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Age Exchange was founded in 1983 in the context of the emerging awareness of the value of reminiscence work, especially in care settings for older people. Over the past 27 years we have developed new models of work offering participants a wide range of reminiscence and creative activities. Our creative team has expertise and knowledge of working with diverse communities of all ages in London and across the UK. 

Our Person-centred group projects, one-to-one creative caring sessions, arts productions, and training, will be the key elements of the programme outlined below.  These selected elements, used both individually and together, are based on the experience of successful projects we have delivered for a number of care organisations including those specialising in dementia and Alzheimer care.  The end result is a more assured and engaged mental health service user and a reduction in prejudice felt about users by the general public.


Project planned in partnership with SLAM for 2011 to 2013

Age Exchange has designed and will be delivering a creative arts and reminiscence programme for people who use mental health services in South London. The programme is funded by the South London and Maudsley Charitable Funds. Throughout the 3 years of activity Age Exchange will work closely with SLAM NHS Trust’s professional nursing and care staff in order to ensure that service users who would most benefit from the creative activities and initiatives on offer, are referred to the programme.  All activities will be relevant to users’ needs and interests, and designed to improve mental
well-being and physical health.
Two thirds of the programme is intended for older people and one third for younger people with mental health needs.
This Programme will be delivered to groups of service users at a number of mental health provider units in Croydon, Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth. In total Age Exchange will deliver 5 group projects a year lasting 10 weeks each. The programme will also provide isolated people with one to one sessions in their own homes or as bedside care in a hospital or residential care setting. Age Exchange has been funded to deliver a total of 35 one to one sessions a year for 3 years.

Objectives in detail

The specific objectives of the Creative Arts and Reminiscence Programme are to:  

Bring users together and develop group dynamics to reduce users’ vulnerability to the effects of isolation, loneliness, and exclusion
  • Improve users’ ability to communicate with fellow users, relatives and care staff to reduce feelings of unhappiness, frustration, or anger
  • Use movement and dance to improve physical capability and expression, helping to generate catharsis 
  • Use complementary reminiscence, arts, and movement practice, to improve users’ levels of self-confidence and esteem
  • Develop users potential creativity by engaging them in art, drama, dance, new media and film making
  • Produce a contemporary dance piece, a feature/documentary film, and a theatre production – all to be given public performances at prestigious London venues raising the profile of mental health users and the contribution that they can make to society and the arts
  • Provide carers, community artists and mental health professionals with training in reminiscence work, and specifically tailored training thus providing them with the skills to secure and build on the improvements in the mental well-being and physical health of service users.
Stage one:  Working with groups and responding to one to one referrals 

The group work will involve Age Exchange project workers bringing users together to work on person-centred activities.  We will deliver five separate 10-week projects with different groups.  Between 8-10 users will be able to take part in each project session.

Two trained and experienced project workers will facilitate all project sessions. Project workers will be experts in either visual and performance arts or health and social care. The sessions will be structured and themed according to the age range, interest and background of each of the five groups. Activities will use reminiscence, music and singing, movement, mime and role-play, poetry, visual arts and textiles as well as supervised visits to art galleries, museums, and performance venues. 

If users are bedridden, housebound or unable to participate in group activity for any other reason, Age Exchange will provide up to 35 one-to-one sessions per year, tailored to the personal needs and interests of individuals. Users will be able to participate in reminiscence, enjoy music, create visual art or poetry, and if appropriate work to create life-story books and memory boxes.

Stage two:  Major arts productions

Each year of the project, participants form Stage 1 projects will also have the opportunity to come together to work collaboratively with leading artists on a major mainstream arts production. These are designed both to build on users increased levels of self-confidence and self-esteem realised through project activity, and to counter the prejudice, ignorance and stigma towards mental health service users from elements of the wider community.  This will
  • involve well-known and respected arts organisations (and their professional artists, dancers and actors) from the outset of the project, working with Age Exchange professionals in group sessions referred to above
  • provide all the users involved in the group work with the opportunity of participating in:
    • A contemporary dance piece and public performance at a major London venue, facilitated by professionals from Age Exchange and Green Candle Dance Company.
      A feature film or documentary which after development and filming would lead to a premiere at the National Film Theatre.  Development and filming will be facilitated by the well-known professional film maker Ivan Riches working with The British Film Institute, Southbank
    • A devised theatre production to be staged at a major London theatre venue. Writing, casting and rehearsals will be facilitated by Age Exchange Theatre Company, specialists in reminiscence theatre.
The process of creation, rehearsal and performance will enable all the users to learn new skills and discover abilities in movement, dance, writing, acting, film-making and editing.  Involvement in a final public production at a prestigious venue will boost confidence and self-esteem, help users to feel valued and give them a once in a lifetime opportunity.  On the basis of Age Exchange’s past experience, members of the invited audiences at these public events will re-evaluate their view of mental health service users. 

Training Programme

Age Exchange will run a ‘best practice’ training programme throughout the pilot for nursing and other professional health care staff and family carers. The training programme will consist of:
  • Person centred care, developing reminiscence skills and activities
  • Reminiscence group work
  • Reminiscence in dementia care
  • Tailored arts training workshops in response to needs and referrals
  • Training for service users throughout the arts products element (Stage two) including dance, drama, new media, camera and editing skills
All training would be discussed with staff members to ensure the well-being of users throughout. 


During the course of this major three-year programme, monitoring and evaluation will take place at all stages.  Age Exchange will monitor and report on each project session and referral during Stages one and two. Input and feedback from professional staff as well as users and family carers will also be collected to feed into the monitoring process ensuring that the programme develops according to the needs and interest of all participant service users.

The whole programme will be evaluated externally by Royal Holloway, University of London, with the resulting findings being made widely available both to SLAM and to arts and health professionals. Throughout the programme learning and practice will be disseminated through yearly seminars and lectures.

We anticipate the arts and reminiscence programme designed to meet the needs and interests of the participants and the intense evaluation of the programme, will have a valuable influence on the development of arts practice in mental health in London over the coming years.

Project partners

Age Exchange – The National Centre for Reminiscence Arts
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
Entelechy Arts (Specialist in making and creating diverse arts with vulnerable groups and individuals)
Green Candle Dance Company (pioneering London dance company working with hard to reach communities, and specialising in social and environmental issues) experienced in education projects and black ballet history and archive)  The British Film Institute, Southbank
Positive Steps (specialist Black Dance and performance company)
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Patrons: Roy Hudd OBE Glenda Jackson MP Rt. Hon. Nick Raynsford MP Sir Sigmund Sternberg KCSG JP Baroness Greengross OBE