Memory banks

“The mind never takes photographs, it paints pictures.” A great deal has been written on memory, ageing and the reminiscence process since Tom Hatherley Pear captured this idea in his book Remembering and Forgetting published in 1922.

Since then the process of recalling the past has become recognised as a valued and beneficial activity. It has inspired the launch of a high street chain, Past Times.

It was the pioneering work of Help the Aged in the early 1980s which developed reminiscence aids and the idea of reminiscence work as a means of engaging with older people, including those with dementia, and made the approach familiar in so many care settings.

“The process of reminiscence is not just the act of remembering, but also the act of communicating and sharing in the context of sensitive attention by others”, says the website for City Memories, a joint project between Liverpool Housing Action Trust and National Museums Liverpool based in the city at the Museum of Liverpool Life, Albert Dock.

The project is unique in that reminiscence work has both museum-based activities and an outreach programme which includes community venues in housing schemes and lunch clubs in the city.

The project has developed over a period of four years with initial funding from the Liverpool Housing Action Trust. Behind every project, which succeeds in achieving a crossover into the mainstream, there is a story of enthusiasm, determination and resilience. An important aspect of the City Memories project as described by outreach officer, Jackie Ross, is the recognition that the museum collection can “go out into the community”.

The “stroll through time” sessions, held weekly at the Museum of Liverpool Life, have been designed for older people who require a supported visit. The day is planned to meet the needs of users and is particularly suitable for groups from care homes and day centres. A series of reminiscence boxes contain objects, photographs and printed items to trigger memories and stimulate discussion. There is also a reminiscence booklet which provides information and ideas for group leaders, and is sent when a booking is made. The “stroll through time” materials (short-listed for a Big Issue award) are available for use in the community at care homes, hospitals, community centres and so on.

The website ( is an excellent resource in itself. It provides access to information on the city memories initiative, reminiscence activities, the benefits of reminiscence and volunteering opportunities. As Ross explains: “Volunteers called reminiscence guides, whose ages range from 18 to 70, are trained for the role of ‘stroll through time’ leaders.” Jim, a volunteer, says: “I have just retired and thought I would volunteer some time at the local museum. I never imagined that I would be taking part in such interesting work.”

Ross has used her own experience of working in the care sector to inform the development of resource materials. The reminiscence boxes have been designed to make their use an uplifting experience. Reminiscence themes include materials on visits to the seaside, music, home cooking and entertainment. It was decided not to cover memories of the wars.

Feedback on the project has been positive and encouraging for the museum staff, and the innovative approach has been covered in the Museums Journal. As one visitor said: “I never imagined museums did this kind of thing.”

There are plans to develop the reminiscence work at the museum further by the appointment of an outreach officer for older people who will work with volunteers. Reminiscence has proved to be an excellent way of removing barriers between care staff and older people, and what’s more it’s fun.

– For further information, contact: Jackie Ross (outreach officer), 0151 478 4428 or e-mail


Scheme: City Memories Project

Location: Museum of Liverpool Life, Albert Dock, Liverpool

Inspiration: A desire to open up museum collections and use in the community to stimulate memories in older people

Cost: £79,000 over two and a half years, funded by Liverpool Housing Action Trust

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