Heritage Pathfinders: What does the Future of Heritage hold?

21st June, 2021

Guest blog by Tim Senior, supersum

There has been a lot in the news recently about continued delays to social care reform in the UK. Helping people live well with dementia in their communities is an important priority and will need all of us – not just policy makers – to rethink how we can make it a reality.

Heritage Pathfinders

The Heritage Pathfinders programme asks how a creative engagement with heritage – the tangible and intangible substance that makes up our shared past, inspires the present, and directs the future – can help people adjust to the changes dementia brings in their own communities. In this instance, heritage might come with a big ‘H’ (museums, archives and historic sites etc…) or a ‘small h‘ (the objects, stories and values that inform our everyday lives together).

A growing body of evidence affirms that arts-based and cultural interventions can elevate people above the stresses of dementia, slow degeneration, improve memory and communication, help drive social interaction and (re)-connection, and provide an important means of self-expression. How the power of arts and culture might be integrated into our everyday lives to bring the Adjusting to Change model to life is, however, an open question.

Principally, we need to ask how how the experiences of those with dementia can be held at the centre of that work – developing innovative new approaches with, rather than for, people with a dementia. This means engaging with heritage professionals and artist practitioners in new ways, experimenting with different approaches, and taking some of the risks associated with doing new work.

Heritage Pathfinders is our vehicle for this activity – a nine month programme (May-December 2021) designed through a partnership between the Leominster Meeting Centre for people affected by dementia and the wicked problems agency supersum. At the heart of the programme is an £18K Seedcorn Fund which will fund an exciting new cohort of projects that put dementia experience at the centre of heritage innovation.

Our twelve Pathfinders – all from the Herefordshire – represent a wide variety disciplines: from ‘spoken word’ to archaeology, from blacksmithing to oral history, from Fine Art to dance movement psychotherapy. Many of the Pathfinders bring years of expertise to the programme on how to support people with dementia through creative engagement. By working together, we aim to draw on that collective expertise and strengthen the Pathfinders programme.

Work in Progress

We have just completed the first stage of the programme. In those six weeks, our focus has been on helping Pathfinders engage with Meeting Centre activities and values. By each spending time face-to-face at the Centre, pathfinders have gained a better sense of the interests of members, the structure of daily routines, and heritage project potentials.

In parallel, online sessions with the whole cohort have helped us establish key values to be taken forward in Pathfinder projects. These activities were conducted online through the programme’s dedicated Wonder.Me board (a virtual space where people can meet, talk and curate conversations) and Miro whiteboards (virtual canvasses offering a variety of visual collaborative tools).

We have, for example, explored what heritage means to each of us, pinpointing complementary and contrasting values in the form heritage can take, who it’s for and the impact it can have: heritage can being something that brings people together whilst also excluding others; it can be a ‘fun day out’ but also what we carry with us in every action and word. These are conversations, also held with members, that we will return to over the course of the programme.

Through these sessions we have asked what creativity and imagination can bring to someone with dementia in terms of helping build shared experiences, revealing the individual rather than the illness, and increasing wellbeing through active participation (with Rachel Watson from artist-led social enterprise Small Things).

Finally, we have asked what role technology might play in Pathfinder projects to broaden participation and enhance experience (with design researcher Elaine Czech). Here we have adopted four principles for successful technology-use developed by Community Makers: Technology may have a place only if it works for the person using it (enables agency), can be used purposeful, connects that person to something valuable (such as information, people or experiences), and has the right support behind it (both technical and social).

Watch this space!

With these values in place, we all feel more confident that the programme will lead to project ideas that can strengthen (rather than interfere with) Leominster Meeting Centre life. We have now received Pathfinder applications to the Seedcorn Fund, with decisions on how to best take projects forward made by the end of June.

What follows will be a six month period of project development and delivery, in which pathfinders will have the time and support they need to work closely with Leominster Meeting Centre and re-shape their project ideas together with members, families, carers, and community partners. In parallel, online and in-person cohort workshops will address monitoring and evaluation strategies, explore inclusive design methods, and ask what actions might be taken to put project legacies in place.

Who knows what the Future of Heritage holds?

With thanks to the Heritage Pathfinders team (Dr Tim Senior, Dr Shirley Evans and Cindy Watson), programme partners Leominster Meeting Centre and Association for Dementia Studies at the University of Worcester, and our Pathfinders. Heritage Pathfinders is funded by the Tudor Trust. To find out more about the programme, please contact us at heritage@leominstermeetingcentre.co.uk