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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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Exploring identity through objects and images

At a recent conference, I was intrigued to hear about a form entitled This Is Me, which aims to ‘help health and social care professionals build a better understanding of who the person really is’, when a person is suffering from dementia and about to enter a new care home. I decided to download a copy from the Alzheimer’s Society’s website, and try responding to it myself:

This is Me form edited

It was very difficult to summarise my identity and life history in four lines or less and I am only 38. I can only imagine how much more challenging and upsetting this task becomes when you are over 70, 80 or 90 years old, and are perhaps struggling to recall some of the more significant moments or events. Personally, even for me, it was a strangely emotive experience to try and reduce myself to a sentence or two, or a list of points at best. I felt frustrated and humiliated that a single piece of paper should represent the complexity of any human being, and be handed over to care staff with the title of the form declaring ‘This Is Me’. This is not me – I am not a printed sheet of A4. I was also at a loss to know how I should respond (despite the lengthy Guidance Notes provided) to such open-ended statements like ‘I would like you to know…’ (4 lines) and worried about providing the ‘correct’ information under each section. The idea of completing this form, even with a trusted friend or family member to assist, must be very distressing for new residents on the move at a confusing and challenging stage of life.

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Virtual Reality Storytelling

We played around with using the Oculus Rift today as a means for creating a virtual space for storytelling. Our first two testers M & B both enjoyed the experience. We firstly tried out stepping into a 3D snapshot of the Bristol Museum Foyer, and then took a trip up Cabot Tower. M had a look around a virtual Tuscan Villa whilst B opted for a whistle-stop tour of the Solar System. The next step is to customise the virtual scenes and introduce the possibility of handling objects relevant to the scene during the experience. An interesting finding was that binaural audio recordings played at the same time proved to be a distraction from the visual material.

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Making Our First Book

We had never made a print on demand book before, so wanted to test it out before we start working with people in the care homes to create their own reminiscence books.

Barney and I are brother and sister, but we also work regularly with other members of our family, including our parents, Pip and Ali Heywood. We developed a show with our Dad Pip last year, called The Eye of the Hare, which is an autobiographical piece about aspects of his life. It’s a one-man show with him on stage reading extracts and stories from a book he has been writing combined with film and audio clips.

As we have all the material and multimedia for The Eye of the Hare already, we decided to use that to create our initial prototype book. So, the three of us got together with the script and media from the show and tried to figure out how to turn it into an interactive book. Continue reading

Interactive Musical Quilt

Earlier this week I tried out sewing small RFID buttons into (and onto) a test fabric quilt. The aim is to create a musical blanket that can be used for storytelling. The ‘electronic cup’ shown on the right can read the tags and play preassigned passages of music when you hover over one of the buttons.

RFID Quilt Test

Building Memories: The Art of Remembering

While visiting relatives in London, I took the opportunity to pop in to the Victoria and Albert Museum, to see this fascinating display about memory techniques.

Building memories

‘In the age of the internet we rarely rely on the skill of remembering, but systems to assist memory were once essential. One of the oldest is the Memory Palace, which requires picturing a familiar building, then placing vivid images within it. When you imagine walking through the building, the images trigger the facts you want to recall. The technique comes from an ancient Greek story about a banqueting hall that collapsed, crushing the guests beyond recognition. The poet Simonides was able to identify each guest by mentally walking around the table and visualizing them.

Cicero and Quintilian described the Memory Palace in their treatises on rhetoric, which were influential in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. In the 19th century, when education involved rote-learning facts and figures, different memorising systems evolved and were promoted through lectures, manuals and children’s card games.

But Simonides’ simple and personal technique still appeals. For a mnemonic setting we might use, rather than a banqueting hall, our home, a place characterized by strong visual, sensual and emotional recollections. This display explores the art of remembering, as well as the idea of home as a Memory Palace.’        

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Creative Dementia Arts Network conference, Oxford

The journey to Oxford, for the Creative Dementia Arts Network conference, started in an appropriately creative way. On board the 08.55 from Didcot, I discovered a Pass It On book, left for the ‘next person’ to find, read and give away. I had heard much about this delightful exchange, known as a Book Swap, but this was the first time I’d had the good fortune to stumble upon such serendipitous gift.

There was also a serendipity to be found in many of the stories, research and experiences of dementia that were recounted at the Creative Dementia Arts Network conference, throughout the day in Oxford. Continue reading