Live Well: supporting older people in accessing their local museums – by Ben Jones Assistant Outreach Officer (Live Well)

Live Well is a three-year programme of cultural events, creative and museum activities and opportunities, skill and knowledge sharing for Tyneside people over 50 years of age and the organisations and community groups that work with them. Taking place between 2016 and 2019, it is a partnership between Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) and National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) and supported by the Big Lottery Fund. It sits under The Platinum Programme, TWAM’s Outreach programme of inspiring activities and experiences for people over 55. Myself and my colleague Ruth Sheldon (and Sophie Mitchell currently on maternity leave) run ‘Live Well’ and we will be posting a number of blogs over the next few months, showing you what we have been up to over the three years.

The aim of the Live Well programme is to understand the health and wellbeing benefits of creative activities and visiting museums and gallery for people over 50 who don’t usually go to museums or galleries. This can be for a number of different reasons, such as people with early stage dementia and the people who care for them, social isolated people and/or have been recently widowed, people with mental and or physical issues, people with learning disabilities or people who maybe just don’t think museums and galleries are for them. There are two parts to the programme over the three year period. The first part of the project took place from September 2016 to August 2018. It involved working with organisations, community groups and older people on six themed sessions, chosen by the group, doing creative activities and at least one visit to a museum or gallery. We worked with a wide range of groups, from large well known organisations such as Age UK, smaller organisations such as Live at Home or Your Voice Counts to local community organisations such as Gateshead Clubhouse.

AGE UK Gateshead Culture Club having a guided tour of the Hatton Gallery December 2017


Live at Home Chopwell group visiting the Hoppings exhibition, Discovery Museum


Sessions included local and social history, art, food, Roman history, Tai Chi, fashion, home life through ages and natural history, amongst others. These sessions were led by TWAM staff and artists and included using TWAM’s object handling collection, Box of Delights.


Southwood Retirement Housing visiting Laing Art Gallery April 2018


The creative sessions included painting, printmaking, digital art, animation, photography, batik, ceramics, murals, sound art, digital art and future wearables, as well as activities such as cooking, walking and, in one case, designing a board game. We made sure the project was flexible and that it fitted into the needs and interests of the group. Participants’ ages ranged from 50 to 100, with many varied and different life experiences, and in some cases we were learning from them. Many, if not most, were retired, yet still have a lot to offer through lived experience, knowledge and skills that are still of use and relevance today.

Group visit to the Shipley Art Gallery October 2017


Older Peoples Association working with artist Lalya Gaye making future wearables October 2017

TWAM’s mission is ‘to help people determine their place in the world and define their identities, so enhancing their self-respect and their respect for others’ and this was important as to how we approached the delivery of the project. The purpose of Live Well was to improve how museums and being creative can help people’s health and wellbeing, and to understand the barriers that currently stopped participants engaging with museum activities. To see how museums and galleries can help people with their health, we used the Five Ways to Wellbeing (Keep Learning, Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Give) to record how participants engaged with the project and with other people in their group. We focused on providing a range of positive new learning opportunities that instilled individual’s confidence in their existing and new found abilities and to understand their place in the world. We wanted to provide opportunities for individuals to progress, learn and improve overall quality of life through being creative and being engaged with local museum collections.

Group visiting the Discovery Museum

For the final year of Live Well, we are disseminating and sharing our experience of the project through offering six free informal training sessions aimed at people and volunteers across Tyneside who work with older people. We will be showing them how to run their own Live Well and creative sessions and giving advice and tips on how to bring large groups to our venues. We are also holding a series of social events for workers to come together at a TWAM venue and support each other in developing creative sessions and consider best practice. At the same time, we are working closely with six museums and archives across Tyne and Wear, Co Durham and Northumberland to develop and deliver two Live Well sessions in their venues and to support them in creating an older people programme. These six venues are Bowes Railway Museum, Cragside, Durham County Records, Durham Oriental Museum, Souter Lighthouse and Leas, and Washington Old Hall.

Finally, we will be holding the Live Well Symposium on 12 June 2019 at Discovery Museum in Newcastle during Creativity and Wellbeing Week asking the question What would a long term strategy look like for museums working with social care and health specialists when dealing with loneliness and isolation in an aging population? This will bring together people who work in the creative sector, as well as those who work in the health sector to see how we can work more closely together.

Over the next few months, Ruth and myself will be posting more blogs about what has happened during Live Well and sharing future plans for the project.


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