Category Archives: photography

Making life story work an every day practice.

Lessons from the experience of facilitating life story work in a residential care home for people living with dementia:

  • To use whatever material already in existence as a starting point. This will include the info gathered when residents moved in and photo albums. There are some excellent guides to doing life story work with people in this client group on websites like Dementia UK. Having a guide and template for gathering experiences can be very helpful. See
  • To build relationships with family and invite them to help out with projects in whatever way possible. This has worked well and although it’s important to keep in mind that the resident is the focus of your attention, the value for family and friends cannot be underestimated.
  • For support staff to work 1:1 with a resident until their project is complete. Consistency and relationship building is key.
  • For support staff to have access to computers and photocopier to copy and search for  images and type up gathered stories ( Search engines are a fantastic resource when photos aren’t available to support or trigger memories. Searching for and printing images and information, for example about a school or regiment, demonstrate interest and provide illustration to otherwise wordy pages of type).
  • Support staff find it very difficult to find the time to write up & present the life story information gathered. I suggest they alternate sessions so that one is gathering info and the next presenting it. This should be done with the resident wherever possible.
  • For staff to develop and share methods to redirect people away from distressing memories in to safe territory as necessary. This is especially important as a session draws to a close. Fortunately the staff working with the group continue to be around later in the day, have excellent relationships with the residents and are sensitive to their needs.
  • For support staff working on the projects to find a time to share life story information with other staff in order to increase the understanding and well-being of the residents.
  • ‘Having a Life Story book is great, but it’s a culture of really knowing people that matters’- A carer made this comment and is absolutely right. The Life Story Projects need to be used and referred to in order to benefit the residents. Maybe this needs to be a session where residents share their stories, part of new staffs’ induction process, or becoming ‘second nature‘ when working with someone to take the time to read through and chat about their Life Story with them?
  • To have a display folder of the completed project in the resident’s room for daily reference and a copy kept safely in the office in case of loss/damage.
  • To use the life story project in any way that works to improve the well-being of the resident.
  • Life story books are being used in exciting and unexpected ways to restore positive states of mind. One woman who becomes distressed at dusk is, within seconds, returned to a calm place when shown her book and engaged in conversation about  her story. Another woman who has begun to sleep a lot during the day and is very difficult to rouse, is found to brighten and her posture straightens and she begins to converse when her story is read aloud to her. A man who has become very upset by his loss of memory is comforted by using his life story book as a reference for recorded memories. And there are observable differences in some of the group. One woman who was reluctant to join the group and left after a few minutes saying: ‘I’m not welcome’, was able, through skillful 1:1 support, to recount her experience of having her first child before she was married. Her family’s treatment towards her at the time had left many emotional scars. It’s not possible to put the transformation in her mood and confidence down to the life story project alone, but having the opportunity to have her story witnessed is a likely factor. On my last visit to the care home this woman walked through the lounge with a huge smile on her face, happily chatting to her carer. She looked so different I nearly didn’t recognise her!

Lastly, I heard a wonderful programme on BBC Radio 4 where Kim Normanton talked about her mother’s experience of dementia.

‘My dream scenario is to have the idea accepted that once someone is progressing along this pathway of dementia it isn’t possible for them to come in to our world- we have to step in to their world. Their world is inevitably in their past and therefore the more you know about each individual the more you can access their world and the more comfort and support you can give them. And each time you allow them to be in that world and share it with you their confidence and pleasure is enormous’

from: Living in the Memory Room BBCR4 July 2nd 2013

(For some background to the project see previous blog )


Turning the tables

I spend a lot of my working time recording other people’s stories. They tell me that being listened to is a wonderful experience. Angela, a great friend I got to know through the ‘Inside My Dance’ oral history project, described it well. She said it was as if she had some perspective on all the stories that had been tied up inside her and she could work with them now.

I’ve just spent a few days in Paris on a digital storytelling course. It was a chance for me to tell a story- armed with just my iPhone. Part of the course was about learning how to use smart phone apps- iMovie, Camera+ and Hipstamatic -but the main reason I went on the course was to experience the process of being part of the story circle. The story I told was the dominant story in my head at the time and it wouldn’t let me get away.

