Making the Museum Dementia Friendly

February 13, 2019

I am in the Communities Team in Learning, where we work with adults at risk of social isolation across London to create programmes that encourage them to explore their own creativity and increase their enjoyment of the designed world. In partnership with community organisations, we create programmes that reach new audiences and adapt to their needs, interests and priorities– all the while improving access to the V&A’s collections.

We’re delighted that ‘Exploring the Gilbert Collection’ was a finalist in the 2018 National Dementia Care Awards for Outstanding Arts and Creativity in Dementia Care. It is just one example of how, across V&A Learning, we are always striving to create innovative ways to engage a variety of audiences with our unique collections.

Recent research has shown how beneficial engaging with the arts can be for people with a wide range of health difficulties. By devising projects that link advances in health care, social care and rehabilitation with cutting-edge practice across all art, design and performance disciplines, we deliver programmes that are fresh and relevant to the audiences we serve.

‘Exploring the Gilbert Collection’ is a series of projects we created for local people living with dementia and their carers, generously supported by the Gilbert Trust for the Arts. Meant ‘for everyone’, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection comprises unusual and intricate works of gold and silver, enamel miniatures, micromosaics and gold boxes. These extraordinary objects were the stimulus for our work with Resonate Arts, an organisation creatively supporting those living with dementia in three London boroughs.

Objects from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection. Image: Resonate Arts

We wanted the programme to be reciprocal, flexible in response to audience needs – and when we began we knew that our findings would inform the next phase of the project.

The first phase began at St Vincent’s House care home, Hammersmith, where we explored how the Gilbert Collection could still be relevant to those physically unable to access it. Artist Zoë Gilmour worked with residents to create individual responses to the Collection. This phase concluded with a training session for staff, empowering them to continue this type of engagement independently.

One-to-one working at St Vincent’s House care home. Image: Resonate Arts

Building on the ideas developed at St Vincent’s, we designed the next phase of the project to be enjoyable (and provide respite) for paid domiciliary carers from Home Instead, while also equipping them with tools to meaningfully engage with the V&A, using the Gilbert Collection as a springboard into the wider museum. Through a series of workshops, we heard from carers about what is most beneficial and enjoyable for them in a museum – and identified a need for a sustainable dementia-friendly experience.

Home Instead staff handling objects from the Gilbert Collection. Image: Resonate Arts
Participant response to themes in the Gilbert Collection. Image: Resonate Arts

We’re now using what we learnt from these projects in a collaborative pilot with our V&A Guides. Drawing on the guides’ expertise and knowledge, we are planning dementia-friendly tours for the public programme, so that we support people from the moment they step into the building. We’re excited to see what emerges from these sessions, and aim to launch the tours in Spring 2019. As a pilot, we will be evaluating and adapting the tours as we go, to ensure that they are meeting audience needs, and look forward to sharing what we learn here in the future.

With thanks to the Gilbert Trust for the Arts, Lucy Warren (Resonate Arts) and artist Zoë Gilmour.

1 comment so far, view or add yours


This is so good to see! It can be so beneficial for people to get together and socialise whilst being creative. It looks like it was a success and look forward to seeing the other events you have in the future!

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