European Reminisence Network

Review of RTRT project: UK

Bradford, Yorkshire

RTRT Bradford

Memorable moments that took place in our RTRT group

  • “This is the best group ever”

    Dan was reluctant to join the project because he thought his wife Annie would be too severely impaired to be able to contribute. Annie was quiet and shy to begin with, but Dan liked the sessions and they kept coming. Memorable moments were when we asked “What’s your favourite smell?” and she said “Dan”; when she walked into the room, saw the group leaders and flung her arms wide to hug them

  • When we did the wedding enactment, Dan and Annie volunteered to get married again. Annie rose to the occasion and it was very powerful and moving for everyone.

  • During the wedding session, someone took the role of wedding photographer and took formal photos of everyone – they really enjoyed it, there was a very festive atmosphere, everyone felt part of the occasion

  • Our bonfire was pile of sticks and tissue paper on a church hall table, with tea lights around it, and we sat on plastic chairs. But we ate warm jacket potatoes in foil on our laps and sang camp-fire songs; there was a tremendous atmosphere in the room. Annie talked more than ever, telling us a lot about gathering wood for a bonfire as a child and everyone coming to her garden for bonfire parties

  • “There’s been so much laughter”

    We held up each person’s string of bunting for everyone to see, and explained what was on each flag. Betty suddenly recognised her own story and became very animated saying “this is all about me.” For the rest of the meeting she kept getting up to look at her bunting, going from flag to flag saying “this is me, this is me”

The main things we have learned


Successes to build on:

  • Sometimes the simplest things work best. During planning, one of the leaders was sceptical about the pretend bonfire activity, but it was a great success, perhaps because of the multi-layered sensory aspect: first seeing something that really looked like a bonfire emerge from a pile of sticks and tissue paper, then the smell of baking potatoes from the kitchen, the warmth of the potatoes, the melting butter and cheese, the taste as we ate them, the real flames of the tea lights, the songs and jokes and laughter

  • “We feel really welcome - that’s something that doesn’t always happen, you know”

    Having a plan for the session is important but you need to be flexible and able make quick decisions. Sometimes it’s best to drop something you’ve planned if everyone is engaged with an activity

  • There’s a lot to being a good facilitator. You need to be sensitive and open to listening, but you’ve got to stay in charge of the session and keep it moving too. There’s an art to pacing and timing

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • “The thing I don’t like is that it has to stop. I don’t know what we’ll do on Wednesday afternoons when we stop coming here”

    Getting the right kind of room is important. If it’s too big or too small or too cold it kills the atmosphere. If it’s echoey or there’s a lot of background noise, it’s impossible because people can’t hear each other

  • If you are working with large numbers it can become more superficial and impersonal. It can work, but it’s hard to give people enough time to have their say to the whole group, and feel that they are known to everyone there. It’s much easier to work with about 8 families, but you usually need to invite 10 to have 6-8 attending the sessions

The main things that the carers in our groups learned about reminiscence

It’s hard to judge what they learned, but we think that some people learned:

  • That it’s not about testing their person’s memory

  • How good it feels to remember what it was like to be young and energetic and carefree.

  • Carers who are driven dotty by hearing the same story over and over again sometimes learn that other people can enjoy hearing the story, and don’t mind hearing it several times over

  • How singing, dancing and performing familiar activities from the past brings back the feel of being younger and more in control of life. Some carers can see how it brings their person’s able self to the fore

  • Having a specific theme to think about can provide them with an activity to enjoy all week – it provides a reason to get the photos from school days out and look at them and talk about it

What the people with dementia in our groups gained from the project:


  • The pleasure of belonging to a group where they can play a full active part, hold the floor, make jokes, feel appreciated and fully accepted

  • Some became more and more confident about telling their stories and even started to challenge the carer’s version of events

  • An opportunity to feel relaxed and sociable in a group of people sitting around the tea table, and sensing that their carer was relaxed too

  • Some found a sense of solidarity with other participants with dementia and felt they had made new friends


Other UK groups

View the project reports from our partner organisations:
Woolwich, London
Camden, London
Westminster, London
Bradford, Yorkshire

Using the arts

Using the arts in our reminiscence groups

We used the arts playfully, always trying to avoid pressure and make it fun. We used singing, dancing, enactments, drawing, writing, and people brought poems and read them out.

Benefits of using the arts: they provide ways for people to express themselves without the need for words – they can reduce the pressure of having to speak.

They draw on memories – this generation did a lot of dancing and singing when they were younger.

The warm-ups can be like a dance form.

Drawbacks of using the arts: for some people it can be a bit intimidating at first.

Some people freeze up when it comes to drawing, others love it.

It can appear childish, patronising, silly, embarrassing to some people, especially if presented in a teacherly way, but if leaders and/or volunteers have talent, it can feel like a privilege to be part of it.

Products we made


We made bunting (a string of flags) for each participant. There were selected photos and things written about the person’s life on the flags. Participants made some of their flags during the sessions – the leaders put them together at home, which was quite a lot of work.

Future plans

Future plans

We’ve got some funding to run two groups for people who have been recently diagnosed with dementia.

Their carers will mainly be in a separate group, learning about what works well and what begins to go wrong in the brain when someone has dementia.

Contact us

Contact us

European Reminiscence Network, London, UK

Pam Schweitzer

Lottery funded

Co-funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union

Lifelong Learning Programme

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.This website reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.