The experience was very powerful. I had the tables turned on me. Rather than be the witness and listener I was being witnessed and listened to. It was much more emotional than I expected and quite liberating.

The short film I made isn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, but I enjoyed the process and I loved being in Paris and it was inspiring spending a few days with a great group of women.


The iPhone workshop was run by Joe Lambert of The Center for Digital Storytelling.

More info about CDS and upcoming workshops can be found on their website:

How Hilary found her life story

Hilary is part of the life story project group this year. We’ve been working together since September 2012. There are six people in the group and we spent until March gathering information using a range of methods and skills.

One of the most interesting and fruitful catalysts for memories was the round table turn-taking sessions we used in the first few months. In previous years the participants had a lot of help from family members in preparation for this, but that didn’t happen with this group. They rarely had any material to bring to the sessions and a productive and fun pattern evolved as the weeks went by. Everyone turned up, sat around a large table and took turns to talk about their own experience on a given theme. Lisa, my co-worker, and I wrote down exactly what was said and we encouraged the group to ask questions of each other so that they could develop interviewing skills. In this way Hilary gradually grew a fascinating collection of tales about her family, schooling, work experience and home life. The round table method was the most effective gathering technique used.

Hilary invited her older sister, Lesley, to come to an afternoon session to fill in some gaps about her early years and to confirm dates and specific details. The previous week was spent developing a range of questions that the rest of the group came up with. These included an interesting insight in to what they were curious about, for example, ‘Did Hilary cry a lot when she was a baby? How much did she weigh? Did she ever kick the cat?’ Lesley was warm and open in her responses, (no, Hilary didn’t kick the cat, and she was a very good baby), and Hilary was delighted to have her sister there to contribute to her story.

DSCF6110 Hilary aged 5 years.

Hilary used photos to trigger memories and tell us about her life. She couldn’t find any of her early years, but Lesley searched in the loft and found a collection of photos that had belonged to an uncle and included some precious baby pics.

Another popular method we used to capture stories became known as the ‘life story road trip’. After getting to know the backbone of the group’s stories it was possible to identify gaps in each. Hilary wanted to visit locations where she’d lived and worked during her life time. Each trip and digital photo was a trigger for more recollection. And the trips were a lot of fun on most occasions. When more difficult issues arose, for example a member of the group wanted to visit the last place she’d lived with her mother before moving in to residential care and found it very painful, the rest of the group were amazingly supportive.

DSCF6120 Hilary outside St Peter’s Place, Brighton.

Through a combination of round table sharing, photos, road trips and the interview with her sister, Hilary is happy that she has researched her life story thoroughly and is now in the process of typing up. Each week she selects a page or so of story and gets set up at a computer in the staffroom and types all day- another skill that she is perfecting as part of the project.

DSCF6271 Typing up. May 2013.

A big THANKYOU to Hilary for giving me permission to share her story.

family photos

I’m spending more time with my parents lately as they are getting older. One of the activities that we all enjoy together is looking through the family photos. Last week I had a look through some photos from the late 50s and 60s. I set my little finepix digital camera to the macro setting (the one for taking close-ups of flowers or insects) and photographed the originals. Once home I did a bit of post-processing on i photo, cropping to a good size, sharpening and increasing contrast. Now the photos are on my computer I can reproduce and share them easily. Over the coming months I’m going to do the same with some photos of my parents’ families going way back. This will be a great way to spend time with my parents and find out about all the relatives whose photos live in the biscuit tin.

Extract from Colin’s story; “The car was a dark red Austin 1100 and I am sitting in the driving seat. I was 15 years old in 1970. Dad went with Peter Collins in his car to get it. Someone had taken the radio out of the car before we had it so there was no radio in it the whole time we had it which was two years. We sold the red one for a bigger car which was a Ford Cortina which was silver grey. Both cars had a cigarette lighter. This photo was taken at a farm in Pyecombe, my dad drove me there. We went to lots of different places. I never drove it. My dad had to learn to drive. He practised on Mick’s old banger, a Ford Zephyr.”