The Beaford Archive and Memory Cafes

It’s their experience of life, not their experience of dementia
— Sophie Hatch, Hidden Histories Memory Café Workshop Leader

Sophie has over 10 years’ experience leading arts and wellbeing workshops in north Devon through her work at The Plough Arts Centre, Creative Catharsis, and in the Memory Cafes network. Over the past eighteen months she has led workshops for the Hidden Histories project, engaging with over 200 members of our communities with different levels of dementia, memory problems and complex needs.

“We’ve been working with a variety of Memory Cafes across rural north Devon, in Winkleigh, Northam, South Molton, Barnstaple, Hatherleigh, and Torrington, and we’re in the early stages of working with Braunton. We’ve worked with the Archive to select local photographs of the area where the Memory Cafés are based. In the workshops we’ve been using the Archive photographs as an engagement tool to discuss the local area, talk about possible people they recognise in the photos, or maybe just the way of life or the way that a street has changed or a location has adapted through the years. It’s a great stimulus tool for the people at the Memory Cafés as it’s not just me who can use the photographs to work with the participants  - the carers and everyone else can too. It becomes a talking point where they can reminisce and it’s not just that they’re there to talk about their experience of dementia: it’s about their experience of life.

Each location has responded very differently to the Archive. In Winkleigh, there’s an awful lot of photographs based around the Carnival and so everyone was so excited to see all of these pictures and to engage with the old rituals they used to have that may have been lost.

In South Molton there are lots of pictures of the Pannier Market and so it’s really celebrating the fresh produce and the local artwork they have there, which is really lovely as the Market is still there today. For Torrington, we chose a selection of photographs based around the May Fair which, again, is still going strong and it’s really reflecting on the people in the photographs then, who participants recognise now. 

We had a really lovely experience of a chap with dementia who couldn’t remember an awful lot but he looked at a photograph and surprised even his carer because he recognised a shop in Bideford and his cousin serving behind the counter. It was fulfilment for him, very helpful for us learning more details about the photo, but also for the carer who felt warmed because he was able to remember.

The Archive is important for the communities of north Devon because it’s a way of remembering how life has been. Many people who attend the Memory Cafés have lived there all their lives or have recently moved to the area – so it’s either a chance to reminisce or a way to get to know the community they’re now part of.

I think it’s important because you look at this picture book of how life was, and very often you get a greater sense of community. Having these photos is a reminder for us to connect with our neighbours and to keep these relationships strong; to support our local shops and village squares and to celebrate rural life.

Using the Archive is a different way to work with Memory Cafes because it’s based on picture stimulus and enables us to engage with people with advanced dementia. By having the photo there we’re not reliant on words or speech: we’re reliant on the engagement and giving back to that person, and that person being able to give back to the Archive. 

A really lovely thing about the Archive is that I go in with a selection of photographs, but then everyone wants to know where they can see more. 

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