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In conversation with: Carol Rogers, Director of House of Memories, National Museums Liverpool

The national and international success of dementia awareness programme, House of Memories is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Carol Rogers MBE and the team at National Museums Liverpool.

Ahead of her presentation at the upcoming Health and Wellbeing Summit, Carol shares more about the genesis of the project, how it has evolved over time and why we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that museum collections can have on the health of the communities they serve.

Asked about her background in the museum world and how her interests have shaped her career to date, Carol Rogers says,

“One of the things that has always interested me when it comes to my work in museums is to ask, who is missing. As someone who came to love museums relatively late in life as an adult, I always have one eye on who isn’t engaging with museums and how we can appeal to those communities or groups.”

Having worked predominantly within the museum sector in engagement and education roles, Carol’s experience is nevertheless as broad as it comes. Having been responsible for front of house, fundraising, marketing, communications and more, she has a deep understanding of how museums work and how they can inspire those who grow to love them as institutions.

And this is evident in the project that Carol was asked to head up in 2012, when the idea for House of Memories was first seeded.

“House of Memories was developed from a relationship that we built at National Museums Liverpool with the Department of Health in relation to the dementia community. It is also a project that is very close to my heart and has personal meaning for me because my mum experienced vascular dementia as the result of a stroke.

“Both as a daughter and a professional I’ve found myself grappling with the impact of dementia for many years now. And it’s been a fascinating and rewarding journey that we have been on over the last 10 years.”

Carol continues, “I should say that there was already tons of work that had been done with the elderly all around the world. When we started the project we weren’t catering for an entirely new audience in that sense. But the project has been developed to reach out to those who might otherwise have found themselves isolated and not able to experience the joy of a museum experience.

“As museums we are collecting stories and looking after the nation’s memories. As professionals in this space we are the caretakers and custodians of those memories. And I think it is really rewarding to be able to contribute to society in that way.”

To quote the Liverpool Museums website:

Museums are experts at recording and caring for people’s memories. Using our experience in reminiscence work, as well as access to museum objects, House of Memories’ unique and innovative training and resources support carers to creatively share memories with the people living with dementia.

House of Memories has been incredibly impactful in the years since it was first developed. Having launched initially in Liverpool, it has now reached all corners of the UK. It has also gained international reach, with programmes adopted as far afield as Singapore and the USA.

Breaking down barriers to reach the dementia community

As Carol knows only too well, museums and galleries of all kinds can have a role to play in supporting the dementia community. Indeed, the original launch of House of Memories with the Department for Health came with a clear focus on scalability and an ambition to explore how institutions of all shapes and sizes could use their collections within reminiscence therapy for the dementia community.

“We’re not looking for scale to dominate, we’re looking for scale to support. That is very important to the initiative. We wanted to reach more people so we’ve designed it in a way that will work for museums, heritage centres, galleries and libraries anywhere.”

At the upcoming summit, Carol will explain how the development of the House of Memories app has served to bring the arts and culture sector together with the health and social care sector. She says,

“What we’ve designed is a range of resources for carers, volunteers, families and communities to access dementia-friendly tools that can be applied both in the museum setting or at home. Our impact reports and the metrics for success are all closely linked to how effectively House of Memories can support carers’ work and how social prescribing can complement clinical treatments.”

Despite the common perception that digital technologies are reserved for the young and that the elderly aren’t capable of benefitting from digital solutions, Carol believes that House of Memories has successfully embraced technology to date. Indeed, the initiative has explored many ways to enhance accessibility for the dementia community using online channels – informed by experts in the field.

“One of the things we were very conscious of when developing House of Memories was that it is physically impossible to be everywhere at once. So, we had to lean into the potential for digital and its potential for seamless scalability.

“Dementia care is still very much about face-to-face interactions but we learnt early on that you could make good use of digital technology to support those in-person experiences as part of a blended programme. And, of course, as the pandemic hit it became more important than ever that House of Memories could still reach the dementia community during a period when physical contact has been substantially reduced.”

“Our most recent development, which I will share in my presentation, is a new 3D immersive experience that we are now able to take out on the road. It builds on this idea of taking collections beyond the walls of museums so that dementia patients can be reached wherever they are.”

Embracing a role in social prescribing

Elaborating on the theme of social prescribing and museums’ active role in healthcare, Carol says,

“We sometimes struggle as a sector to define and quantify our social impact. But that is something we are certainly looking to do in this next phase of House of Memories – tracking how this form of social prescribing complements acute care hospital trusts and GP surgeries.”

“Ultimately what we are trying to achieve is to support people to live their lives better. We’ve spent the last decade working hard at that mission and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. I’m also excited at what House of Memories will continue to do in future for the dementia community in supporting their health and wellbeing.

“What the pandemic has shown us is that we have tremendous resources that speak to people beyond the walls of our museums. They can be applied to people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities and challenges – and we have so much more to give as a sector. Personally, I would love to see a movement (and there are some already trying to do so) that communicates our role as a social asset more powerfully to government and wider society.”

Hear more from Carol Rogers and an exceptional range of other museum professionals at the Health and Wellbeing Summit running 31st January – 2nd February 2021. Find out more about the conference here.

 

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