European Reminisence Network

Review of RTRT project: UK

Westminster Arts in association with European Reminiscence Network

RTRT Westminster

Memorable moments that took place in our RTRT group

  • “I have made real friends”

    John talking about working down the mine by candlelight in Roscommon aged 17: how he grew in confidence as he realised how transfixed everyone was with the story, and how everyone talked about what a breadth of experience the group has with a real sense of pride of belonging afterwards

  • Jasmine and HughHugh growing in his understanding and confidence with reminiscence until he was both suggesting and demonstrating to the group things he had tried at home with his mother

  • There was an extraordinary moment when Derek, who found memory recall extremely difficult, came to the session having just stopped a runaway horse in Hyde Park, calling on his remembered horsemanship skills. Not only was he able to recall the event in detail, but he had his audience’s rapt attention; this greatly supported both his own sense of self and also that of his partner, who is struggling with the loss of her once capable husband

  • “The people who organised it did a wonderful job”

    Mary stunning her partner by remembering things from schooldays that he clearly had thought she had forgotten

  • The way John and Mick, two men with dementia, loved sparring; how this sustained their relationship even when they couldn’t remember things that had been said about each other

The main things we have learned


Successes to build on:

  • “It was nice to meet different people”

    We found it was well worth ensuring that each session has a range of stimuli and ways for the participants to express themselves, so that there will something for everyone; also ensuring that people get to work in a range of ways, for example, by themselves, with a volunteer, with their own partner, with a different partner, in small groups, in one large group, as this will bring different things out in people. People were then able to shine at different times

  • For the second series we had a really nice venue with an outdoor space and this both upped the feeling of specialness about the project and also afforded more opportunities. Good quality refreshments on nice crockery added to making the participants feel very special and is something we would like to build on

  • “I really enjoyed the dancing”

    For an alternative evaluation tool, a pass the parcel box decorated with photos from the project was prepared with objects inside it to help people remember past sessions: we were thrilled by how much people remembered and were able to comment on the sessions. This kind of informal evaluation is both more appropriate than written evaluation and supports people in remembering, and we would like to develop more arts based ways of getting feedback and a sense of how much people had remembered of the project as a whole

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • We needed a longer run-in to recruitment to ensure that the carers and people with dementia could be ready for the first session – in future I would run an open session for professionals to attend very early on to brief them about the project and sample the kind of activities that will take place to help them with brokering the project

  • Make sure the space to be used has good access both to the venue and within the venue. Though there was a lift at our first venue, not having level entry made people feel nervous

  • “I would have liked it to be an ongoing group”

    When participants are asked to bring things in from home, alternatives need to be provided: either a range of possible objects/photos/picture downloaded from the internet that might be similar (they can talk about what was different about their own); or someone might draw a picture of the object, place, outfit etc as the participant describes it. Care needs to be taken that the participants don’t feel bad if they are not able to bring in things from home, or have forgotten

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


  • How to use every day activities as opportunities for reminiscence, from folding clothes to going out for walks to places they have been to in the past to stimulate memories

  • “All the stories were fascinating, and I am hearing a lot more about John that I didn’t know before, he is coming up with a lot of things”

    How important socialising is for both themselves and the people they care for

  • How every part of a person’s life is full of potential reminiscence opportunities

  • How to use objects as a starting point for reminiscence

  • How life enhancing reminiscence work can be, and that it need not stop even when someone’s memories are failing

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


  • A chance to just relax and be sociable in a group with no fear of stigma; new friends – it is so important to make ‘post-diagnosis’ friends; a sense of having a really great time with lots of fun and laughter; perhaps to relax a bit more around the idea of memories and just be happy with what can be recalled

Future plans

  • Another project will run in 2012-13 with an emphasis on training staff in arts reminiscence, hopefully at a new day centre that is planned for the borough where we hope to site our reminiscence items. It will once more draw on a range of art forms and, though the arts outcome has not yet been discussed, we are hoping that the project will create artwork for the new centre







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

In the first 6 sessions the arts were used to support people reliving their memories:

Drama was used for example to re-enact playground games, the classroom, wedding memories, jobs that the group had done.

Dance was also used in the “going out” reminiscence session.

Group poetry was used to explore the themes of spring and summer holidays/day trips.

Drawing was used to illustrate people’s memories and help them to add detail.

Photography was used to support memory of the sessions.

In the second 6 sessions the participants used:

Photography, felting, collage, drama, dance, listening to music, creative writing, poetry and drawing to stimulate and express their memories.

An example: in pairs they told each other stories about their jobs, which were then acted out behind a back projected screen and the drama was photographed. These silhouettes were printed and used in the memory cushions.

Benefits of using the arts: the arts create a relaxed and congenial environment: within the fun and laughter, the participants forget they have memory issues and thus find it easier to access stories.

During a drama session, as people are living in the moment, the memories come through the body (ie they are accessed less cerebrally)

The absorption of the activity of making art also supports this memory accessing.


Art can also support group development as well as socialising and having fun.

Group produced work lessens anxieties people may have about joining in arts activity.

Using a range of art forms means that different activities can appeal to different people and there is generally something for everyone.

Drawback of using the arts:Some people bring fear or the memory of a bad experience to the idea of approaching arts work and this is a barrier to be overcome before they can really start benefitting from it.


Products we made

Memory cushions – bolster type cushions decorated with favourite meals in felt

Printed photos, stories and written material from the past and also from the workshop

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.