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Wellbeing Through Museum Collections

Museums attract a diverse set of audiences, and the aim of any cultural institution is to engage each audience in the content and activity of the museum.

Carol Rogers, Director of House of Memories at the National Museum of Liverpool has created a programme that not only engages a particular audience in the museum, but actually makes them co-curators in the programme itself.

In her recent presentation for MuseumNext, Carol discussed the creation of House of Memories – a National Museum of Liverpool programme aimed at supporting the dementia community that has been co-curated by individuals living with dementia.

House of Memories

Museums and memories are a natural fit, given that museums are experts at looking after and caring for people’s recollections. The starting point for House of Memories was always the acknowledgement that life stories and personal histories are relevant to every person and reconnection with that history is significant.

House of Memories as a programme is designed be intuitive, interactive and accessible, and aligns with UK clinical guidance for dementia and practice.  It was important from the outset that the programme could be positioned within care settings to offer a level of connection and understanding that care communities could identify with.

The programme uses the power of museums and personal objects along with memorabilia from a person’s own home to start a conversation about the stories behind objects.  The outcome is to open up conversations and connections that might never have happened between those living with dementia, their families and care providers. From the programme perspective, it is about understanding those connections and where that memory journey can begin for a rich and personalised experience to help reduce social isolation and loneliness.

Programme Details

Although House of Memories has a range of resources to use at home, there has been a pronounced increase in digital support through the Covid Pandemic. This blend of face-to-face and digital support really works for the programme to offer the community a wide range of different activities.

The programme also features memory suitcases, which are free to loan in community settings once providers have been through awareness training. The content in each suitcase is diverse and represents the wider community – incorporating cultural references and cultural communities, as well as more historical and heritage aspects such as maritime history or the armed forces. The suitcases are a powerful and popular resource. They prompt conversations and are a core part of House of Memories.

An important innovation within the House of Memories initiative has been the development of a digital app. This is free to download and use. The app has now been available for several years, and has been growing all the time, in terms of both content and partners. Within the app there is a huge breadth of collection references and objects from museum partners from across the length and breadth of the UK.

Thematically the content tends to focus on subjects that are easily identifiable for the target audience, such as going to school and transport. But it can also be more specific around local communities such as Liverpool Irish or African Caribbean communities.

Such has been the success of House of Memories that the programme is even going on the road with a new 3D immersive cinema experience designed to reach communities that would otherwise not be able to access the museum. It’s a multisensory experience, with touch-sensitive music and sounds as well as the potential for a scent element.  All features are designed to help people connect with bespoke content and digital resources created for dementia sufferers, where accessibility and multi-sensory experiences are a must.

House of Memories has been incredibly successful since it was first founded in 2012. At the heart of this success is the incredible contribution from the dementia community. As the app, cinema experience and other innovations develop, it is important that the programme remains one that belongs to the dementia community of the UK.

Interested in learning more about how museums are making a difference to the health and wellbeing of the communities that they serve? The Museums, Health & Wellbeing Summit is a two day virtual event that will bring together leading museum thinkers to share their ideas and experience. The conference will take place 6 – 7 February 2023, and can be watched live or on-demand after the event.

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