The Communities Producer at the Victoria and Albert Museum in Dundee has said that the museum will is now using a range of technologies to help people suffering from dementia to access all that the institution has to offer. Writing in the Scottish press in late 2020, Peter Nurick said that he realised that the past twelve months had been very challenging for everyone, museums included. He said, however, that the pandemic had helped the V&A Dundee to embrace some of the positive technological changes that were needed to ensure that a wider cross-section of the public could access culture.
Nurick said that even before the museum – the first institution in Scotland entirely devoted to design – had opened its doors in 2018 that it was always the intention to make it as accessible as possible for everyone. For example, the museum had invested in Changing Places toilet facility that meant visitors with complex care needs could be catered for. Another part of this policy was to partner with specialist groups so that design activities could be offered in a way that was more tailored to their particular needs. Part of this process involved close work with Alzheimer Scotland, according to Nurick. The aim of this partnership was to make the museum more accessible to people affected by dementia.
Indeed, prior to the much-fêted launch of the V&A Dundee, the museum had been awarded a grant from the Life Changes Trust. This funding enabled the communities team at the institution to develop a programme that was more friendly to dementia sufferers. Nurick and others at the institution have been been working collaboratively with groups like Alzheimer Scotland to make this a reality since then.
“At V&A Dundee,” Nurick said, “We want to assist people so that they can live well with dementia.” According to him, this initially meant the museum had set up tours of the museum’s major exhibitions in a dementia-friendly way. However, as the enforced closures and lower visitor numbers of 2020 meant that the take-up of this sort of offering had diminished, the museum had shifted its focus. “Over the course of the last few months,” Nurick explained, “We have replaced these in-person tours with video calls.” Nurick thinks that by allowing many more people to engage with their museum in this way, it meant that their ability to travel to the institution and their proximity to it were no longer such important factors.
Wendy Rankin, the Dementia Advisor and Development Officer at Alzheimer Scotland, agreed with this assessment, saying that the dementia-friendly programme on offer from the V&A Dundee today had been instrumental in making people feel more connected. “By reducing isolation, [dementia sufferers can]… still enjoy social opportunities through difficult times,” she said.
Nurick went on to say there needs to be a ‘critical change’ in how museums think about themselves as well as more focus on the diverse nature of their audience. When adopting a technological solution to serving the needs of particular groups, even in a socially distanced world, digitisation need not be ‘cold’, he argues. “Using a technical way of broadcasting into people’s homes [should]… enable us to have rich conversations,” he said. From Nurick’s viewpoint, this means bringing about a great deal of joy and laughter to people who have additional care and support needs from dementia. In short, this means stimulating the mind and the senses with design-focussed activities that everyone can engage in.
Interested in how to design museum programmes for people with dementia? This article might interest you.