Future Memorial Artist Workshop

A few of the Tangible Memories team attended the “Art, Death & Candy” event at the Arnos Vale cemetery  yesterday evening. A discussion was led by artist Julia Vogl and Dr Jon Troyer about the possibilities of future memorials and their role within society. During the process gumballs were used to cast a vote on the factors the participants found to be most important. Continue reading

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.


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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Endings…but hopefully also new beginnings!

We’ve been working with Y5 pupils at St Stephen’s C of E Junior School in Bristol over the last 4 months because they have been regularly visiting nearby  Deerhurst care home to participate in intergenerational activities with some of the residents. We, the research team at Bristol University, together with the gifted activities coordinator at Deerhurst and the Alive! activities presenter, Niki, have delighted in watching how the pupils have grown in confidence over the sessions. We have also delighted in watching how relationships have developed among those participating to the point that when an older resident is not present at a session their absence is  immediately commented upon by the pupils and they are much missed. As the teacher who has been escorting the pupils to the Parlour of Wonder sessions reflected at the end of term that: “We have built up some very special bonds with the residents and staff of the care home and we hope to continue to work with them in the future.”

I certainly hope so; long may it continue!

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite photos from the Parlour of Wonder with the St Stephen’s pupils:












You can’t clap with one hand only.

Hand-clapping games have ruled the school play ground for centuries,  but who knew they were such a wonderful inter-generational facilitator in care homes, as well as tried and tested social bonding activities between friends in the playground?

During the first Parlours of Wonder sessions held in our partner care settings between residents and local school pupils, it was the hand-clapping games that provoked the most memories, conversation and physical interaction between residents and pupils! …Just like the proverb informs us,  “you can’t clap with one hand only.”





I was amazed at how enthusiastically the Year 5 pupils responded to older residents recalling the songs that accompanied their hand-clapping games when they were young, such as,  ‘A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea’ and ‘My Mother Told Me (Rubber Dolly)’ .  The older residents were also entertained by some contemporary versions that pupils confidently gave renditions of, however, whilst the lyrics might have changed across generations, the basic hand-clapping sequences had not.

Hand-clapping accompanied by singing, was an activity that facilitated interaction between the school pupils and older residents, because it is an activity shared across the generations strongly associated with childhood and school, as well as being valuable because it is a physical, multisensory activity that does not exclude those with restricted mobility, hearing or vision impairment, nor those with dementia. To that we say, put your hands together and applaud (loudly!)



Vinyl records or giant DVDs?

One of our project partners, Blaise Weston Court extra care facility, held an Open Day on Friday 31st March. It provided an invaluable opportunity to meet a group of Year 5 pupils from a local primary school (Oasis Long Cross) who will be participating in our Parlours of Wonder project after the Easter break.

The pupils were intrigued by the objects they found in the Parlour of Wonder room located on the ground floor of Blaise Weston Court. A series of boxes that are chronologically labelled with the different decades through the Twentieth century particularly grabbed their attention. They rummaged in the boxes and marvelled at landline telephone sets, black and white family photographs from the 1930s, workmen’s tools and various board games, but the biggest surprise and wonder was reserved for the record player, vinyl records and bed warming pan. A female pupil who had never seen vinyl records before suggested they were “giant DVDs” and one of the boys, puzzled, like the other pupils, over the bed warming pan. When one of the residents at Blaise Weston Court asked them what they thought it was, nearly all of the pupils suggested it was a pizza oven!

These responses made us all laugh out loud because we all appreciated in that moment how much we take for granted with regards to the objects we encounter and use in our daily lives. We also reflected upon how quickly a number of these objects change or become obsolete.

After a very enjoyable hour or so the pupils returned to their school escorted by one of their teachers, who later emailed us to report that:”the children were buzzing after last Friday’s visit. They spent the walk back trying to work out all the historical events that would have happened while Barry has been alive!” (Barry is one of the participating residents on the Parlours of Wonder project)

Meeting the pupils from Oasis Long Cross was a delight for all involved and reminds us of the importance and value of intergenerational interaction, story telling and knowledge exchange. Long may it continue!

Lynne, Sue and Barry OasisLongcross pupil in a PoW

Meeting our 1st School Partner

The 1st of March is a significant date in the British calendar this year; the feast day of St. David (the Patron Saint of Wales) and also, for many households up and down the country, a reason for eating too many pancakes (Ash Wednesday)!


But for Helen and I, it was also a special day because we paid a visit to St. Stephen’s CoE junior school to meet 6 wonderful Y5 pupils who had been selected to participate on our Parlours of Wonder project. These pupils’ parents and guardians had also generously given their consent so that their child can participate in activities with older residents at Deerhurst care home in Soundwell, Bristol. We will be running these activities and visits over the following months.

The pupils were adept at using ipads and the StoryCreator app so we think they will be confident at helping the older residents at Deerhurst navigate the technology. Some of the pupils have experience of visiting a relative in care and/or with dementia and Helen and I found their views on dementia and care homes fascinating. Without naming the pupils, one told us that a care home is not a prison because prisons have “mean guards” but care homes “have people taking care” and another pupil who visits a grandparent in a care home said when they go to  the care home “I see nature and it’s very pretty”.

So we think they’re going to love visiting Deerhurst and the residents because it’s a vibrant, caring community with many activities for residents that involve nature and being outside…the pupils were very excited to learn of the beach at Deerhurst!

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It was a privilege to meet the pupils and their dedicated teacher Ms Lowrie!

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.