Sensory Palaces

Sensory Palaces 12 May 2015 photography Tim Mitchell
Sensory Palaces 12 May 2015 photography Tim Mitchell

Sensory Palaces is a health and wellbeing programme, managed by the Learning & Engagement (L&E) team at Historic Royal Palaces, for people living with early stage dementia and their carers. The programme, currently based at Hampton Court Palace, engages audiences in the palaces through a unique combination of senses, spaces and stories.

This programme aims to fulfil HRP’s cause, which is to help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. L&E are responsible for reaching the widest possible audience, enabling them to discover and enjoy the stories of the palaces.

Sensory Palaces was developed, piloted and reviewed over two years from April 2014 – March 2016. From April 2016 it has been rolled out as a fortnightly on-going offer at Hampton Court Palace. The programme is reviewed regularly and set to expand to Kew Palace in 2017.

Sessions are two hours in length. They are delivered by expert freelancers, skilled in supporting people living with dementia and their carers.

The aim of the programme is to increase the sense of health and wellbeing in people living with early stage dementia and their carers encouraging new learning opportunities in a safe and welcoming environment. It seeks to become a best practice model of engagement that can be translated to other HRP and heritage sites, to serve this growing population.

Sensory Palaces is core funded by HRP, with additional support from corporate members Stewart’s Law. Sessions are free for participants.

Description of the arts activity

Sensory Palaces engages audiences through a unique combination of senses, spaces and stories.
Each session provides a chance to explore stories from the palace, participate in fun, sensory activities, and build social connections.

Sensory Palaces sessions always include: a welcome, refreshments and introduction to the session; exploration of one part of the palace; sensory and participatory activities; and group discussion, reflection and goodbye.

The sensory and participatory activities vary each time, taking in music, drama, dance, storytelling and arts and crafts. For example a sensory tour of the William III’s private apartments is followed by music making inspired by the baroque period or a session in the Tudor apartments is delivered through interactive drama-recreating with the participants the christening procession for Edward VI.

All sessions encourage active participation, discussion and social interaction.

Details of the project participants

Sensory Palaces sessions are for people at early stage of dementia and their carers. Participants are recruited from local branches of Alzheimer’s Society and other local dementia care organisations (Dementia Concern, local care home) in the Richmond, Kingston, Hounslow and Ealing boroughs. We also reach individual, self-referring participants through marketing campaigns in dementia cafes.

All sessions need to be booked in advance. Session description sheets detailing the level of participation needed, access issues and learning outcomes is provided to potential participants to help them assess suitability of the session to their particular needs and interests. Further queries are answered by the programme team by phone.

Project management

Project management
Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that cares for the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland.

The programme is managed by two Learning Producers. Governance is provided by the Project Owner, part of the senior L&E management team.

Sessions are delivered by a team of eight freelance facilitators, and supported by volunteers.
The partnership with Alzheimer’s Society was crucial in developing the programme during the pilot phase as it provided access to and support for this audience. All dementia care partners are responsible for recruiting and supporting their service users.
All Sensory Palaces freelancers take part in annual skills sharing/training programme as part of their role.
The programme is free to the participants.

Prior to the booking of their first Sensory Palaces session participants’ individual needs are discussed directly with them. Continuous feedback on sessions is gathered from all participants and participating organisations to ensure the best possible outcomes for the participants.

Consent is sought from the participants for evaluation and photography purposes in advance and is not an excluding factor for the participation in the programme.

Evaluation methods and findings

We have used a mixed methodology to evaluate the programme. During three months of the pilot (April-June 2015) external consultants Willis Newson evaluated the programme using quantitative (based on the UCL Wellbeing Toolkit) and qualitative (participant case studies, observation, stakeholder interviews) measures. Following this, we have evaluated the programme in-house using qualitative methods of case studies, observation and monitoring.

In 2017 we will work with an academic research partner, looking to establish a measurable relationship between increasing public health and wellbeing through sensory learning in a heritage environment.

Summary of the Willis Newson evaluation report states:
Sensory Palaces provided a variety of ways and levels at which participants could access the historical environment of Hampton Court Palace and its stories.These stories were told in a way that was enjoyable and engaging and which provided stimulus for participants to keep learning and to communicate their own stories and knowledge with others. The sessions made an impression on the mind of people who participated, bringing back past memories and making new ones.

The programme was delivered in a welcoming environment. Both communication and social connection were valued by those who took part. This evaluation shows that taking part in the programme may be particularly beneficial in improving participants’ mood and increasing their sense of engagement and their enjoyment of being with others.
(Willis Newson, September 2015)

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England