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.

Tangible Christmas

 

This week some of us met our group of residents in the extra care home we’re working with. We wanted to talk to them about their experiences of being a part of the project so far and any ideas they had for the remaining 6 months of the project. We wanted to introduce our new tessellating tiles and 3D printed place markers too and ask them to take them away and see how they worked to stimulate stories over the period of a week. We’d also asked them to bring along any christmassy orientated objects to share with the group.

 

Residents took turns to tell stories that helped to explain their different motivations and some unintended outcomes for them in the work we’ve been doing with them to remember and share stories. We were treated to tales of one resident’s address to a South Wales mining community debating society supporting gay rights, to another’s memories of his parents break up when he was very young. Motivations included wanting to leave stories for grandchildren and to record aspects of social and political history for prosperity. They also told us about unintended or unexpected outcomes such as becoming closer to each other, sharing moments of fun and laughter with these new friends and becoming closer to family members who they were able to share their memories with. One resident told us it had kept him awake at night thinking and reflecting on his past life!

 

Before showing the group our new ‘objects’ one resident was keen to share some Christmassy objects with us. She had bought along a hand written recipe book from her school days in which she had her Christmas cake recipe. The well thumbed pages themselves, covered in marzipan marks and evoking memories of school days and family life were placed on the table and discussed by the group. She also had a tin from which she drew cake decorations. She told us that one year she had stopped using the hunters on the Christmas cake as her son disliked hunting and reflected on her ‘hoarding’ instincts and the problems of storage when moving into smaller flats or care home rooms.

this one!

We then introduced our prototype proxy objects (see below) – a set of tessellating tiles and proxy objects designed as a result of several place based sessions and experiences with residents. Mixed reactions, especially when we tried to explain the use of RfiD tags to embed stories into the objects but all agreed to take an object and corresponding tile away with them. Looking forward to seeing whether they use them during the week and how effective they were in sparking story sharing with others.

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Tangible Memories on the road

The Tangible Memories team have been busy over the summer consolidating our learning so far. This has involved writing papers, attending conferences and continuing to think about and work on our co-design process with older people. We’re about to begin an exciting phase of turning prototypes into working designs as well as developing our ideas for our end of project conference to be held in Bristol on February 25th and 26th, 2015.

The team have presented at the British Society of Gerontology conference in Southampton where we ran a symposium in which all members of the team  presented their views on the first year of the project.

Seana and Helen presented their paper, ‘Is that Thing Still on?: Storytelling, the Stuff of creativity and the curation of self in everyday life among elderly extra care home residents in Bristol’ at the Oxford Ethnography and Education.

Pete and Ki have been working on two papers for computer science/ HCI conferences including CHI2015.

Our wonderful artists meanwhile have been involved in some exciting other work including Stand + Stare’s fabulous project with Knowle West Media Centre ‘I will always have you’ and Heidi Hinder’s brilliant ‘Money is no Object‘ at the V & A.

Alive! activities have also been busy over the summer – commissioning an evaluation of their work and taking on new members of staff as they expand. They were also shortlisted for the Tech for Good awards in the category of Digital Health.

So the team are now looking forward to showing our installation at the Bristol Celebrating Age Festival on September 27th at the MShed and to our Autumn tea parties to be held in all our partner care homes in October.  Also look out for our public event as part of the ESRC Thinking futures Festival entitled, ‘Care homes of the Future’ – further details to follow shortly.

AHRC Connected Communities Festival Cardiff

On July 1st and 2nd the Tangible Memories team bundled ourselves and our installation into a van and drove across the Severn Bridge to the Connected Communities festival at St Davids Hotel, Cardiff.

The AHRC funded us to create an immersive installation in which we recreated a care home setting in order to showcase our prototype technologies, discuss and publicise the project with others and ask people to think about community, object based story telling and tangible technologies in care home settings.

