: Health, Wellbeing and Amgueddfa Cymru

Creating the ‘Museums Inspiring Memories: Supporting visitors affected by dementia’ training package – a collaborative approach

Gareth Rees and Fi Fenton, 10 July 2024

As part of Museums Inspiring Memories, our 3-year partnership project with Alzheimer’s Society Cymru, we have been working in collaboration with the dementia community across Wales to develop a training package that will help staff - in Amgueddfa Cymru and across the heritage sector - to support people affected by dementia who visit our museums.  

This blog provides a snapshot of the collaborative approach that we have taken over the last 18 months, to develop and pilot our staff training resource, culminating in our launch of the training package at St Fagans on 2 May 2024.  

Our consultations with the dementia community 

From the very start of our project, we have aimed to ensure that the personal experiences of those affected by dementia are at the forefront of our work. 

During the first year (between December 2022 and March 2023), we hosted 30 consultations across Wales, inviting people living with dementia, their carers and supporters, heritage sector colleagues and professionals from representative organisations, to take part.

These events took place at our museums, in community venues and in care and health settings. 270 people joined us, and their contributions to the conversation formed the basis from which we began to shape the contents of our training package. During these consultations, we structured conversations with a set of questions which aimed to elicit people’s experience of engaging with museums. We asked:  

What stops people affected by dementia from engaging with museums, their collections and online resources? 

What care and support needs might there be at our sites? 

How could we improve access for people affected by dementia? 

What training needs are there for both carers/care staff and heritage sector staff/volunteers? 

Developing the staff training package

Using the information gathered from these consultations, we developed a potential structure for our training package, capturing people’s thoughts and experiences into 5 broad themes: ‘Introduction’, ‘What is dementia’, ‘The barriers and worries of the community’, ‘Being supportive’ and ‘Opportunities and further information’. Under each theme, we developed sub-headings to describe the information that would be included in each section.

Refining the staff training package

Having created a potential ‘draft’ structure, we developed the training package through further community engagements and conversations, and it became a focus during our meetings with the Dementia Voice in Heritage Group.

The Dementia Voice in Heritage Group (also known as ‘DViHG’) is our project’s steering group.  The DViHG is made up of people living with dementia, carer partners, paid carers, support workers, colleagues from allied organisations (such as the Alzheimer’s Society) and colleagues from Amgueddfa Cymru and other heritage sector organisations. We meet in person or online every two months, and we structure our meetings so that everyone can contribute to and shape the development of central aspects of our work. In October and December 2023 we dedicated our DViHG meetings to the development of the staff training package.

The contributions of DViHG members to the training package have been valuable and considerable. Group members have talked about their own positive experiences of visiting museums, the importance and value of museums for people living with dementia, and the things that museum staff might need to know in order to support people living with dementia. They told us about the importance for people living with dementia of being helped to feel safe, valued and welcomed:

Whilst someone might come away from the museum not remembering all the details, they may remember the feeling that they experienced during the visit”  Person living with dementia 

Finally, they emphasized the importance of involving people affected by dementia in delivering the staff training.

Our Pilot staff training sessions: Testing our training package out with colleagues

Having incorporated the valuable contributions of the DViHG group into the staff training package, we then elicited further the thoughts of our colleagues at Amgueddfa Cymru, across a range of departments. For instance, we consulted with the Learning Department during a divisional training day, and met with Front-of-House teams at both National Waterfront and National Museum Cardiff.  

These conversations were important to gauge people’s understanding about the needs of visitors affected by dementia (some staff told us that they felt they were lacking in knowledge about dementia) and to assess how confident people felt about supporting people affected by dementia (some staff said they were worried that they might ‘say something wrong’).  From these discussions, we refined the content further and developed a 2-hour training session. 

We have now piloted the training session at three of our museums: St Fagans National Museum of History, the National Slate Museum and National Wool Museum, with members from across the Learning, Maintenance, Crafts, Front-of-House and Catering teams taking part, and we have received positive feedback from these.

