Creating dementia-friendly online museum programmes

How a group of museums in Northern Ireland have continued their dementia work during lockdown
Older People
Rachel McCance
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A screen shot of a Zoom session
A screen shot of a Zoom session

The Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC) has been working to become dementia friendly since late 2016 and supports the sector to undertake dementia-friendly activities. 

As a dementia friendly communities champion, I deliver awareness sessions to local museum staff and volunteers.  This awareness raising is enhanced through:

  • Bespoke training
  • A grants programme funding activities for people living with dementia and their carers
  • A working group that meets twice a year
  • The building of partnerships with local support services such as Alzheimer’s Society Northern Ireland and Dementia Northern Ireland

NIMC also supports local museums developing action plans and registering as working to become dementia friendly.

In early 2020, three local museums became involved in a pilot of Love to Move, an accredited exercise programme developed by the British Gymnastics Foundation and funded through our grants programme.

Each venue delivered the session differently – the Mid Antrim Museum ran sessions in the museum for its local Alzheimer’s Society Support Services;  Tower Museum in Derry/Londonderry delivered a six-week outreach programme to residents in a local care home setting combining collections inspired reminiscence and exercises; and Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast combined outreach and museum visits for residents from a supported housing facility. 

All sessions were well-received and evaluation supported a next phase, but then the Covid pandemic forced us to close our doors and think creatively about how to continue with the programme.

In June, the three museums involved in the pilot moved to online delivery via Zoom. The project, which was financially supported by NIMC, saw each museum offer six weekly sessions combining Love to Move exercises and reminiscence using objects from their collections. 

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There were many positives from the project, particularly being able to reach vulnerable communities to address social isolation and promote positive health and wellbeing. New skills were also developed.

Access to digital resources was one of the biggest challenges we faced. Some care homes were keen to be involved but we couldn’t offer them sessions as they didn’t have wifi or iPads.  Elsewhere, some participants had to rely on the availability of carers and family members to set up Zoom sessions.

Museum staff had to learn how to deliver reminiscence using museum collections without the engaging power of object handling. This challenge was combined with the fact that face-to-face communication and interactivity was changed by remote delivery and so adaptations were required. 

Overall the pilot online was a successful and all involved were keen to develop it further.

Phase two of the project – Memories & Movement – is due to start this autumn with at least five local museums delivering a combination of reminiscence and Love to Move inspired exercises over a six-week period. 

All museums involved are registered as working to become dementia friendly. 

Some additions include training for care home staff and producing resources such as Covid-secure loan boxes, printable notes and exercise guides to support the participants and carers with online delivery. 

Everyone is keen to continue to rethink our museums in order to support vulnerable people and community wellbeing during the ongoing pandemic.

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For others considering such work, I would say the keys ingredients are:

  • Staff awareness and training
  • Partnerships with non-museum organisations
  • Working together to share ideas and experiences
  • Self-reflection
  • Basic digital skills
  • Access to digital resources
  • A little risk taking!

Rachel McCance is the development officer at NIMC and a dementia friendly communities champion.

Museum staff involved in the delivery of the pilots were: Elaine Hill, Mid Antrim Museum, Ballymena; Betty Doherty, Tower Museum, Derry/Londonderry; and Michael Fryer, Northern Ireland War Memorial, Belfast.Love to Move was facilitated by Karen Hutchinson, Love to Move mentor and practicioner

For more information contact rachel.mccance@nimc.co.uk

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