How can memories of our town help to enrich the lives of those whose memories are actually fading away? I joined John Atkinson, Community Action Officer for Ageing Better Middlesbrough, to find out all about Memory Bank an innovative DVD project launched last month by Mayor Dave Budd that aims to make a real difference to those living in care homes and day centres in Middlesbrough.
Q: Tell me please about the idea behind Memory Bank
John Atkinson: The idea behind Memory Bank Middlesbrough actually came from North East Film Archive who have already done a similar project for Bradford and approached us to say would we be interested in working in partnership and to do one for Middlesbrough. Being as they are based in Middlesbrough it made a lot of sense.
The idea of the pack is that it enables people to be prompted to remember Middlesbrough as it used to look and be and shows activities they used to do when they were younger. It is based on themes, there are eight films on there. One of them is about football, one is about work, one about play, cycling proficiency test. There are all sorts of random approaches to life as people would have experienced it.
Q: When you say people, what sort of people are you meaning?
JA: It is aimed at older people. It works for older people and particularly for people with dementia as it is a world they recognise.
Q: Sometimes people with dementia forget short term memories but remember their childhood don’t they?
JA: Indeed, it is the nature of the condition that what disappears first is the most recent memories and the disease works back. For people with the dementia it is the most recent that goes first in a progressive process. So, they are left with all their early memories and memories of Middlesbrough that look very different to the way it looks now. So, this actually makes a lot more sense to them in many ways than it does to the general population. And also it means that carers can have a different conversation with those people that they are caring for, particularly in residential care settings.
This will go free to every care home in Middlesbrough and to every day centre we can find, so that they can stick it on and sit and see what people respond to and see what conversations are available. In the pack there is a booklet with lots of suggestions with ways to get the most out of the product. There are prompt questions. As the DVD plays a little key symbol pops up and that is a cue to say if you pause the DVD now you will find some information in the pack where you can say so and so used to do that.. or do you remember that? There are cues to enable people who perhaps can’t remember that far back, to prompt people to think about how they were living back then.
The whole purpose of this pack is to spark lots of conversations but happy conversations. That is what it is all about. Ultimately, we want to spark hundreds of really happy conversations and for that to be something that happens all over Middlesbrough.
Q: On the front, there is a picture of an old vehicle going along Corporation Road, with Burtons on one corner…
JA: And Newhouse Corner, which people talk about lots. Just the cover itself reminds me of a Middlesbrough that I remember from being a kid. We only came into town odd days to shop. It was a big deal. But it was such a vibrant town, the streets were packed, the shops were packed. It felt quite different to how it feels today, even though I think Middlesbrough has survived quite well as a shopping town. Stockton has suffered, Darlington has suffered but Middlesbrough has managed to maintain that vibrant shopping centre feel about it.
It is fun to look back and be reminded of how we used to dress, how we used to play, how we used to work. There is a section on the river that I guess lots of people will remember in terms of working there.
Q: When it was a working river?
JA: Absolutely. There is some footage of a ship launch and the tug boats working to get ships up and down the river. It is all fascinating stuff.
Q: You launched Memory Bank in May, didn’t you?
JA: We had a launch at the STEM Centre, Middldesbrough College. Mayor Dave Budd said a few words and North East Film Archive gave an overview of how it came about and how to get the best out of the pack. Then we sat and we watched and there was a lot of banter in the room as a result of the memories.
Q: So straight away?
JA: Absolutely, yes. It works. There is a section about Albert Park and just the scores of kids piled on to one piece of equipment. They were having a fine time.
Q: And were people trying to spot faces they knew on the swings and tea pot lid etc?
JA: Yes, people were watching to see if there was anyone they knew. Watching to see if their mam and dad cropped up in some of these films.
We did a pilot where we brought some people in from Ageing Better and we watched some clips, to get a steer on what they thought was important for Middlesbrough. They were all watching intently to see if they recognised anyone. I am sure it will eventually happen that someone will know someone because the DVD will go out to lots of people now.
Q: That will be very interesting when you get that feedback.
JA: We are providing this free to care settings and we are providing it free for people caring for someone with dementia also at this point in time. People can contact me.
Q: I imagine there are a lot of people caring for people that are quite isolated. They might be caring 24/7 for people.
JA: So, this might provide a useful diversion. I am sure they have got lots of diversions in their tool box in how they are caring for that person but this is just one more. This is nice because it is really positive and lots of people can use and enjoy. If you cannot remember that you have seen this before you can probably watch Memory Bank loads and loads of times. And be enthralled by it many times over. There are some up sides to this situation, really.
Q: It is great that we can use film and that we have got all this archive footage of the town.
JA: North East Film Archive are accumulating material all the time. If anyone is out there with old reels of film that they don’t know what to do with then just take it to the film archive. They might wind up in another pack like this someday or they might wind up in a collection of clips. NEFA have put together a couple of Middlesbrough on Film shows for Discover Midddlesbrough that have gone down a storm but that depends on new footage to keep that fresh and popular.
Q: Can I ask you for a little bit of background about Ageing Better and the work that you are doing with over 50s in Middlesbrough?
JA: Ageing Better Middlesbrough is a big Lottery funded project it is a 6 years project, where we are 2 ½ years in, so we have 3 ½ years left to go. It is hosted by Middlesbrough and Stockton MIND as the lead agency. They conduct talking therapies and outreach at the front end, where if people have become socially isolated or need some help to get back out into the world then they are ideally placed to provide that support.
Then there are additional pieces of work that are contracted out. We organise peer friendship, which is one to one befriending service. The Hope Foundation provides digital inclusion and community projects.