Launching the training package

On the 2nd May at St Fagans National Museum of History, we formally launched the training package. We invited people that we have been working with over the last eighteen months, including Alzheimer’s Society Cymru, a member of DViHG and a member from our project board, to talk about their experiences of contributing to the development of the training session.

29 people attended the launch, to hear these inspiring presentations and to learn about how the work has developed in partnership with the community. The training package aims to explore what we, in our different roles across the heritage sector, can do to make any visit a positive experience for those affected by dementia. It will now be made available to anyone within the heritage sector, whether as a starting point to beginning their journey to becoming more dementia-supportive or as a complement to what is already happening.

Whilst people affected by dementia have not yet been involved in delivering the pilot training sessions, we are currently working with our partners who have been involved in creating it, and we are planning how to support them in hosting, leading and / or contributing to our future training sessions.

As our project progresses over the next year, we will continue to work collaboratively and to ensure that the dementia voice is at the heart of what we do.

If you’re from a heritage sector organization and are interested in how we have developed our training offer, would like to find out more about using the package in your setting, or are a person affected by dementia with an interest in supporting these sessions at our museums, please don’t hesitate to contact us by email mims@museumwales.ac.uk  or phone 02920 573 418.


Ongoing gardening project at Ysgubor Fawr, St. Fagans

Zoe Mouti, Innovate Trust, 30 October 2023

The Secret Garden is a horticulture and history project funded by the WCVA’s Volunteering Wales Grant. We work with adults with Learning Disabilities and community volunteers to develop and care for a cottage garden based at St Fagans National Museum of History. We also support project participants in researching the history of the garden, Ysgubor Fawr cottage on-site, and its past inhabitants using St Fagans’ archives and Glamorgan Archives.

The Secret Garden project has two themes. It is both a gardening and historical research project. We offer the opportunity to take part in hands-on gardening sessions at our garden at Saint Fagans to learn about and trial gardening techniques from the past, such as planting for medicinal or cleaning purposes. Participants will also research the garden, the cottage and its inhabitants in partnership with St Fagans National Museum of History and Glamorgan Archives.

Participants who attend the Secret Garden Project are able to learn a variety of skills including teamwork, communication, co-ordination and much more to help assist and support them in their personal development. A safe and secure working environment ensures that participants are able to learn at their own pace whether they are learning about horticulture or history. The Secret Garden Project is able to cater for their needs and have a positive impact on their health and well-being.  

Our activities are free of charge, and we encourage anyone to join. Participants can take part in either the gardening or history element or both if they wish! 

Head to the Innovate Trust website to learn more about the Secret Garden, and how you can get involved - The Secret Garden | Innovate Trust (innovate-trust.org.uk).

Dementia Friendly activities at Amgueddfa Cymru – a visit to St Fagans by Memory Jar

Gareth Rees and Fi Fenton, 11 October 2023

We recently welcomed Memory Jar, a support group for people affected by dementia in Cowbridge, to St Fagans National Museum of History. This visit was part of Museums Inspiring Memories, a three-year partnership project between Amgueddfa Cymru and Alzheimer’s Society Cymru that aims to use our museums, collections and resources to develop practical ways to improve the quality of life of people affected by dementia.

Now into its second year, one of the project’s aims is to develop a more comprehensive and sustainable programme of dementia-friendly activities, both at our museums and in the community. At this stage in the project, we are starting to develop and trial activities, inviting community groups to come and take part and tell us what they think. This, in turn, will help us shape and develop our offer and programme before its launch next Spring.

The visit 

On the 9th August, 29 members of Memory Jar joined us for a tour of two of the galleries at St Fagans – ‘Wales Is…’ and ‘Life Is…’. This was followed by tea, coffee, cake and conversation about the visit. We asked the group what they had enjoyed and if they had any suggestions about how we could improve future activities. 

