Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust - Museums Association

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

In the summer of 2013, Blists Hill Victorian Town, a large open air reconstructed mining town, hosted a dementia awareness event as part of National Carers Week.

A beautiful sunny but chilly June day saw around 200 service users and carers visit the site. They were able to visit the exhibits, talk to costumed demonstrators and participate in printing, singing and story-telling activities provided by partner organisation Telford and Wrekin Arts & Dementia Group.

The Alzheimer’s Society was also on hand, offering an information service in one of the sites exhibit spaces.

The target audience, adults with dementia, their carers and family members was recruited from care homes and drop-in centres across the county.

Members of the museum’s Lifelong Learning Department had previously delivered a number of outreach sessions using object handling to provoke reminiscence, discussion and play.

In discussions with staff and family members we identified a number of barriers to this group visiting our museums, one of which was cost, and so the homes and groups interested in visiting were offered membership of a scheme that provided a considerable discount on our normal admission rate.

The day was advertised through our website and with posters and leaflets delivered to care homes giving contact details for setting up membership of the discount scheme.

Working with partner Telford and Wrekin Arts & Dementia Group, information about arts and dementia was also distributed to their networks and the local health authority and library service in order to reach those caring for people with dementia in their own homes.

In order to make the day as user-friendly as possible we looked at all the possible barriers to a happy, stress free visit.

Extra help was provided in the car park area to ensure people could access the site as quickly as possible, and the normal entrance route was adapted to provide an alternative to the dark room with the loud video. All staff were made aware that visitors may need some extra help navigating the site.

To provide these additional helpers and adjust systems for admitting visitors through an alternate entrance we needed commitment from all staff involved, from senior management to front of house and demonstrators. Many of the extra helpers on the day were volunteers.

The main barrier to museum visiting identified by carers and families was the feeling that they would not be welcomed and that the stress of taking the person with dementia into a public space would outweigh any benefits.

By addressing these issues with extra staff and avoiding stressful situations we showed how positive a visit could be for all concerned.

Internal staff evaluation of the day highlighted their desire for more information about dementia and its effects.

The museum now has in place an on-going programme of information sessions for all staff and museum trustees, delivered by a trained expert on dementia.