilt scholarship is about the objects themselves and their histories, Marybeth is interested in the living, talking makers and the circumstances which we think are special enough to make quilts to mark.  She is sometimes controversial in her claim that ‘Quilting causes tension in the home’, but she has found that when older women take up quilting or when a woman has plenty of domestic obligations and duties, the time and space the hobby requires can cause tension.  This is along the lines of, ‘I know you are making a family heirloom which will last generations, but where’s my dinner?’  She showed us something of the shadowy side of quilting with a fundraiser quilt for the KluKluxKlan, and some break-up and divorce quilts.  We also had a look at the cartoony ‘The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue’ which is a piece in which in every panel poor old Sue is killed in another fiendish way.  Marybeth showed pieces from her own history and career, and introduced me to a new idea: a Solomon’s quilt, which is where when someone in the family dies one of their quilts is cut up and made into another set of smaller quilts and given as a keepsake to their relatives.

I then showed some examples of ersatz memorial quilts that I have made to demonstrate my latest talk, oh, and my wedding quilt, made for me and the Medieval Historian by my mother.

Finally, the wonderful Helen Manchester talked to us about her work at the other extreme from the babies, the very elderly and end of life people in care homes.  This is part of a project to look at enhancing their experiences and helping them to capture their memories and it includes textiles as they can be such a source of comfort.  So the lovely thing about this is that it might finally prove a way into inter-generational work as young people are very familiar (usually) with the technology such as smart phones and the older generations have an existing creative repertoire of quilting, stitching, knitting and so on, which can come together to form talking cushions and so on.  Helen described her project as thinking about moving from physical care into relational care through textiles, and building a community through stories about coping with loss.  I love Helen’s project because it is so imaginative and helps me to feel a bit less terrified of a lonely and isolated old age.  It is full of optimism and I love the fact that the quilts are part of that.