Danish inspired idea for helping dementia sufferers comes to Beamish Museum

A pioneering new project at Beamish Museum in County Durham aims to help people in the North East suffering with dementia

Freda Oliver, 92 and Esther Robinson, 79 pay a visit to Orchard House at Beamish
Freda Oliver, 92 and Esther Robinson, 79 pay a visit to Orchard House at Beamish

Tea leaves, toasting forks and a sing-song by the fire are all part of a pioneering new project to help people across the North East living with dementia.

Inspired by a scheme Scandinavia, bosses at Beamish Museum in County Durham have created a cottage filled with memory-jogging memorabilia to fuel discussions on the past.

With the fire on in a traditional range, walls painted yellow and duck egg blues and a scattering of old annuals and match boxes, carers have said the cottage environment has already facilitated a marked improvement in memory for some of the people they work with.

Carer Julie Leonard, who brought residents Freda Oliver, 92, Esther Robinson, 80, and Wilf Hudson, the father of ex-Newcastle United player Ray “Rocky” Hudson along to the session from Covent House, Birtley, said: “I think it’s fantastic and the residents really love it because it’s a step back in time for them and they soon relate to the things in the room.”

Michell Ball, the museum’s Active Ageing Officer was part of a team from Beamish that travelled to a similar open-air attraction Den Gamble By, in Denmark, to learn how the Danes are forging ahead with novel ideas for older visitors.

Residents of Covent House Care Home in Birtley pay a visit to Orchard House at Beamish
Residents of Covent House Care Home in Birtley pay a visit to Orchard House at Beamish
 

She said: “We recognised that there was a massive group of people who couldn’t visit the museum so we take collections out to them but the idea now is that they can also come to just one space.

“We try to make the sessions in the cottage reminiscence focused. It’s not a memory test. We would never ask ‘do you remember this?’ as especially for people with dementia it can feel like it’s something they can fail at.

“Through the activities we do though, we can help people reconnect with their memories. If we bake then we get the participants to weigh everything and we use traditional cooking items. It could simply be doing the toast by the fire, the fact tea is made with real leaves or the knitted tea cosy that triggers a conversation.”

Freda Oliver, from Chester-le-Street, who suffers from dementia, said: “I’ve enjoyed myself. It’s been nice for everybody and everyone’s been happy.”

Wilf Hudson, 95 at Orchard House at Beamish
Wilf Hudson, 95 at Orchard House at Beamish
 

During the session she talked about her job at a carpet factory at Gilesgate in Durham City and how her brother had also worked there.

Wilf also told of how he was part of a large family from Scotswood in Newcastle and could remember outdoor toilets and tin baths.

The house is part of Beamish Museum’s new 1940s farm exhibit and was converted with the help of care home residents who gave their ideas for decoration and furniture.

Michelle, 28, said: “We did have masking tape up at the windows but we realised that was ageing it too specifically in the war and that the house reminded them more of their parents than their own.

“The nicest thing for us is to hear back from the care home staff who say the session has helped someone really come out of their shell.”

Beamish is part of a European network of open air museums whose staff share ideas for helping older visitors.

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