In this blog, Reina van der Wiel (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales) and Catalena Angele (People’s Collection Wales) discuss how and why the Archif Cof | Memory Archive was established on the People’s Collection Wales website and its importance of facilitating reminiscence work with people living with dementia.
The Memory Archive is a curated account of 24 Collections divided into relevant themes and decades (within living memory) available on the People’s Collection Wales website. The Memory Archive can be used for ‘simple reminiscence’ work and for ‘life story’ work, which looks at a particular person’s life from birth to the present day.
But how did the Memory Archive come about? Reina, who has led the development of the Memory Archive from the start, explains that the journey began in 2016 when the Royal Commission was approached by a Mental Health Services for Older People department at a South Wales hospital.
“They asked for a donation of pictures to make their male assessment ward less clinical and more dementia-friendly. They were particularly interested in pictures or items relating to the history and culture of the local area to use as memory joggers and for reminiscence material,” says Reina. “This got us thinking about whether other professionals working with people living with dementia knew about the Royal Commission’s free resources and how they might be used,” she says.
This led to a day-long event for healthcare professionals and carers organised by the Royal Commission to explore how they could use archives as sources of material to stimulate reminiscence and memory. Reina recalls: “It was clear from the event that while the health profession is keen to engage with digital heritage, their staff are generally time-poor and do not have the resources to spend hours browsing through archives, websites or databases for suitable material.”
In 2018, People’s Collection Wales investigated the potential uses of digital heritage to increase social inclusion and well-being. Soon, the idea of the Memory Archive was born. “It can be argued that the People’s Collection Wales website is in and of itself a ‘Memory Archive’,” says Reina. “However, the riches of the People’s Collection Wales also means that it can be time-consuming to find relevant material. Therefore, we decided to set up a curated ‘Memory Archive’ account. This aims to provide a one-stop-shop – or, at least, a starting point – for free archive materials suitable for reminiscence work.”
People living with dementia often have short-term memory problems. However, they may be able to recall memories from their childhood or early adulthood. “Reminiscence can benefit the person living with dementia in many ways. For instance, when recalling memories, they become the teller rather than the told, which can be very empowering. It can also make people feel better about themselves, lift their mood or simply be fun!” says Reina.
Catalena, the Learning Officer at People’s Collection Wales, and Reina have been working together to create a Memory Archive teaching resource for Foundation Phase and Key Stage 2 – 4 pupils. According to Alzheimer’s Society, “Nearly one in three young people know someone living with dementia. Often this person is a grandparent, but increasingly it could be a parent. This is why it’s important that every young person feels prepared and understands what it’s like to live with and be affected by dementia” (www.alzheimers.org.uk).
“Raising dementia awareness develops learners’ knowledge and understanding of this common life-changing condition. It can also provide them with valuable life skills to support people in their families and communities living with dementia,” stressed Cat. “This resource offers two practical reminiscence activities that learners can practice in the classroom or remotely using the Memory Archive: create a Memory Tree or a Memory Timeline. These activities are, of course, not only for young people. Do check out our new series of Memory Tree and Timeline posters free for anyone to use.”
The resource is available in the LEARN section of the People’s Collection Wales website, an area created for teachers containing 187 teaching resources based on the website’s content. “Some have been created by People’s Collection Wales, and some created in collaboration with our partners in community projects, in education, and in the Museums, Libraries and Archives sector,” says Cat. “Collaborations with our partners lead to the creation of wonderfully rich resources, as they bring such a wealth of knowledge, expertise and ideas. The Memory Archive resource is a perfect example of this and it has been a joy to work with Reina to create it. The resource will soon also be available to teachers and learners on Hwb, the Welsh Government’s digital learning platform.”
I asked Reina and Catalena what their favourite collections are from the Memory Archive. They had difficulty choosing, but they both love the Play collection. “Happy childhood memories are such a joy to share, and I love listening to the oral history recordings of people recollecting their favourite toys and games!” says Cat. “The images of treasured toys, school playgrounds and paddling pools are heart-warming and take me back to my own school days and the long summer holidays of my youth”.
The Music and Dance Halls collection is another favourite. “It is wonderful to see musicians and entertainers from bygone years and people dressed up in their finest on a night out in a grand old dance hall. The image we have chosen as the cover image for the educational resource is from this collection and shows a young couple jitterbugging in Cardiff Bay,” Reina says.
The Memory Archive is open and available for everyone to use. The Collections are made up of mostly images, but there are also some sound clips, and 360-degree videos created by Atgofion Melys, which are specifically designed for people living with dementia. All images in the Memory Archive can be easily downloaded and printed for use in reminiscence sessions.
Would you like contribute your photographs, audio recordings or video recording to the Memory Archive? Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org