Following a comment from a resident in one of our research sites, ‘If you want them to come provide tea and cake,’ we did just that – tea cosies, a cake stand always full of traditional and homemade delicacies, and a kettle were key elements in the installation.

We also invited older people from the care settings we are working in to come along to the festival. These visits were incredibly significant for the whole team and we put a lot of energy into ensuring that the people who visited were treated to a great day out in which they were able to understand better the part that they play in the project in a wider context and outside of the care settings in which they live.

Several things struck us as important about the process of involving the older residents in the festival:

1. It was initially difficult to persuade one of the care homes that their residents would benefit from the trip as concerns about their physical welfare were seen to outweigh the other benefits of their involvement. It was worth reiterating out commitment to residents’ physical and social and cultural welfare, our belief that they would benefit from their involvement in the day and their importance to the project as whole, as well as our support for the position of the care home manager in this case. After her initial reaction the manager soon realised the need for them to engage in (her words) practices of ‘managed risk’ for the benefit of  older people.

2. It is unusual to see very old adults and/or disabled people in public spaces – our residents increased the number of people in wheel chairs at the festival x8 at least. This visibility felt important to us and is something that we want to continue to do throughout the project – working up to our end of project conference which we intend to be co-designed with older people and the care staff that we have been working with.

3. Seeing the residents out of the care setting shed different light on them as individuals – processes of institutionalisation effect people in different ways- being out of the home settings bought about different reactions and interactions that we can now build on as a project team.

Future Cities Catapult ‘All Age Cities’ meet

Keri Facer and Helen Manchester (PI on this project) recently received some funding from the Future Cities Catapult to explore the concept of an ‘All Age’ Future City. On May 21st the first workshop of two took place at the Graduate School of Education in Bristol.

A select group of participants, with expertise in working with young and older people and including members of the Tangible Memories team (Ki Cater, Pete Bennett and Jennie Reed from Alive!) came together to explore and imagine a future city designed with multiple generations in mind. The themes are hugely relevant to the project as we have become increasingly concerned with the growing spatial and relational divides between the very old and the young, the lack of opportunity that older people have to enjoy being outside and the need to rethink the way that ‘care’ is viewed and organised in relation to our ageing demographic. As Liz Lloyd suggested at our steering group meeting back in February it is helpful to think about care as something that all of us will require at different times in our lives.

The aims of the day were:

  • To introduce interesting people to each other
  • To explore what happens when we imagine future cities with multiple generations in mind
  • To explore the future city through the eyes of different generations
  • To identify creative opportunities for future collaborations – networks, projects, services

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Cultural gerontology conference: Galway

Just back from attending my first gerontology conference – lots of food for thought, some of which I express below, much of which I hope to feed into the Tangible memories project as it develops…

Meanings and metaphors of home

Several papers explored the meaning of and metaphors of ‘home’ in later life. I particularly enjoyed Sheila Peace’s presentation and will follow up on her call to look at Iris Marion Young’s (2005) work on identity and homemaking. Sheila explored the different understandings of ‘domestic’ and ‘institutional’, drawing on individual case studies to highlight home as an intergenerational space, home as an orientating space, home as remembered past, supporting present and concealing future, and home as dwelling/ as a receptacle of continuity and change.

 Susan Braedley’s work offered a counterpoint to this suggesting that the concept of ‘home’ is generally unhelpful when applied to care home design and development. Drawing on an international project (Healthy Ageing in Residential Places – in which she is working with Liz Lloyd, University of Bristol amongst others) she suggested that metaphors of ‘home’ tend to dominate care home design and that in her view this was unhelpful and should be reframed to rather focus on concepts such as respect, dignity and equity. Susan’s insightful work touched on the unhelpful discourses surrounding institutions as nightmare places in comparison to the warmth of home. She pointed out how these discourses shape the policies and practices in new facility design, staff models and care relationships in particular ways that tend not to highlight social justice (both for staff and for older people living in these facilities).

