Objects for Reminiscence
Books provide a tangible, familiar interface for reminiscence. We are co-designing with older people to produce print on demand books based on their memories. As well as the predictable text and images, the pages also contain AR triggers, which allow the reader to access audio and video giving an extra dimension to the reminiscences.
Part of the co-designing process is to develop a blueprint of tasks that can be followed by other older people and their carers/relatives who want to create their own books. The aim is to develop a website where this formula can be accessed, in order, ultimately, to make this project scalable and available to all.
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.
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) 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- To work alongside Alive! and care home staff to develop multigenerational community engagement activities in the Parlour settings.
- 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.
- 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.
- To co-curate an exhibition to officially launch the Parlour idea and the app with Alive! and care settings.
- 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.
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.
There are many things I’d do differently if I started the Tangible Memories project again tomorrow. Perhaps the most important thing I’d change however would be ensuring that we worked closely with care staff from the beginning. Our ‘gatekeepers’ were often senior managers who agreed to be involved, residents were asked if they wanted to be involved and were free to say no but care staff were never really approached at the beginning. In fact I think our focus on co-designing with residents obscured somewhat the need to work with care staff. Although contracts were signed with each home in which they agreed a member of care staff would be present in each of our sessions due to pressures of work, absent colleagues and issues related to what is considered to be ‘care work’ and what is not this very rarely happened.
In the last 6 months or so we’ve really stepped up our work with care home staff and I’ve met with managers frequently to make sure that the technologies we leave with them at the end of the project aren’t left on a shelf gathering dust. There are real challenges for managers in making time for care staff to do the one to one and group work with residents that we’re advocating for. This throws up all kinds of questions about what ‘care’ means and what the expectations are of someone who works as a carer in a residential home for older people.
In light of our realization of the importance of involving and working closely with care staff ‘on the ground’ we have been working with Alive! activities to design a process of working alongside care staff to introduce them to one of our prototypes – an app for storytelling. Last week up to 3 members of staff from each of our care homes came down to the university to be introduced to some of the techniques they might use.
Today Gill Roberts from Alive! activities and myself visited one of our settings to meet with care staff who had been given an ipad to help us test out our prototype storytelling app. Although the 3 members of staff had gone away from our session at the University fired up and ready to try the app with residents we found when we arrived that they’d not managed to find time to test the app with residents and they’d had various problems with using the ipad as well as with feeling confident enough to approach a resident to ask them to speak about their lives. Challenges were expressed and noted as, for instance: What questions can you ask? How do you invite residents to speak? How do you listen carefully to residents being comfortable with silence and allowing time for thought? How might you enable residents to use the technology themselves if they are able?
There is much work to be done here as we approach the end of the grant. Ensuring we do this collaboratively with care staff and residents will be the key to sustainability of the co-designed technologies in the care home settings.
Gather a shell from the strewn beach
And listen at its lips: they sigh
The same desire and mystery,
The echo of the whole sea’s speech.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Sea-Limits, (1919)
After discussing and trying out various possibilities for the illustrations, we decided that sea shells (particularly conch shells) were the perfect visual metaphor for the Tangible Memories project and an ideal vehicle to trigger audio clips within the book, app or any other surface that they may appear on. You hold a shell to your ear and listen to the memory of the sea, just as memories are held within books. The rich visual qualities and the variation of different types of shell are similar to a person’s life and the memories that are collected over time, this idea became more prominent the more I studied the shells and realised just how intricate and complex they were!
Visiting the care homes and meeting the residents and carers was an integral part of this project for me. I was able to experience the fundamental notion of the Tangible Memories project first-hand; communication and the sharing and recording of memories. The process of recording people’s memories and stories, whether it be through writing, taking a photo or audio recording engages both the resident and the listener. Listening to people’s stories and memories was hugely inspirational and being able to preserve these memories in a tangible way is fantastic! I am delighted that I was able to contribute to this project.
As a Third Year University of Bristol Drama and Film Student coming to the end of my degree, I believed I possessed a certain level of comprehension with regards to the variety of ways Theatre and Film exists in and aids the community. Perhaps this assumption subsequently forced me to search for something more diverse and distinctive in my placement opportunity, attracting me to Stand and Stare and specifically their Tangible Memories project. This enticement stems from my desire to broaden my knowledge about theatre before I complete my time at university.
I have been working with Stand and Stare for eight weeks now and have been fortunate enough to observe how far the project has progressed even in this short amount of time, this is testament to the passionate team working enthusiastically and consistently to achieve their aims.
A key creative progression that has taken place over the past eight weeks is the inception and the execution of creating distinctive illustrations to act in the same way QR codes use image recognition. These illustrations will trigger the audio in the books. They needed to be universal enough so they could encapsulate any story but distinctive enough to be observed as separate images. Thematically, a collection of shells were ideal as they represent the activity of listening and the image itself triggers a fond memory of playing on the beach as a child; using shells to listen to the sea.
I truly appreciate that I have been lucky enough to be utilised in all areas of Tangible Memories. Undeniably the most enlightening aspects of assisting with this project are the visits to Blaise Weston Court and Stokeleigh Lodge. Meeting the residents, discussing their stories and observing the effect the Tangible Memories books have on these two care homes is a rewarding experience. A person’s memory is undeniably unique, being able to listen to a diary of their life and being trusted enough by the person that they are willing to share these tales with you, is truly an engaging activity. My comprehension of the project in the early stages was assisted significantly by meeting a variety of people from both homes who were all contributing to the project in a diversity of ways. All were at different stages in terms of starting out, completing or editing either individual books or books for the home consisting of memories recorded by a selection of residents. After multiple trips you begin to devise a routine to capture the most intriguing and fascinating memories shared by the residents; I found that using photos either from their possessions or sourcing them on the internet lead to stimulating conversations. Whether it is an account of the life of a Lancaster Bomber Pilot Engineer, how they first met their spouse, the preparation and upkeep that goes into being a beekeeper, a fond story about their children or the crude conditions of the boys school toilets in the 1920s, I have truly learnt a lot from being privileged enough to listen to and record these fascinating memoirs.
Currently I am half way into my placement and although these eight weeks seemed to have flown by, the amount I have learnt already is innumerable. I have come to understand that there are many strands of theatrical practice that exist outside of the boundaries of a theatre and my work with Stand and Stare has fortified this view. My role in this project so far has only made me more excited for what is to come. Hearing the ways in which the books have been used already (as stated by one resident who reported that her book initiated a communal reading on Christmas afternoon by the whole family), emphasises that the book isn’t just a product, it is an experience that is evidently having a positive effect on all involved.
As the augmented reality develops for the interactive books and app, Stand + Stare have been working with talented illustrator Hugh Cowling, to produce a series of beautiful shell drawings that trigger audio stories when they are scanned, functioning in a similar way to a QR code.
Here are some of Hugh’s wonderful illustrations, much more aesthetically appealing and poetic than a typical QR code:
Alongside the application of these drawings to the book/app prototypes, we are also exploring their potential for use on fabrics and textiles, while textured surfaces and soft objects such as cushions are considered to have some therapeutic uses for those living with dementia. Here are some examples of early tests using hand printed methods on cotton:
and a digitally printed version, on a tactile faux suede:
Evolving partly from the ButtonTuner musical cushion, we look forward to testing out the tech for these pillow cases and cushion covers, as well as developing the user experience.