Entelechy Arts Little Boxes of Memory

Memory boxes have been used with people with dementia as prompts for recall and reminiscence across the world. Now they are almost standard items in care homes where residents, families and staff are usually involved in assembling the contents. These personalised boxes are often mounted on or at the side of residents’ bedroom doors providing a cue for those who may find it difficult to differentiate their bedroom door from the others along the corridor and to stimulate conversation with staff and with families.

Life-story work that leads to the creation of life-story or memory books has become widely used. The format provides a useful framework for anyone who wants to work with people with dementia to develop boxes or books. For a template click here.

Entelechy Arts, based at Albany Deptford, have developed a more interactive approach to creating and using memory boxes inspired by their sister company, Casa das Fases in Londrina, Brazil. Cases das Fases is one of the country’s leading older peoples’ performance companies and unsurprisingly the company have innovated a approach whereby the life stories of older people are transposed into miniature portable theatres full of objects and artefacts and these Little Boxes of Memories are used by older ‘performers’ to engage with their audiences.

This more dynamic encounter with an audience includes dramatic narrative and often sensory experience

All three photographs show Casa de Fases and Entelechy Arts staging a joint performance of Little Boxes of Memory involving an audience at the Royal Festival Hall in 2010:

Entelechy Arts have worked with this methodology over the years, introducing it in their work with older people at the Albany and this project further develops and improves upon it. In partnership with the Museum of London, Entelechy Arts has embarked on a London based programme whereby the co design of little boxes of memories is facilitated by older people acting as curators and young people who have profound and multiple disabilities.

The older people include patients on Beech Ward (a Stroke Unit) at University Hospital Lewisham, residents in Manley Court care home and community dwelling socially isolated older people, who are sharing their London life stories through reciprocal relationships  with artists enabling them to retrieve memories through working with textiles, weaving, poetry, drawing and music.

One older participant wove a message that we can interpret in many different ways during a workshop in the Siobhan Davies Dance Studios, South London. Facilitated by Shane Waltener, the company’s current resident artist who is a sculptor/weaver and Entelechy’s Creative Producer Rebecca Swift, a group of dancers and public participants explored the performative dimensions of Shane’s craft.

The work of the artists is supported by Entelechy’s older volunteers – some of whom are also members of the Seven Ages Theatre Group who devise and perform work of their own, often at Entelechy’s very successful 21st century Tea Dances.

Photo Credits: Casa das Fases Collection. For more wonderful photographs of Casa das Fases work click here

These memories have since been transformed into rummage boxes, fragrance boxes, mini-cinema boxes and many other products of individual and collective imagination. The Little Boxes of Memory were subsequently taken performed with audiences of pupils and teachers at special schools around London and residents, staff and families in Lewisham care homes.

Entelechy Arts have commissioned Creative Dementia Arts Network to conduct an evaluation of the effects of participating in the Little Boxes of Memory project for older people both those who are curators and those telling their stories, and young people who have profound and multiple disabilities. having concluded our report, we will disseminate our findings later in 2013.

In the meantime are there any other examples of creative arts and memory box work going on out there? Do let us know and we shall put examples into a Special Focus into the next issue of the e-newsletter.