My House of Memories app – partnership case study

National Museums Liverpool recognises that museums are experts at recording and caring for people’s memories – whether they are thousands of years old or within ‘living memory’. Museums enable people to explore and connect with their personal history and engage in relevant and meaningful cultural activity.

The root of the House of Memories training is to acknowledge and understand that an individual’s personal history and memory is of great value and significance. Museums are great at looking after memories and House of Memories is an imaginative education resource, increasing dementia awareness in communities and access to new skills and resources.

My House of Memories app

‘My House of Memories’ is a digital memory resource for iOS and Android tabletsCo-created by National Museums Liverpool and people living with dementia (Innovate Dementia), this app is the first of its kind. When downloaded, it provides access to a wide range of content linked to Liverpool and the wider UK (South East) and connects users with museum collections. The initiative involved working specifically with the cultural and health sectors to deliver a memory product that improves the lives of people living with dementia and their carers. 

The purpose of the app

The app was created for people living with dementia and their carers to use in their own homes and care settings. Dementia affects people differently, affecting communication, self esteem and confidence, often leading to social withdrawal and isolation. Maintaining communication and conversational opportunities are immensely valuable for the person‘s wellbeing, quality of life and sense of staying connected. It is also of great value for family members and health and social care professionals, who can also struggle to communicate effectively as people’s needs change, and usual methods to engage people in meaningful activities become more difficult as dementia progresses. To address the increasing societal challenges that dementia presents, the app was developed as a tool to support communication interactions, engagement, cognitive stimulation and involvement in meaningful activity, whilst also providing communication ‘toolkit’ guidance for the health and social care sector.

Content

The app contains objects from National Museums Liverpool, British Museum, Bexley Heritage Trust, the Cinema Museum and Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museum. The content is selected to be relevant (time line circa 1920 -1980) and the design allows people to browse objects from across the decades; brought to life with music and film to prompt discussion and reminiscence about every day memories and events (e.g. school life, sport, food and transport). The app can be personalised to individual and multiple users, enabling them to save favourite museum objects to their own digital memory tree, and enriching the experience for the user. Advice and information on dementia and memory activities is included for family, health and social care supporters.

Design and consultation

To ensure the resource was effective, a dementia-friendly, user-centred design process was followed. This tested model of co-creation brought people living with dementia and their carers together with the development team, throughout the whole design, creation and testing process.  Service users from Mossley Hill Hospital Memory Clinic and Innovate Dementia’s regional stakeholder group were identified through the project to participate. This user-centred approach has been integral to the app’s success, with dementia friendly functions, including stripped back design, easy to navigate content, voice over and subtitles.

Using a ‘Living Lab’ methodology, the app was explored, adapted, tested and evaluated so that its design and content was locally relevant, to support the wellbeing of those who use it.  Originally containing objects from Liverpool, the app has since been developed to contain objects from regional museum partners. The collections have both local and universal appeal, broadening the relevance nationally.

Partnership working in the South East

Expanding the project nationally, to involve health and cultural partners in the South East of England has enabled the project to be scaled up, to the greater benefit of communities across the UK. Cultural partners have benefited from a greater understanding and awareness of the challenges facing those living with dementia and their carers. Their involvement in the app has enabled them to think about new ways of interpreting their collections for people with dementia, and creating memory resources that can be enjoyed in the museum or care setting.

The digital app has enabled carers and people living with dementia to connect with the internationally acclaimed collections of National Museums Liverpool, British Museum, Bexley Heritage Trust, Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton and the Cinema Museum to support compassionate and meaningful conversations, and dignity in care.

The training sessions

As part of the partnership with museum in the South East, a free House of Memories digital dementia awareness training programme was offered to health and social care professionals in those localities. The brand new free digital training uses the My House of Memories app to show how resources from museums and cultural venues can be used effectively to enrich and improve the lives of those living with dementia, their carers and families.

Training sessions took place at Hall Place and Gardens, Bexley, the Cinema Museum in Lambeth and the British Museum, Bloomsbury. The sessions provided participants with essential information about dementia and equipped them with practical digital skills and confidence to use the app in their settings.

Feedback on the training and the app was incredibly positive, as demonstrated in the following quotes:

“I think how valuable this resource can be and how it can be used in a wide range of settings. I think its fantastic and will definitely let people know about it.”

“Great potential to work individually with service users in a truly person centred way.”

Along with other cultural venues in the South East, Bexley Heritage Trust added a range of fascinating objects from their collections to the My House of Memories app.

The benefits of the project

National Museums Liverpool passionately believes that My House of Memories can play a significant role in a society that supports people with dementia and their families. The museum partners involved in the programme were able to create a safe and supportive environment for the dementia community to share ideas and experience first hand how memory activities can have a positive impact on their lives. Some of the benefits of developing the app have been as follows:

  • creating opportunities to promote independence among carers and the people they care for, by encouraging participation in consultation activity
  • creating a focus for those involved by capitalising on what they have and enabling them to make a positive contribution, rather than focusing on what they have lost
  • allowing users to capture precious memories and ‘favourite’ objects, to be preserved for reference at home or in a care setting, ensuring continuity along their care journey
  • promoting wellbeing and resilience within the community by firmly focusing attention on the person living with dementia and providing opportunities to make reference and connections to their life experiences, dreams and shared memories
  • an ability to export personalised memory activities between users, helping to build on connectivity, and bringing family members together through digital technology to combat social isolation.