In the ‘Wales is…’ gallery, the group took part in a tour with Gareth Rees (Dementia Voice Lead for Museums Inspiring Memories) and Loveday Williams (Senior Learning, Participation and Interpretation Officer). Gareth and Loveday introduced some of the objects in the gallery, the displays of which have been curated to reflect the different meanings and perspectives of ‘Wales’, including themes of ‘Multiculturalism’, ‘Pride’, ‘Politics’ and ‘Conflict'.

In the ‘Life is…’ gallery, the group were given a tour and description of some of the exhibits on display, led by Gareth Beech, Senior Curator of Rural Economy. In this gallery, displays of objects are organised into themes which describe different aspects of life in Wales over time, from cafes to cookery, rural life, industry, holidays and childhood. One of the popular objects here was the old, cast iron Preston & Thomas fish frying range, which generated a lot of conversation and memories in the group.

Following the gallery visits, we all came together as one group. As well as general conversation, each table was asked to give their thoughts on one question in particular using stickers: ‘How did the gallery visit make you feel today?’ For this question the team provided six options: three positive (Happy, Interested and Inspired) and three negative (Unhappy, Bored and Uncomfortable), as well as a space to contribute any other feelings they may have had. People were also able to give feedback about the day by sharing with us their favourite items in the gallery, using post-its, pens and images of some of the objects. We also asked the group what they had enjoyed about their visit and how they find visiting museums generally. 

All in all, feedback was very positive, with many reporting that they had enjoyed the visit. Many people indicated that they had felt happy, inspired by and interested in the gallery tours. Others said that it made them feel ‘nostalgic’ and ‘patriotic’. Some of the objects had sparked conversations and triggered some memories of family life, including the old hand mangle, which reminded one lady of her mother and grandmother using one of these.

A lovely reminder of the past” 

It made me think how close my memories are, wherever I came from (Yorkshire), or later Wales for 40+ years. Wales should be proud of its tradition and continue to keep welcoming others” 

Displays and written information were at wheelchair level. Good.” 

My fav object was the harp and music items. It would have been nice to have some Welsh music playing.

I found the experience very nostalgic

More chairs!” 

(Some of the participants’ feedback)

The buzz of animated conversation continued in the bus all the way home to Cowbridge. A lovely atmosphere of people who were enjoying a great day out. Back at Memory Jar the week after the visit, we had the opportunity to look at photos of the day and to talk about things people remembered at the museum. Many very positive comments were made about how people had been inspired to reflect on aspects of their own story, with lovely memories of their own earlier days. One comment in particular made the whole thing worth doing: John, who is one of our quieter and less vocal members, was the first to respond to the whole group discussion about the visit. ‘Want to go again!’, he said, with a big smile, to be echoed with acclaim by the whole group.

(Email from Colin, the Memory Jar group organiser, after the visit) 

Thank you 

The team wish to thank Memory Jar for their help in developing this work; we were delighted to show them around and to invite them to share their views about how we can make our museums more dementia-friendly in the future. We’d also like to thank Rotary Cowbridge for providing transport for the group, and the National Lottery Community Fund, who kindly support the Museums Inspiring Memories project. 

The visit by Memory Jar provided the team with a valued opportunity to begin exploring what our offer will be for the community. The enthusiastic response by the group, and the positive feedback, showed that heritage does have an important role in the everyday lives of people affected by dementia. As the work to pilot and develop our offer across all seven of our museums continues over the coming months, we look forward to further developing our work with Memory Jar and other groups and individuals across Wales.

Get in touch

For more information, the team can be contacted either by email on mims@museumwales.ac.uk or by phone on 029 2057 3418. If you’d like to receive our quarterly newsletter, please let us know, using the contact details shown above.

