‘Time for Tea’ was developed as an outreach project by the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, writes Paula Simpson.
It was aimed at older people who may have difficulty in visiting the building and using its services. Using the museum’s collection of tea-related items as inspiration, a series of workshops was held in local residential homes, sheltered housing and day centres between September and November 2003.
Together with Ludus Dance Company and Sources, a digital arts and literature-based organisation, we offered sessions based on the subject of tea. Participants were able to handle objects from the collection including teapots, tea cosies and silver spoons and to take part in reminiscence and ‘armchair’ dance sessions. Subjects discussed were as diverse as how to make the best cup of tea, the jitterbug and tripe! Given the chance to see some of the items from the museum’s collection, project participants enthusiastically described many of their own artefacts, recounted their memories of cafés in the city and talked about childhood visits to the Harris and the objects they recalled being on display.
The project culminated in an installation in the Harris’s Community Gallery in November. In consultation with the project participants, Sources built a 1950s room set and through a TV screen displayed video footage shot during the workshop sessions. They also included displays about cafés and items from the decorative arts collection alongside quotes from participants. At the same time, archive film footage, borrowed from the North West Film Archive, was shown in the Harris’s café where people could also take advantage of the special offer of a cream tea. The final element of the project was a Tea Dance held in Preston’s Guild Hall. This event was attended by over 200 people, many of whom elected to join our mailing list.
Project participants were recruited through partnership working with the local Alzheimer’s Society and Age Concern. All the participants were over 70 years of age and most were female. The exhibition and tea dance offered the chance to extend the project to a much wider audience. The workshops have proved a great success in reaching members of the local community who are not regular users of the Harris, as most participants rely on family members to bring them to the building or feel unable, perhaps because of mobility problems, to make the visit. Other Prestonians who may have made many visits as children may simply have forgotten that the Harris is a resource for the whole community.
All the groups involved made an organised visit to the Harris during the time that the exhibition was on. The visits allowed participants to see the results of their work and also built up their confidence in using the building. They had the opportunity to get to know staff and were shown that the building is fully accessible and a welcoming place for older members of the community. It is hoped that some of the project participants may now have the confidence to make independent visits to the Harris. Meanwhile we are exploring the possibility of a regular annual tea party for older members of the community.
Paula Simpson is Access and Inclusion Officer at Harris Museum and Art Gallery.
t: 01772 905412; e: email@example.com