Geffrye Museum projects and programmes

Evergreens tabletop gardening, Geffrye Museum

For over a decade the Geffrye Museum has worked with older adults (55+) from the local community through a variety of projects and programmes grounded in strong relationships with local older peoples services.  At the start of 2015, the Geffrye was awarded three years funding from the City Bridge Trust (2015-2017) in order to build on the museum’s successes and deepen engagement with more vulnerable older adults through the Feeling at Home project. Feeling at Home aims to use the Geffrye’s building, collections and gardens to contribute to the wellbeing of older adults aged over 75, as well as those living with dementia and those who are socially isolated. The approach is twofold: to support visits to the museum and to take the museum out to those who cannot get to it. As well as ensuring the museum and its collection is accessible and inclusive, Feeling at Home aims to inspire informal lifelong and creative learning, to recognise the value of stories and memories held amongst this audience to the museum’s understanding and interpretation of its 20th century collection, and to include older adults’ voices in decision making in relation to the project and wider museum activity.

There are three main strands of programme delivery:

  • Evergreen Gardeners: a group of 16 older adults with a variety of abilities and disabilities visit the museum to do gardening in accessible raised beds as well as garden-related arts and crafts activities. The group regularly visit one Thursday morning a month (March-December, excluding August) for two hours. Sessions are free, transport is provided for participants, and a personal care support assistant is employed by the museum in order to make this club accessible and inclusive.
  • Tea Parties in partnership with Contact the Elderly: one Sunday afternoon a month, for two hours, Contact the Elderly groups visit the museum to have a tea party as well as see the galleries, do object handling or do a simple art activity. Transport is arranged via Contact the Elderly who work with volunteer drivers.
  • Outreach: every year approximately 20 sessions are delivered off-site to local partner organisations such as hospitals, care homes and day centres. These sessions are scheduled in seasons, March-June and September-December. Sessions are 60-90 minutes long, and include an introduction to the Geffrye, object handling and often a simple arts activity. The Older People’s Advisory Panel meet quarterly and there are nine members including museum staff who work with older adults, representatives from partner organisations and participants from Evergreen Gardeners.

Description of the arts activity

During object handling and creative workshops, conversations, sharing and interactions are at the heart of sessions. Sociability, inquiry and learning as well as reminiscence are emphasised. Sessions are also designed to be multisensory, which is important for older adults who may live with sensory impairments as well as other conditions such as dementia. Sessions often involve cuttings from the garden and handling objects which lend themselves to multisensory engagement.  Taking inspiration from objects in the collection and the gardens, art activities which have been done in the past include making lavender bags, painting coasters, and printing tea towels. Activities and sessions are tailored to the needs and interests of the group, and are facilitated in a responsive and flexible way so that activity suits the older adults to best support their engagement and potential to contribute to their wellbeing.

Details of the project participants

Feeling at Home aims to engage older adults aged over 75, and those living with dementia and who are socially isolated from the 6 boroughs surrounding the Geffrye Museum (Hackney, Islington, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, and Haringey).
Partnerships are key to recruitment for Feeling at Home. Individuals who are accessing services can be signposted to us and referral from local partners including housing schemes, the local mobile library service and Contact the Elderly have been particularly successful.

Project management

Feeling at Home is co-ordinated by a Project Coordinator and managed by the Access and Public Programmes Manager at the Geffrye Museum. A team of freelance staff and volunteers, specifically recruited because of their skills and experience working with older adults, also support the project.

Activity is at no charge to partners or participants. The funding from City Bridge Trust covers all costs.

In order to ensure quality, relevance and value of Feeling at Home, the museum works closely in partnership with older people’s services. These partners share their expertise and experience, and help the museum remain up to date on best practice. New staff and volunteers go through an induction and receive ongoing relevant training.

The museum has policies and procedures in place to ensure activity is safe and accessible, such as its Safeguarding Adults policy and Fire Evacuation procedures. Risk assessments are complete for all activity.

The involvement of the Advisory Panel, as well as ongoing feedback and reflection ensure the project continues to be effective and successful.

Evaluation methods and findings

Our evaluation approach is largely based around the UCL Museum Wellbeing Measures Toolkit. Two of the main tools designed by UCL have been adapted for use to measure the impact on older people’s wellbeing across Feeling at Home activity; firstly, the Positive Wellbeing Umbrella has been adapted to measure the wellbeing of Evergreen Gardeners at the start and end of sessions and secondly, the questions from the Thoughts and Comments sheet have been taken and turned into a postcard which Contact the Elderly guests complete at the end of a tea party.
Observation has also been a key evaluation methodology; freela

ncers, volunteers and the Project Coordinator take note of interactions, conversations and other indicators which may be useful feedback as well as evidence of potential impact on wellbeing. Debriefs take place at the end of each session. As well as the UCL Toolkit suggesting indicators, the team also use the New Economics Foundation 5 ways to wellbeing as a frame for observation and reflection.

Feedback is also obtained from older people’s group leaders, particularly following outreach sessions.

To offer an insight into the impact of Feeling at Home, here are a few key findings:

  • Sessions encourage physical activity – gardening and arts activities encourage dexterity, movement and exercise for participants.
  • Sessions encourage social interaction and connect older people to each other and to new people (e.g. staff and volunteers) – conversation and company are key foundations to our sessions. Individuals share stories and ideas, and we have found that individuals who regularly meet are supportive of one another. After one outreach session a group leader commented: "I noticed a few new residents talking to other residents. Also one more able man was helping a lady who had had a stroke." The Evergreen Gardeners who regularly see each other every month have been particularly supportive of one another when participants have faced difficult times.
  • Sessions encourage lifelong informal and creative learning – participants enjoy learning and discovering new things, and trying new things out. Sometimes participants need a bit more encouragement to do art activities but often once they start, they find themselves enjoying it and getting a lot out of it. One group leader commented also on the sense of achievement gained with this:  "The beauty of the session was it was so 'do-able' and all the tenants got a great sense of satisfaction on seeing their finished art work... (and after) there was lots of talk amongst clients about their own printed tea towels, they seemed to be immensely proud of what they had been able to achieve in that activity."

Please see published Evergreens report on our website:

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England