Museum of Oxford Memory Lane and Movers & Shakers reminiscence group

Museum of Oxford Memory Lane
Museum of Oxford Memory Lane

Memory Lane
The Memory Lane reminiscence session is a regular group that meet at the Museum of Oxford to encourage older people to attend the Museum and share reminiscences around a theme. Some sessions are held at local heritage sites to tie in with a particular topic. The project aims to engage older audiences in Museum activities and use the material collected to inform Museum exhibitions and projects. The project began in 2010 and is now an established part of the Museums programme.

Memory Lane Movers and Shakers
In 2014 we introduced a music and movement group to compliment the Memory Lane programme which further supports wellbeing for participants. Content from the Memory Lane sessions is used to inspire a gentle dance and music group that meets monthly at the Museum. A professional dance practitioner guides the group through a series of movements and dance which can be performed whilst seated. The theme of the session is based on the topics that have been explored at Memory Lane group meetings. For example to compliment the Autumn Leaves Memory Lane session Movers and Shakers was based on trees and autumn leaves using props such as silk scarves to interpret falling leaves through dance and movement. Music is also chosen to reflect the theme.
Both projects are funded by Arts Council England via the Major Partner Museum programme at the Oxford University Museums Partnership. In kind funding is provided the Museum of Oxford (Oxford City Council)

Description of the arts activity

The session is centred around a presentation and speakers on the topic. Participants are encouraged to contribute their memories and anecdotes to the session and this is facilitated by the Reminiscence Officer.  Each session is recorded with a copy of the session recording being offered to each of the participants. A copy is also given to the Oxford County Archive Service at Oxfordshire History Centre so that it can be accessed by future generations and provides a valuable source of living history.  During the session we have refreshment breaks to enable the participants to socialise. Another positive outcome of the Memory Lane group for participants has been achieved through participation in other Museum of Oxford and partner projects. Over the years sessions have been run to coincide with the theme of Oxford Open Doors, an annual weekend event run by the Oxford Preservation Trust which enables the public to explore behind closed doors across the City in a celebration of what makes Oxford special.

Memory Lane sessions generate wide ranging content, from sound recordings for exhibition listening posts in temporary exhibitions and permanent galleries, quotes for exhibition panels, photos and documents for reproduction in exhibition panels for display, objects for exhibition display or accession to the collection and oral history content for radio documentaries. This provides participants with a tangible sense of worth and enables them to attend exhibition launches with their families and friends to share their successes and contributions. There have been several unexpected and incredibly positive outcomes arising through participation in the groups, for example the camaraderie and development of new friendships in the group as well as old friendships being rekindled. Group members have offered each other a great deal of support. When we arranged an offsite session one lady, who was in her 80s, offered to drive other members to the session. If participants are unwell then group members offer to help out and have visited each other in hospital. Therefore Memory Lane has contributed to significant positive social outcomes such as reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness and helping to build positive relationships and networks of support in the community. In order to offer a varied programme and spark new conversations sessions are sometimes delivered at partner organisations venues. As well as being popular with participants it provides as opportunity for our partner organisations to increase their community engagement. Examples of this include a session exploring trees and autumn leaves at the Harcourt Arboretum.

Details of the project participants

There is no age limit for the group but the majority of the participants are in their late 70s and early 80s. To ensure the group is accessible and welcoming participants attend on a drop-in basis with no booking required and there are over 300 people on the mailing list. The group is free of charge and volunteers help to serve light refreshments to make the environment supportive and comfortable for the participants. The project is marketed to existing contacts by email and social media and shared via the Museums website and posters. Participants can also be referred via the Prescription for Museums scheme.

Project management

The project was delivered by the Reminiscence Officer at the Museum of Oxford. There is no cost for participation and consent forms are obtained for any audio and visual material that is shared on websites or in exhibition

Evaluation methods and findings

The outcomes of Memory Lane and Movers and Shakers were explored through collaboration with the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford. The research combined surveys, observations, focus groups and in-depth interviews to gain a rich and contextualised picture of the sessions’ impacts. The findings show that the reminiscence aspect of the session was particularly useful in facilitating a connection between participants from different walks of life. Participants also reported positive impacts on their wellbeing, arguing the sessions helped them to keep active and engaged. The recording of the sessions and the incorporation of elements into museum exhibits were also a great source of pride for the participants who felt they were preserving local history.

The report can be found here:

Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England