Levels of engagement

More than 4500 carers have downloaded the app since its launch in June 2014. Independent evaluation carried out by the Institute of Cultural Capital reported the app promoted interaction and engagement, providing an effective communication and reminiscence resource. The content was shown to be relevant, provoking personal and happy memories for users as objects related to local and UK wide museums. The app has had a direct impact on the service users involved in the programme, increasing their knowledge, engagement and enjoyment.

 

Service user feedback:

“You often only see people in the later stages [of dementia] but in the years leading up to that, if you can get people used to using these technologies, it can help keep isolation away.” 

 “Technology can be a lifeline… it can be a great companion and keep people in touch.” 

“I would love all those people who say people with dementia can’t learn anything new to see us using the app… to see the joy on their faces because they realise they can learn.” 

Future plans

The app shows that museum resources can be used effectively to help enrich and improve the lives of those living with dementia, their families and carers. Using a simple format to stimulate memory, it allows and enables meaningful conversation, special moments and shared memories between parents, sons and daughters, carers and their clients.

This free app is unique and the first of its kind in that it provides a person-centred reminiscence museum collection experience as a memory resource for people living with dementia.

The ambition for My House of Memories is boundless and following the successfully testing the apps capabilities to create new content with South East partners, the next step is to work with diverse communities and museum partners across the UK and internationally.

You can find out how to download the My House of Memories app on the website:

http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/learning/projects/house-of-memories/my-house-of-memories-app.aspx

SEN Work Placements at the RAF Museum: Ambitious About Autism ~ Alison Shean

Royal Air Force Museum

 

 

The Royal Air Force Museum has recently embarked on an exciting new partnership with Ambitious About Autism. In June 2014 we were the first museum to receive the Autistic Society’s Autism Access Award, and were keen to build on our efforts to become more accessible.  We began working with Ambitious College when we were approached by their Employment specialist, Katie Wake, about the possibility of providing work placements for some of their students.

Ambitious College is a specialist further education provision for adults with autism. Located on the Grahame Park campus of Barnet and Southgate College, the college provides specialist support to enable young people with autism to access further education and supported employment in their local community. The needs of their students are complex and many find communication and social understanding very challenging.

Getting started

Part of my role as Education Officer at the museum is to develop and run our work experience programme for young people. The museum is committed to accessibility and I offer a number of work experience placements within our Access and Learning team for students with special educational needs. However, this was the first time we would be working with students with severe and complex autism, which was a little daunting.

Ambitious College were brilliant. They really make the effort to get to know the workplace so that they can find the best fit for the employer and student. After an initial meeting where Katie and I discussed timings and tasks students might do at the museum, Katie spent a day with the Access and Learning team getting to know our working environment.

The museum’s formal learning activities are quite resource heavy. Visiting school groups can make replica gas mask boxes, evacuee labels, mini helicopter rotors, rockets or parachutes. All of these workshop resources need to be prepared in advance, and in large numbers. With up to 240 children visiting per day we get through them very quickly! Katie and I had identified resource preparation as a task that would suit her students and be very helpful to the museum.

During her time with our team Katie shadowed staff, took photographs of the resources students would be working with, and of the office environment itself. We provided her with the museum’s health and safety and risk assessment information as well as our guide for visitors with autism.  This enabled her to put together an information pack which ensures that Ambitious College staff and students can be fully briefed before they come into the museum.

The museum agreed that we would take on one student for one afternoon per week on a rolling basis.

During the placement

Before each placement Katie sends me a profile of the student detailing their specific needs, likes and dislikes, and how they communicate. During their placement students are accompanied by at least two specialist college support staff who know the student well and coach and support them at all times. Students have their own desk in our open plan office. I provide a series of tasks for them to complete, and the support staff work directly with the student to encourage and assist them with their work. At the end of their placement students get a certificate of achievement together with a record of the tasks they have completed.

We took on our first Ambitious College student, Mary, between February and April 2015, and our second, Conor, from May to July. So far the partnership seems to be working really well. Both Mary and Conor coped brilliantly with the Museum environment. They took to the work we gave them very quickly and did a fantastic job.

Feedback from the College has been very positive. The students benefit from gaining experience of a new environment and meeting new people. As well as building confidence, they are also developing new skills and an understanding of the workplace.

The museum benefits by expanding its range of partnerships, improving accessibility and by having the chance to learn from highly trained and experienced SEN professionals. In addition, the work these students do preparing resources for our learning activities makes a real contribution to our schools programme.

Lessons learned

We are all adapting and learning as we go along. Early on I discovered that a good approach was to provide students with a variety of different tasks to complete so that they could be encouraged to choose what they did, and in which order.

As an employer, being a little bit flexible can be helpful. There are occasions when students are not able to attend their allotted placement time and have to cancel on short notice, for example. Above all, I think maintaining good communication between partners has been vital to the success of this project.

Working with Ambitious College has been personally very inspiring. Observing how the support staff work with their students, motivating and encouraging them, has been a real education. Their skill and professionalism gives me complete confidence that we can offer work placements for students with complex needs. I also feel that I am learning a great deal from their staff that I can apply in my wider role as an Education Officer. This can really help us improve the museum’s provision for SEND audiences.

I very much hope we can continue to develop and expand this relationship. In November this year Ambitious College and the RAF museum will be delivering a joint presentation at the Museums Association Conference about our experiences of providing work placements for students with autism.

I look forward to taking on more students when the new term starts in September. Working with Ambitious College has been beneficial in so many ways. We are all learning from this partnership and that is extremely positive and exciting.

 

Alison Shean
Education Officer
RAF Museum London
Email: alison.shean@rafmuseum.org