Digital co-production and passionate scholarship

In a symposium organised by Kim Sawchuk a number of interesting papers and presentations explored co-design and co-production work with older people in making digital resources and content. Jospeh Blat discussed the work of his HCI research group who utilise co-production and ethnographic methods in designing games and other digital content for use by older people. It was great to hear of other HCI departments working in this realm, Joseph’s deep understanding of the power of ethnographic methods in HCI was refreshing. Kim’s own presentation focused on her ongoing work with a variety of activist community organisations run by older activists. She discussed what ‘Activist ageing’ (as opposed to ‘Active ageing’) might mean and the need for public (digital) records of the campaigning work that older people do. Drawing on a term used earlier in the day at Mim Bernard’s Ages and Stages symposium she described her work as passionate scholarship. Wendy Martin from Brunel University then presented on her interesting work using photo voice methods with older people, here I was left wanting to hear more about the challenges related to the use of digital technologies in researching with older people. The symposium finished with a highly personal piece in which Aynsley Moorhouse presented and shared an audio piece that she had developed using naturalistic recordings and hours of conversation between herself and her father as he was diagnosed with and experienced the ongoing symptoms of dementia. Aynsley’s paper was moving and honest and she then shared her audio work with us – the lights were turned off, permitting tears to fall.

Future technologies and older people

My paper session was opened by Caroline Holland who led the delegates through a whistle top tour of sociotechnical change and the implications of some of these changes both now and in the future. Caroline’s work is of particular interest to the Tangible memories team as she has done various studies exploring environment and usability of novel technological solutions with older people.

My paper presented some of our initial findings concerning loss of objects, meanings of home and the range of stimuli for stories we are finding useful in working with our widely diverse groups of older people in care settings. I concluded that there is a need to better understanding the relationship between material artefacts and records and digital representations; that digital curation should be understood as a process of translation between the material and the immaterial; and by pointing out the need for a ccommitment to collaborative research and co-curation of life stories with novel technologies whilst retaining ethical relationships that stress mutuality, dignity and reciprocity.

Art and Agency

Last night Deborah Feiler,  a visual art practitioner working for Alive! and closely involved with us on the project,  started reading “Winter Fires: Art and agency in old age” (published by The Baring Foundation, 2012). She wanted to share this quote,

“Children and young people want to be thought older than they are because with adulthood comes agency – the ability to act autonomously in the world, to make our own decisions, to pursue our desires, to write our own story. And it is the loss of agency, above all through mental incapacity, that is most feared as old age advances…..

But a capacity to create…is in all human beings, including those who do nothing to develop it after primary school. Art is a capacity for agency that….can flourish, indeed, in old age and help preserve individuality and autonomy to the very end.”

Winter Fires: Art and agency in old age, Baring Foundation | London Arts in Health Forum

Connected Communities Festival: Cardiff July 2014

Great news for the project today that our proposal for the Connected Communities Festival in Cardiff has been accepted.  The aims of our proposal were:

1. To create an immersive, portable installation, utilising novel tangible technologies and a set of dissemination materials, recreating a care home setting, in which audience members will be encouraged to:

  • engage meaningfully in thinking about community, object based story telling and tangible technologies in care home settings
  • drink tea, eat cake and engage in conversation with older people, academics and community experts working with us to discuss our experiences of being involved in co-produced research where technology is being co-designed with older people
  • experiment with and reflect on some of our novel technological prototypes to tell their own stories

2. The installation will enable us to user test some of our prototyped novel tangible technologies for storytelling with a wider audience and to collect data on the accessibility and effectiveness of the co-designed technologies.

3. To create an installation and dissemination materials that can be re-purposed to spread a message to policy makers, members of the public and academics about the need to re-imagine care homes of the future e.g. to develop ‘community’ in care, person centred care and the use of novel tangible technologies to enable stories and memories to be shared in care home settings and beyond.

4. To explore the practical and ethical challenges in including our older people in the dissemination of the project. E.g. How dementia friendly are these kind of events? How easy is it to navigate issues of accessibility?

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