The truth about cycling to work

Tom Cotterell, 2 September 2023

I live far away from my site and in the summer I dust off my bike ready for some epic commuting. Like many organisations, Amgueddfa Cymru has introduced a Cycle to Work scheme, so I thought that I would share my story (or part of it) and offer guidance to anyone that's unsure of getting into cycling.

I got my first road bike on a similar scheme about twelve years ago and have never looked back. Well, I say that but my first few commutes were hard, having never ridden on roads before and going from a background in running, to riding 40 miles on the road followed by another 40 home. I distinctly remember not being able to walk up the stairs at work and having chronic back ache on the bike, but now, even in my mid-forties, I am fitter than ever. I can even fix a puncture now which I couldn’t for the first five years!

An epic commute

In early summer I travel once a week from Raglan on the lanes to Newport then on to Cardiff via the levels - 34 miles in all. This is soon to extend to Monmouth (40 miles) and then my once-a-year full 50-mile commute will switch to through the Forest of Dean, Lydney, Chepstow, and then on through Newport. For these distances, time is obviously a factor and so I tend to ride fast - aiming at 20 mph average, but even carrying a laptop it is possible. However, beware of the dreaded headwind…. but that’s another story.

Cycling wasn’t always easy

The effect cycling has on you is gradual, but very positive. It is much better on the joints than running, but the difference it will make depends on many factors including how often and how long you cycle for, but also the intensity – uphill is more of a workout than the flat. When cycling for the first time the aches can be a little disconcerting – after my first long-distance commute it felt like my kneecaps were being pushed apart, but it was because I had none of the type of muscles used for cycling. I have no such issues now.

Your body adapts

I find now, that when I arrive at work I am fine and refreshed, but that has not always been the case. When I first started I would be quite tired, but your body adapts. I should say that I came from a very active background of training and playing at a high level of field hockey three times a week for about 20 years, but your body adapts. The running gave me a great overall fitness level but with the wrong muscles. Someone recently told me that cycling is a great leveler – in that you can continue to ‘perform’ at a really high level far longer than any running-based sport. My cycling times this year are significantly faster than when I was in full hockey training!

Commuting with a laptop and other tips

I carry a medium-sized rucksack and have my laptop case inside (without the charger to save weight – as they plug in at work anyway). Then a bag of clothes to change into and lots of food for lunch. Everything in the bag is inside several plastic bags in case of rain. I have some very small bags attached to my bike for my spare inner tubes and other repair kit things.

The ups and downs of cycling and things to think about

Bikes are a big outlay in cost now, but you save on parking, fuel, and general wear and tear on a car. The play off is that your journey takes a lot longer. If you walk or use a bus, then cycling might actually be quicker and also save money. The cold and wet of winter can put people off, but there are now many options for warm, windproof, and rainproof clothes. I find getting ready once at work slightly longer than if I drive – e.g. locking up my bike, getting changed, etc. but certainly manageable.

Reaching new heights

Now, several bike upgrades later and a house move even further into the back of beyond, I lead club bike rides of a hundred miles or more and have an obsession with climbing steep hills. This is a far cry from my early commuting experiences where I dreaded the hill up through Chepstow. On Saturday 24th June I took part in a challenge organised by Chepstow Cycling Club in aid of the Brecon Beacon Mountain Rescue. It involved ten ascents of Llangynidir Hill - most people’s idea of hell. It wasn’t a race, but remarkably I was the first competitor to complete the reps. The stats: 4,325 m of ascent, 124 km distance, and 6 and a half hours of cycling.

Tea, Cake and Collections: ReEngage Tea Parties at National Museum Cardiff and St Fagans National Museum of History

Loveday Williams, 31 July 2023

“Re-engage provides vital, life-enhancing social connections for older people at a time in their lives when their social circles are diminishing.”


For over a decade we have been working with ReEngage (formerly Contact the Elderly), hosting regular tea parties at some of our museums for older people experiencing loneliness and isolation.

