Dementia friendly cultural venues in East Cheshire

ContactAnne Sherman, Arts Officer
Telephone01270 686091
AddressWestfields, Middlewich Road, Sandbach, Cheshire, CW11 1HZ

Object Dialogue BoxCheshire East Council’s Arts, Heritage and Cultural Services are delivering an Arts and Dementia programme as part of its Ageing Well initiative to encourage the development of ‘dementia friendly’ cultural venues.

Having established a good Singing for the Brain network across the borough and a range of inclusive arts projects for residents in care, this year’s focus has been on encouraging ‘dementia friendly’ cultural venues.


For the last 12 months we have worked with a small local museum in Nantwich to develop an offer for local residents living with dementia.  The aim was to provide a community based activity as well as positioning the museum as a provider of commissioned services in the future.

What change was introduced and how was this done?

Professional artist Karl Foster was commissioned to work with museum staff, volunteers and people living with dementia to develop an Object Dialogue Box inspired by the museum’s collection for use in community and care settings for conversation and reminiscence groups.  Karl has been commissioned by larger institutions like Imperial Museum and Manchester Art Galleries but not worked with a smaller organisation before.  This was also his first experience of working with a dementia focus.

Resources required

Cheshire East Arts Council provided a budget of approx £10,000 for professional fees and resources, PR materials, training costs and refreshments.

The project was managed by Arts Officer for Health & Older People working in collaboration with the Museum Manager, with support in kind from Manchester Art Galleries and the Alzheimer’s Society.  Staff and volunteers (approx 12) received dementia awareness and safeguarding training.


Alzheimer’s Society is signposting clients to the museum activities. Dementia friendly social activities have been running for six months and are well attended by approx 14-22 people, some in care, most living in the community.  Participants are very satisfied with the service and describe the sessions as a lifeline.  Most are visiting the museum for the first time and report feeling more confident to go to other venues now.

The new dementia resources will be launched in April 2014 and have been trialled with creative writing groups and ‘creative thinking’ school sessions.  The museum has raised its profile within the community as a potential health & wellbeing provider and is deemed ‘commission-ready’.  Staff members are attending local health & wellbeing events to make new contacts as well as arts and dementia learning events further afield.  A safeguarding policy is now in place.  The Happy Museum evaluation tools are been trialled.  Local library staff are now working with the museum to update their reminiscence resources.


This project showed how a small museum can learn from larger institutions like Manchester Art Gallery and develop an appropriate smaller scale service led by local service users.  Although the initial focus was on an artist’s commission, we soon realised that a more modest offer of tea, coffee and chat was appreciated just as much.

There is a great willingness to do something for people living with dementia but staff and volunteers can be over anxious about doing the wrong thing  – taking plenty of time to reflect on learning was beneficial as was providing staff with dementia awareness training, a good starting point to get fears and concerns out in the open.  It became apparent that some staff/volunteers were too close to dementia in their personal lives at this moment in time to feel comfortable engaging with issues at work also and this was a useful learning point for future working.

Future plans

Work has begun on a dementia friendly project at Tatton Park, and discussions are under way for a future programme at Silk Heritage Centre, Macclesfield.  Also under discussion, a dementia friendly offer for Cheshire East libraries service.

An arts and dementia best practice seminar is planned for May 2014, and CPD programme for theatre practitioners to develop a Creative Storytelling project.

Key learning points

  • Sustainability – you don’t have to plan a grand project, focus on what is the least you can do ie tea and coffee once a month.
  • Don’t clash with other similar activities in the area.
  • Do include all the costings – heating, refreshments, staff time – you will need the information for any future funding applications.
  • Plan evaluation that is informed by local dementia outcomes
  • Share your learning with other arts and health organisations