So, that means lots of taster sessions, getting people back out and involved in new activities but in existing venues, trying to build up the range of activities and the viability and sustainability of existing community venues.
Digital inclusion is all about teaching older people how to make technology work for them. That can be on a one to one basis. Somebody might have a SMART phone but have no idea how to use it. We would sit down with them and understand from them what they want the phone to do and then just show them those things. Not get into all the things the phone could do. Those little things can put older people off engaging in technology. So, it is nice to have a dedicated part of Ageing Better Middlesbrough that enables people to use technology the way that they want to use it.
The things that Linda Ford has been doing, history walks, Egyptology and family history etc are always busy. They have attracted large numbers of people from day one and continues to. There is a real appetite for it. That has meant that our community venues and activity providers have a steady stream of work. That has got to be good for the sustainability of those activities and those venues in the longer term. Ultimately, although it is a huge project, Ageing Better is time limited. Our aim is to make everything as sustainable as possible so that it all continues as best we can make it.
Q: So, after the end of the six years you don’t want a situation where everything you have build up suddenly grinds to a halt.
JA: That’s right. And the whole point of having six years is that you should be able to do that.
My role is almost a paid trouble maker. I am out there talking to people and finding out what they are interested in and then trying to put them in the driver’s seat as much as possible. So, trying to support them to make new things happen. Or put them in touch with people who are already doing what they want to do and then maybe adding a bit of resource so that it can be more accessible, or do more or work across different geographic patches.
So, a lot of my work is connecting people up with opportunities or listening out for things that people are asking for that aren’t out there already and then making them happen. Some of that is about, what if we try something. So, we have been doing 50+ sports days at the Sports Village and they have been fantastic. They have been so much fun and people now are connecting with physical activity as not a chore but something to look forward to and enjoy. We framed it in a new way. Everybody comes along and has a go. The next 50+ sports day will probably be a women only one. We have had plenty of blokes getting involved but actually not so many women. So, we will see if a women only event is the solution. That will probably be late summer.
We have got men’s sheds cropping up all over the place. We have got one in Berwick Hills. Another one at Frade, Belle Vue shops on Marton Road. They are a furniture recycling business. A registered charity. They take donations of furniture and make it available to people that can’t afford brand new furniture. They have lots of space, not used. So, we have put tools in there and there is a carpenter there. If anybody wants to make something there is someone there to show them how. They might be happy pottering about fixing furniture for Frade or have other ideas. They can do whatever they like there in that space.
Berwick Hills gets regularly a dozen men, on Tuesday morning at Berwick Hills community allotments. FRADE is just starting now. I am sure that will get quite popular too. People might well go between the two. If people just want to turn up have a cup of tea and have a natter then that is equally OK. It is up to them how they use those spaces. Now they are resourced and up and running they should continue on indefinitely. We should have lots of fresh veg in the summer, too.
That is Ageing Better in a nutshell. But we have another three and a bit years for all sorts of interesting ideas to come along and for us to support older people to do another range of interesting things.
We have a digital reporter’s project just kicking off. We will be inviting older people to come along and learn how to collect and tell stories on a blog that we will set up. The question we will pose is what matters to you and then we will support them to go and gather that information and frame those stories and present those stories hopefully in a way that is interesting and engaging and we want to spend maybe a year and see what happens.
A lot of people want to do something or go along to something but there needs to some invitation or intervention that makes it OK to do that. So, we can use the digital journalist project to highlight things and make it easy for people to try something out and be that invitation.
There can big barriers for a lot of people. One is not knowing that all these amazing things are happening out here and Middlesbrough is absolutely overrun with amazing activities if only people knew they were there. We are one part of the overall solution in terms of that. People get their information from so many different places that one agency cannot hope to reach everybody. Yet what we can do is make a big effort to reach as many as we can and that we try as many different avenues to make sure we reach as broad range of the community.
Q: Am I right in thinking you are ask people what they are interested in?
JA: All the time.
Q: Then you can feed back to them.
JA: Yes. We are always interested in talking to older people and that is anyone over 50. And I know that there are lots of people out there thinking I am 51, I am not ‘older.’ But I want to spend this year reaching the 50-65 age group as much as possible, they are busy people. I know they are at work etc. But if we can engage that age group now then we are going to connect them with stuff that will help other people and will be the scaffold for when they turn 67 and are looking for something to do and carry on being involved with the world in that constructive way.
Q: So that when people retire it isn’t a case of what do I do now?
JA: I have spoken to loads of people who have said when they retire it is going to be great and then within three weeks they are climbing the walls because they don’t know what to do with their time. I spoke to a nurse and that is such a social activity, you see people and talk to them all the time then suddenly he was at home all the time. He said we had rescued him from very long days. I think that for me is what this project is all about. It is about providing more for people to do than they than they would have access to ordinarily.
We get lots of good feedback and it is too early to tell what will be the big successes at the end of this. We have got a huge connection into BME communities and that is working really well. It has enabled us to do stuff we thought was never possible. We did a big community meal at the Chinese community centre to introduce Ageing Better Middlesbrough and to hear the sorts of things they were interested in having us work together on.
It will be interesting to see at the end of this whole adventure what we have been managed to achieve. Hopefully we will have lots of really well equipped and confident older people in the driving seat of something that carries the work forward ultimately.
If you would like a copy of the Memory Bank DVD pack please contact John Atkinson – Community Action Officer – Ageing Better Middlesbrough
tel: 01642 955670 email: email@example.com