London Region Annual Report – 2013

European Reminiscence Network

Pam Schweitzer

Reminiscence Theatre Archive
Greenwich University has accepted the archive of recorded and transcribed interviews and related theatre work created during my years as Founder and Artistic Director of Age Exchange Theatre Trust (1983-2005) In May 2012, I transferred all the surviving material relating to reminiscence theatre to the University. The archive consists of audio-recordings on key themes in social history of 20th century, including women’s war work. working life on the River Thames, inter-war housing estates round London, Health care before the NHS, Jewish East End and Irish memories, plus many more.
In many cases there are matching transcripts and accompanying photos. The scripts formed from these reminiscences are included, plus production photographs, tour schedules, press reports, etc.

The Archive and Students
The University is not only storing the archive, but actively working on it in various curriculum areas, especially Drama. For example, drama students have been exploring the archive as a source for new theatre productions.
Several of these productions have toured to local sheltered houses where they have been very well received. Here, a student records her pleasure in learning about reminiscence theatre and having a chance to play for older people.

Wioleta Pietrasik on participating in Reminiscence Theatre
Volunteering at university gave me an opportunity to work with archive material, which I have never done before. I read stories that were previously recorded and found it very touching. I had many ideas, which I used to work in my written work and created performances which brought those precious stories to life. Our meetings were full of energy; we improvised with the text, devised movement, decided on the order of the pieces and how to present them in an enthusiastic way, which did justice to the stories’ authors. At the end of the day these weren’t just stories, but people’s lives, or parts of them. Therefore I felt responsible for producing pieces which would not only have historical meaning but also an artistic outcome.
We were given a number of opportunities to present our performances to the audience at Care Homes and university meetings. After each performance we were given time to talk to elderly people, which was an amazing experience, as we could hear their response and feedback to our work.

A new website for the Reminiscence Theatre Archive is launched
During this last year, the University of Greenwich has facilitated the making of a website to reflect the depth and variety of material in the archive. The in-putting work has been conducted by Assistants from Poland, Finland and Spain, funded by the European Commission, and students of the university. The website was due to be launched on 23rd of May 2013 with a special event. Because of the murder of Lee Rigby outside the Woolwich Barracks, just round the corner from the Greenwich University Drama Building, this had to be cancelled at the last minute, which was very upsetting for all concerned. However, the site is now on-line and can be viewed at www.reminiscencetheatrearchive.org.uk
We shall have a belated official launch, together with performances of reminiscence theatre at the University of Greenwich on 26th June 2014, as part of the forthcoming conference “Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today” (see below).

European Reminiscence Network: Reminiscence in dementia care
This last year, we gained new EU Learning Partnership funding with partners in 8 EU countries to develop a new training and apprenticeship course in Reminiscence in Dementia Care. The project is called “Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today Training (RYCTT) and it runs for 2 years until July 2014. The partner countries are Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Northern Ireland, France, Poland and UK. We also have 4 associate partners pursuing the same project in Finland, Netherlands, Ireland and Estonia.
There have been three international meetings of this Learning Partnership since my last report. The first was in Prague in November 2012, the second in Perpignan in France in April 2013 and we have just returned from Poznan, Poland. On each occasion, 6 or 7 of us have travelled to these countries to compare notes and catch up with partners developing the same project. This year I invited 2 post-graduates from Greenwich University, and again Wioleta Pietrasik has written about her experience of performing the piece in London and in Poland.
As part of one of my university courses I created a theatrical piece about the life of my grandmother. She was always my inspiration and role model and I have always wanted to create a piece of drama based on her difficult, but also beautiful life. She was an amazing story-teller and I gathered in my memory all those amazing things she told me, added her favourite poems, my favourite songs which she sang to me and cultural elements (such as use of different language) as my grandmother was Polish. My main interest was how dementia, which she suffered from, changed her as a person and what impact it had on her life when the symptoms started to show.
I really enjoyed working on the piece itself. It brought back happy memories and made me realize how similar we both were. I received fantastic feedback from my tutor and decided to present my piece at the European Reminiscence Network meeting in October, 2013 in Poznan (Poland). The meeting was about ‘Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today'(an international reminiscence project for people with dementia and their family carers) and I thought that my piece would fit in perfectly.
Unfortunately a few days before the conference my grandmother passed away. It was a very difficult time for my whole family and I travelled to Poland to attend the funeral. I decided I would still take part in the conference and will present my creative project as a form of tribute to my grandmother. I felt very vulnerable, but also felt like sharing my memories and stories with others as I thought it would help me go through that difficult time. The reception of my piece was over-whelming: everyone was very sensitive and kind and the feedback was amazing. At the end of the conference a few participants said that they found my piece the most memorable thing they will take away from the whole meeting. I am very humble and thankful and really hope I have done justice to my grandmother’s life.

In connection with this RYCTT project, we have piloted in London a 2-day training course based at the University of Greenwich, involving experiential and theoretical learning about Reminiscence in Dementia Care. This course is now being used and certificated across all partner countries. The apprenticeship scheme follows the training course with 10 weeks of involvement in reminiscence workshops with people with dementia and their family carers. This includes taking responsibility for leading sections of the workshops and writing an essay (or other form of submission such as a video diary) reflecting on learning achieved. Those who have satisfactorily completed these requirements receive an accreditation as facilitators of groups running reminiscence in dementia care. Across our whole partnership we hope to have 300 people trained and 100 people gaining accreditation via the apprenticeship scheme.

An International Conference on Reminiscence in Dementia Care
Our latest news is that we have been funded by the European Commission to run an international conference on Reminiscence in Dementia Care at the University of Greenwich on 26-27 June 2014. All our EU partner countries will attend and present their work, together with arts and health professionals from across the UK and well beyond. For further information about the conference, send off to Marta Moreno at this email address mmlopezdeuralde@gmail.com or to me at pam@pamschweitzer.com