Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum - Museums Association

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

In 2012, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum (RCAGM) was commissioned by Bournemouth Borough Council Adult Social Care to deliver a year-long programme of collections-based activities aimed at vulnerable elderly people (particularly those with dementia), living in residential care homes.

Museums to You aims to help older people to keep healthy and well, maintain memory, and remain independent within their communities for as long as possible. It does this through social experiences, leisure and learning. Now in its third year, the programme has already delivered more than 100 sessions in residential care homes, lunch clubs and extra care schemes in Bournemouth, reaching close to 1,000 participants.  

RCAGM is working with a delivery partner – Alive! – a charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for older people in care by enabling their participation in meaningful activity. Through this partnership, the museum is increasing capacity and professionalising Museums to You, with a view to making the programme more financially sustainable.

Museums to You uses six bespoke product sessions to showcase the Russell-Cotes collections and provide a rich platform for a variety of multi-sensory activities. The sessions strive to break down barriers to art by presenting collections in an interactive and enjoyable way. The range of activities provided means that there is something for everyone to engage with, regardless of their abilities.

Participants can explore objects using sight, smell, touch and sound, and interactive activities in small groups encourage communication. Participants are able to lead discussions, taking the session ‘off topic’ according to their own interests/lines of enquiry, this is supported by the museum objects/paintings and the use of iPads in the sessions.

As experts in the use of touch-screen technology for reminiscence, Alive! have introduced iPads as an additional engagement tool in the sessions. The use of iPads facilitates wider access to RCAGM and its collections, and breaks down traditional stereotypes that assume that older people are intimidated by technology.

As for the future, RCAGM has developed a new in-house session for older people. The session provides participants with a truly sensory experience of the collections at RCAGM, allowing them to physically touch the sculpture and architectural detailing in the house.

Alongside this the museum has developed a ‘virtual experience’ of RCAGM for use with the iPads, facilitating an experience of the historic house and collections through an intuitive application to support those who cannot physically come to the museum. This will be trialled as part of Museums to You sessions next year.

With cuts to council funding, RCAGM continues to focus on the development of a more sustainable business model for the programme. This includes introducing a charging model, developing a fundraising strategy targeting private trusts and foundations to support the programme, working in new settings, driving down costs through partnership working and exploring the potential of the programme to reach new audiences (e.g. hospitals, mental health, carers).

Museums to You has been a great success for participants and for RCAGM. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many of the settings opting to continue with the programme despite the introduction of charging in 2014. Wider interest in the programme is now coming from settings beyond Bournemouth, with sessions being delivered as far a field as Southampton and Bristol.

Here’s what people are saying about the Museums to You programme:

“I was very pleased with the details my father remembered.”
Family member

“I enjoyed looking and touching the different objects, don’t often get to do stuff like that.”
Care home resident

“I enjoyed the talking about my travels as it brought back lots of nice memories.”
Care home resident

“[The session] reminded them of the songs, memories and things that they used to do in the past. It relived their memories.”
Care home staff member