Achieving the impossible?

Rumour has it our Museum Service can make people young again. We found out how.

Hands on Oxfordshire Heritage – part of our Museums Service – specialise in reminiscing about Oxfordshire’s past by taking boxes of interesting objects and photographs to groups of older people at day centres and other community groups.

We joined Rachael Rendell, Member of Oxfordshire Museums Service Learning and Access Team and leader of the reminiscence sessions, in Faringdon to see the magic happen.

60 years younger

School sports day – that time of the year when, regardless of whether or not you liked sports, you enjoyed a day out of the classroom in the sunshine – and the theme for the day. The group begins by talking about sports they used to be involved in: wheelbarrow racing, egg and spoon races, rounders, the slow bicycle race, cricket, football, fishing and ice skating.

Rachael passes items around, including an original photo of Roger Bannister being carried after his record-breaking four minute mile on Iffley Road; a pair of fancy running shoes; and an old-school football rattler – a very noisy one at that.

Dolly Wright, 92, visits the day centre three times a week. She still jokes that she was never any good at sports: “I was always too chubby to enjoy sports – I was like a barrel!”

Sessions like this make their way around the county – each day centre having three or four visits from our team a year. Speaking about the difference they make to her, Dolly tells us: “It makes me feel 60 years younger reliving these memories. I just wish these sessions came about as often as the exercise lady – she comes a bit too often for my liking! 

A special service

It’s clear that this is a unique and special service; a service with more to it than just a box of interesting items being passed around a room. Rachael tells me more about what inspired the idea, and the difference it makes to elderly people in Oxfordshire:

What inspired you to set up these sessions?

Our inspiration came from the realisation that some people can’t access heritage and culture by visiting a museum due to illness, age or disability – but we can take it to them. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now.

How many people benefit from them?

We see around 500 people every month, and that’s just older people! We also do similar trips in schools.

What difference do they make to people’s wellbeing?

By triggering people’s memories, you notice that they become the expert again. They often feel isolated, but our service gives them back a sense of status and self-respect.

Judging by the reactions we get to some of the items we bring in, these sessions are great for mental stimulation and companionship. They give people the chance to interact and forge links with others at the centre; they bond over mutual interests they may not otherwise have known they shared. All of this is important given the prevalence of loneliness and isolation these days.

How do you pick your themes?

We start with obvious choices that touch everybody at some point in their lives, like school. We then try and think of wider themes based on our collections at the museum resource centre.

We probably have about 30 themes in total: school days, shopping and food, toys, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Christmas, the seaside – the list goes on.

Can you tell us about the best reaction to your box of memories has been?

A few years back, we were showing an old photo of a float going through Chipping Norton – a lady took a long hard look at the faces in the crowd and spotted her dad! It was a great moment.

If you're interested in booking a session, get in touch with the Oxfordshire Museum, or download a leaflet to find out more.