Bramley Court Care Home joined the Dance and Time with the Museum programme at the end of 2019. For two weeks we visited residents in the familiar comfort of the care home setting, taking high quality images of paintings to promote conversation and enquiry, inviting them to share their thoughts and feelings about the paintings, introducing music to complement the paintings, and asking them for their musical choices.

Only towards the end of the session do we share facts about the artist and work, because we want the conversation to be a journey into art that we go on together. These visits were followed by the offer of a third session at the Fitzwilliam Museum to experience art in a gallery setting, which would be closed to the general public for the duration of their visit. We were able to welcome a group visit to the Museum’s Feast and Fast exhibition before we went into COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, and the daughter of one of the residents joined us, which made it a special shared experience for her and her mum.

About Bramley Court

Here’s Carol, wellbeing leader at Bramley Court, to tell us a bit more about the community she supports:

Bramley Court Care Home in Histon is a residential, nursing and dementia home with 72 residents. We provide care and support for a diverse group of older residents, and a welcoming environment for family and friends, so they feel included and are able to share in the lives of their loved ones. Keeping close contact with the local community is also an important part of ensuring residents keep connected with people, places and experiences familiar to them.

Supporting Bramley Court during the COVID-19 pandemic

When COVD-19 forced us all into lock down, the Dance and Time with the Museum team realised that we would have to find new ways of connecting and supporting our community partnerships during this time, especially as they are among the most vulnerable and potentially the most isolated in our community.

We printed quality images of paintings and distributed them with written information based on how we would invite participants to look and engage with the paintings. This enabled the care home staff to share the practice with residents, describing the artwork and inviting the participants to travel through the painting, to share their ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings. The shared experience, learning together, listening to others and in turn being listened to is a valuable part of the session.

Images from the museum’s collection together with artworks created by residents

We also made up art boxes containing a range of quality materials and activities relating to the Museum’s collection to extend the engagement and conversations. This was also a way they could share with family and friends who could no longer visit the care home, as residents created cards to send family, and had conversations about the art works when relatives were in touch remotely. Some of the residents have used the images to inspire their own creative interests and have taken to painting.

Seven short films, ‘Relax, Look, and Imagine’, were made about paintings from the Fitzwilliam Museum collection, echoing the way the programme is delivered, with gentle relaxation, music and slow immersive looking. These have been watched by residents and staff at the care home and shared with family and friends.

“Thank you, I found the videos you sent me really interesting. Calm and conscious attention to movement and art are brought together wonderfully. I’m sure my mum and many others will gain so much from these.” – Daughter of one of the residents

I asked Carol what this period of time has been like for her, for the people she works with, and her service.

For twelve weeks we had no family visits and none of our community partners have been able to come in. So one of the biggest challenges was how we support our residents and their family members. It has been very stressful for them not being able to visit, some of them are vulnerable themselves and haven’t been able to go out so are feeling isolated.

It has been really good to keep in touch with the Fitzwilliam Museum; it has been very special, as we haven’t been able to do this with any of our other community partnerships.  With all the art work you have provided you’ve helped us to keep it going and alive and you’ve adapted to our needs brilliantly, it’s been a rich exchange of ideas. It’s helped me and the team and I’ve put copies of the art work in all of our community groups, so residents and staff can sit and have a one to one conversation if they want. The art making, especially the cards, was amazing because the quality of the materials meant that they looked very professional and the residents sent them to their families who really appreciated receiving them.  The post of the residents engaging with the art work on Facebook was well received by family and friends. Also the wide range of options has been great, the printed copies and the art films has enabled us to engage a wide range of needs. We recently refurbished our cinema room and can take small groups of six residents in at a time and have been showing two films a week with different groups. One of my groups really appreciates having the art work in their hand and we have had some really in depth discussion and debate about the paintings.

Artwork by Bramley Court resident, inspired by a painting in the museum’s collection

During this time when we have had to adapt how we work with smaller groups of 5 to 6 residents, I actually feel that the smaller groups are better, a richer experience, as we can tailor a session for a particular group’s needs. We had a lovely session last week, sparked all sorts of conversations and memories shared of childhood holidays, learning to swim as well as detailed discussion about how the art made us feel, the form and colours etc. we actually looked at three paintings and the session lasted for nearly two hours! It was amazing.

As the first lockdown was lifted, the Museum planned how it would safely open to the public but also how it could best provide a safe offer to our more vulnerable community groups. It was agreed that the safest offer for these groups would be to have exclusive access to the museum before it opened to the public.

Bramley Court Care Home were the first community group to take up this offer, enjoying three visits at the end of August and beginning of September. It was their first time out of the care home in five months and it was heart-warming and quite emotional to share in their experience of seeing the paintings in the galleries, finding familiar favourites and discovering new ones. They really enjoyed walking through the galleries together taking in the eclectic collections and the architecture of the building.

A Bramley Court resident enjoys revisiting the Fitzwilliam Museum after the first lockdown – and being interviewed for ITV News! Photo by Amanda Ward.

One of the residents said, “I’ve had a lifelong interest in art and I was thrilled to be visiting the museum again.” Another said she “enjoyed the connection of coming back to the museum which she had visited before with her daughter.”

With Claude Monet’s Springtime, one of the paintings featured in the Relax, Look, Imagine video series. Photo by Amanda Ward.

The return of lockdown in November 2020 and now from January 2021 has meant visits are once again suspended, and we look forward to being able to welcome Bramley Court residents to the museum when current restrictions lift and it feels safe to do so. In the meantime, we have started doing Zoom sessions as another way of bringing us together.

On a cold gloomy December afternoon, I was beamed via zoom into the cinema room with its dimmed lights and big comfy chairs. Five residents, Carol and the care home dog were all ready and waiting to drift into J.F. Lewis’s ‘The Siesta’. A richly textured, detailed and colourful painting depicting a woman stretched out, sleeping on a day bed in an old Ottoman House in Cairo, with vases full of flowers their intoxicating perfume filling the warm air. It reminded some of holidays spent in Italy and Spain and as the conversations continued the sound of gentle snoring could be heard, someone was enjoying a Siesta, truly an immersive experience.

I feel that this experience during these strangest of times has formed a close partnership where we have found new ways of engaging the residents, their families and staff with the museum collection.  Beyond the pandemic, I’m sure the different ways of reaching out to this diverse group of people will continue and make our provision richer.