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Chelmsford Museum awarded Dementia Friendly accreditation

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Staff and volunteers at Chelmsford Museum.

Chelmsford Museum has been awarded the status of Inclusive Dementia Community Venue by the Chelmsford District Inclusive Dementia Community (CDIDC).

The award recognises the museum’s welcoming and inclusive approach to visitors living with dementia. During the accreditation process the museum was particularly praised for recent work to train staff and volunteers to become ‘Dementia Friendly’, as well as its new ‘Memory Café’ sessions, developed for people living with dementia.

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A recent 'Memory Café' session at Chelmsford Museum.

Action Plan aims to improve visitor experience for people living with dementia

The word 'dementia' describes a set of symptoms that over time can affect memory, problem-solving, language and behaviour. It’s currently projected that one in three of us will live with dementia at some point during our lifetime.

The CDIDC is made up of people and organisations throughout Chelmsford that are committed to working in partnership to improve the lives of people living with dementia. The group is accredited by the Alzheimer’s Society, and supports organisations, businesses, and public services to improve their knowledge of dementia and to be more inclusive of people living with the condition.

Chelmsford Museum is committed to being as accessible as possible for everyone. In 2023 a Dementia Friendly Action Plan was developed for the venue, outlining how it would provide inclusive access for those living with the condition.

Mark Neville, Community Development Coordinator at CDIDC and Alzheimer’s Society, says the museum’s dementia action plan is a “first-rate” example of good practice among cultural venues:

“Venues such as Chelmsford Museum must provide a welcoming, understanding and safe environment to all visitors and Chelmsford Museum has produced a first-rate dementia action plan to ensure that this happens for those living with dementia who visit the museum.

“A person is formally diagnosed with dementia approximately every three minutes in the UK, and it is currently projected that one in three of us will live with dementia at some point during our lifetime, so the importance of increased awareness and understanding throughout our communities cannot be underestimated.

“I would like to congratulate Chelmsford Museum on their award, for what they’ve achieved to date and for what they are planning to do going forward.”

Mark Neville, Community Development Coordinator, CDIDC

Melanie Williamson, Integrated Dementia Commissioner for Essex County Council and Chair of the Chelmsford Inclusive Dementia Community said:

“Congratulations to everyone at Chelmsford Museum who, through their commitment and hard work, has evidenced a real understanding and awareness of dementia. By achieving this recognition, the museum has demonstrated their commitment to continually improve the lives of their visitors affected by dementia.”

Melanie Williamson, Integrated Dementia Commissioner, Essex County Council

Museums Manager Sarah Davies, says the accreditation reflects the brilliant work at Chelmsford Museum to become more inclusive:

“This accreditation is a really strong and positive response and endorsement of the work we are doing at Chelmsford Museum to welcome and support people living with dementia.

“Work to become Dementia Friendly has been a whole team effort – from those who helped shape and implement our Action Plan, to our dementia awareness trained front of house staff and volunteers who welcome visitors on a daily basis. I know the entire team will be so pleased to receive this recognition of their hard work and commitment.”

Sarah Davies, Museums Manager, Chelmsford Museum

Monthly Memory Café provides opportunities to socialise and make connections

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The museum's Memory Café provides a chance for people living with dementia and their carers, family and friends to socialise together.

Chelmsford Museum’s Memory Café was created in January 2024 to offer the chance for people living with dementia to socialise with others and explore the past whilst enjoying a cup of tea.

The monthly sessions use museum objects to reminisce on recent history and share life stories. Items that are commonly recognisable from past decades are deliberately used with the aim of triggering participants’ memory, helping them to share life experiences. The sessions are low pressure – there is no obligation to share if participants prefer to simply listen to others.

The Memory Café isn’t only aimed at those diagnosed with dementia, but also carers, family members and friends who have been indirectly impacted by dementia. One such participant, Dave, who has attended the sessions since January, says the Memory Café has helped him to process his own experience following his wife’s dementia diagnosis, and to connect with others going through similar experiences:

“My wife, Karen, was diagnosed with dementia four years ago and, sadly, in late 2023 I had to make the difficult decision to find a care home for her. Not long after, in January 2024, I discovered the Memory Café at Chelmsford Museum and immediately signed up.

“It’s been such a positive experience for me – I’d even say it’s almost been like therapy. Being able to share my story and meet and talk to people going through a similar journey has really helped to alleviate the everyday stresses and strains, and provided an outlet for me to process the impact my wife’s dementia has had on my own mental health. The staff running the Memory Café have also been fantastic and they put so much thought into bringing really interesting and stimulating objects and photographs to each session.

“I believe it’s definitely better to share than to shield, and for me, the Memory Café has helped me to do this.”

Dave, Memory Café participant

The Memory Café is free to attend for those living with dementia and their carers. Since its inception, the initiative has been extremely popular, with each session filling up quickly. The museum hopes to extend the programme in the coming months to reach as many people affected by Dementia as possible.

As the sessions are not suitable for large groups, care homes looking enjoy a similar experience can request to loan a reminiscence box free of charge. These boxes contain a range of everyday objects from recent history to connect people in care homes with the past.

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Cherelle Nightingill
Cherelle Nightingill

Cherelle writes about Chelmsford Theatre, Hylands Estate, Chelmsford Museum, the Mayor of Chelmsford and culture and events in the city.