The first tea parties took place at National Museum Cardiff, initially 4 times a year, but as the group grew this increased to 8 parties per year, hosted between National Museum Cardiff and St Fagans National Museum of History.  

The tea parties enable group members to visit the museums in a safe and supported way, meet their friends, make new social connections and spend time exploring the museums collections through engaging activities and talks with members of staff. And there’s always plenty of tea and cake!  

During this time, we have built strong links with the group members and Jane Tucker, the group leader. Ahead of the tea parties we have conversations with Jane to make sure we are aware of any accessibility, mobility and other needs within the group to ensure we can tailor the sessions accordingly.  

Here Jane tells us a little more about how the tea parties started and her role in supporting the group:

“I started volunteering with Re-engage (or Contact the Elderly as it was then) in March 2013 as a driver.

On a visit to St Fagans (funnily enough) in approximately 2017, I happened to see Marion Lowther who, at the time, was the Re-Engage organiser for Wales.  She told me she had a group of about 6 guests but no coordinator.  At the time they were only meeting 4 times a year as the only host available was National Museum Cardiff, hence why we are called the Cardiff Museum group.  I volunteered to take over the group and have managed to get more hosts and more guests.  The Museums are always a favourite of the group because you always provide interesting talks and activities.  

As you know a lot of our ladies are quite frail and are unable to leave their homes unaccompanied.  The visits to the Museum are a real highlight for them and we are so grateful for your continued support.” (Jane Tucker, ReEngage Group Leader).

In March of this year the group visited National Museum Cardiff for a session all about the current BBC 100 Exhibition, exploring the 100 year history of the BBC in Wales. 

The session was run by two members of the museum learning team, Jo and Louise. They used fun informal quizzes to highlight the exhibition content in a comfortable setting, as navigating the exhibition itself would have been challenging for the group members. Jo ran a TV picture quiz focussed on TV in the 60’s and 70’s and Louise ran a short TV theme tune quiz. 

Jo and Louise said “The group enjoyed chatting about their memories and there was lots of reminiscing about visits to the museum with children and grandchildren. They really enjoyed their tea!” 

Jane said following the visit “the talk we had at National Museum Cardiff was great, when the 2 hosts were playing music from old television programmes and adverts.  Our guests had lots of fun trying to recognise the tunes and then talking about the old programmes.”

The groups last visit to St Fagans took place in May 2023, facilitated by two members of the St Fagans learning team, Hywel and Jordan.

Jordan explains: “After introducing them to the site we gave a talk about the ‘Cynefin’ work being developed in our school learning programme, using the Wales is... gallery, exploring individual senses of identity and how we can use objects to support the sharing of these stories. Then, we discussed the groups’ personal understandings of their ‘Cynefin’, using handling objects from the museum collection to spark memories and conversation. Handling objects like the darning mushroom, pre decimalisation coinage and green shield stamps, proofed to be popular talking points for the group, encouraging them to shared stories of living in Wales and other parts of the world, their experiences of using everyday objects like this and changes over time.”

Here’s what some of the group members said about taking part following the session:  

“Most enjoyable afternoon at St Fagans Museum. It is lovely to see other people to chat with as I spend a lot of time alone.  It’s really appreciated.” (Anne)

“I really enjoyed the talk about the museum and the work they are doing.  Sundays can be really lonely so having a Re-Engage tea is such a joy and something to look forward to.” (Rita)

“Handling the objects at the Museum was really fun as well as informative. It gets your brain working and brings back memories.” (Hazel)

We’ll be welcoming the group back to St Fagans this summer to take part in some traditional yarn crafts inspired by our textile collections. Then they’ll be returning to National Museum Cardiff this autumn autumn.  

The museum learning team and group members alike always look forward to the tea parties. Over the past 10 years they have grown to become a key fixture in our wider Health and Wellbeing programme. Long may they continue!  

With thanks to all the ReEngage group members for sharing their stories, thoughts and feedback. Looking forward to seeing you next time!