Tuesday, 24 June 2014

House of Memories

Museums have never been so vital to us as they are today: the physical custodians of all that has mattered over the ages; totems for the community and for culture at large, framing its evolution within their walls and archives, they also offer precious opportunities to sit or muse, to share the same three-dimensional space with their collections while we contemplate their making and their meaning. As the world moves to the overwhelmingly virtual (with handheld devices facilitating more and more of our work, education, entertainment and friendships), I think we need to realise how much our identities as a species are wrapped up in the objects and places and people that have surrounded us. So I applaud an initiative by National Museums of Liverpool (NML) to bring the wealth of their physical collection of objects, texts, film footage and photography to life in virtual form so that those whose memories and identities are being ravaged by Dementia can have the world they still inhabit brought back into focus.
I was privileged to attend the House of Commons launch last week of the My House of Memories, a free App developed by NML, with the help of Innovate Dementia, the Department of Health and a great number of carers for people with Dementia, along with the Dementia sufferers themselves.

Health Minister Norman Lamb with NML's Carol Rogers and
David Fleming, at the House of Commons launch

It was inspired by a House of Memories toolkit developed by NML two years ago, comprising a series of exercises and engagement topics developed using NML’s extensive local history collection, to help start conversations and improve relationships for Dementia sufferers and their carers.  Around 5,000 carers in the North West and Midlands have been trained to use it so far. But the launch of the App is potentially taking this inspirational idea to a massive new audience. The App, designed by former Sony games designer Dave Burrows, provides a simple, accessible route into a fine-tuned range of topics, identified through workshops as the ones most likely to generate a response (they include music, entertainment, family life and local history). Through these topics users can access 110 objects, 350 photographs and 30-40 videos and sound clips, providing thousands of hours of potential conversation, with features that help users to create their own personal mini-Museum, including a personalised Memory Tree.
Launched on itunes last month (with 500 downloads in the first couple of weeks), there is interest from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and even as far as Brazil. Content can be adapted for each nationality, region or city.

The App is all about ease of use, with pink and white having the strongest
impact for text or background
As with so many acts of great generosity, the benefits will hopefully ricochet back to the creators, not just in increased recognition for NML and the chance to play a role in the fight to preserve life quality for those with Dementia, but also with physical visitors to Liverpool’s museums, which already host ‘Meet me at the Museum’ events for the elderly. But, most of all, the App and its wider uses demonstrate - ironically, through their new virtual platform - the ongoing relevance and value of three-dimensional museums to their communities.
Details of how to download the My House of Memories app on ITunes and Google Play can be found athttp://liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/app  

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