Between August 2013 and June 2014 I was Principal Investigator on an AHRC-funded research project called ‘Bloomsbury Festival in a Box: engaging socially isolated people with dementia’.
On a basic level, this project aimed to take a peripatetic version of the Bloomsbury Festival, a community focussed arts festival in the heart of London, out to local residents living alone and with dementia. The idea here was to offer a chance for people to engage not just in the reception, but in the collaborative creation of cultural experience. Working with Age UK Camden, and with a pool of Bloomsbury Festival artists, we initiated a programme of weekly visits that take a number of specially designed Festival Boxes out to people’s homes.
Each weekly visit comprised a short cultural activity designed to prompt reminiscence (singing, painting, ceramics work, a poetry recital or writing workshop) followed by a short narrative interview reflecting on the experience. Visits were audio-recorded, and a quantitative single-question happiness measure is also taken at the beginning and close of each session. All artists and researchers also kept research journals reflecting on their experience. Over the course of the project, each of these Festival Boxes developed into a unique cultural archive. They became, in fact, a personalised ‘archive of engagement’ for each participant. Some of the results of this can be seen at the Bloomsbury Festival in a Box Open Archives.
I maintained a blog over the course of this project, which is still open to comment here. To help disseminate and gain some new perspectives on the research I also organised a knowledge-share day at SAS, with speakers from Arts4Dementia, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and other people doing innovative work with people with dementia. You can read more about that event and watch some of the talks as podcasts here.
My own talk from the event, with my co-investigator Dr Claudia Cooper, can be viewed above. Hopefully this talk serves as an introduction and basic overview of the project.