The Infirmary, University of Worcester - Museums Association

The Infirmary, University of Worcester

Looking Out, Looking In was a community arts engagement and exhibition programme for people living with dementia and their carers, says Carol Bowsher, learning and access officer at The Infirmary, a new medical museum created in partnership with the George Marshall Medical Museum and located within the University of Worcester’s City Campus.

The programme was delivered by The Infirmary as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund programme in partnership between the University of Worcester and Worcestershire’s Alzheimer’s Society.

The commissioned programme was delivered between March and August 2014 for a project cost of £4,800, the majority being the artist’s fee.

During project development The Infirmary worked with Worcestershire’s Alzheimer’s Society, people living with dementia, and with the Association for Dementia Studies within the University of Worcester.

The programme was offered to anyone living with dementia and their carers and the partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society was crucial to the recruitment process.

In addition, participants were attracted through outreach and promotions via dementia cafés, Age UK Herefordshire and Worcestershire, Carers News, the county’s social and care services and the Dementia Friends network.

Coordinated by the learning and access officer, the intended outcomes for the project were for participants to make social connections, develop new skills, gain high levels of satisfaction and feel more empowered to participate in society.

Sue Purser-Hope, a glass artist with significant experience of health community work, was commissioned through an open tender process.

The theme for creative activity was dementia friendly environments, using home as an initial stimulus. Ten half-day art workshops were held where participants were involved in designing their own glass tiles with an important tea and cake break in the middle.

Uptake was strong with 40 participants taking part from residential homes, cafés and couples (29 people living with dementia and 11 carers). Individuals attended one to four sessions each.

Participants expressed feelings of contentment, relaxation and achievement, using positive words such as “proud”, “excited”, “inspired” and “achieved”.

Enjoyment derived from use of creative skills, “that I could try and enjoy something new”, and the social aspects of the course, “talking to new people and learning about them”.

The theme of home showed how important familiar items were in their homes, as well as remembered favourite places and their families, “this workshop has been very helpful in remembering my home before coming to a lovely care home and attempting to do something I have never tried before”.

In addition to enjoyment gained, most participants expressed an interest in wanting to continue to meet and to carry on with creative activity.

The project culminated with a public exhibition, Looking Out, Looking In, held in the former infirmary’s chapel, a highlight for all participants, helpers and visitors alike: “this lovely exhibition gives an insight into how little we know and how we can begin to understand more”.