Last week I had the pleasure of travelling to Norway to visit a couple of museums. I was primarily visiting a student on placement at the Norsk Utvandrermuseet (Norwegian Emigrant Museum) in Hamar. However, I’d also recently found out about the ‘Meeting with Memories‘ project (see also this report) that was delivered in museums across Norway and happened to meet a staff member of a participating museum, Maighaugen Open-Air Museum in Lillehammer. So, I took the opportunity to make a detour from Hamar to Lillehammer before heading back to Oslo airport. In both places I had the pleasure of a long conversation with a member of staff, which form the basis for what follows…
Caution is always needed when comparing across countries. You can see this in recent (suggested) reforms of the primary curriculum. Norway and England are very different places and those differences are significant. Norway has a much smaller population (around 5 million people) and outside of the main cities many people live in small towns or smaller rural communities. Norway has also (not) spent it’s oil wealth differently than England, meaning that there is more money in the public coffers. So I am not trying to suggest that the way things are done in Norway can be simply imported into England but it is interesting to see the differences.
Where to begin… the Norwegian government instituted a national programme called the ‘kulturskoleradet‘ (the cultural school bag) which enabled children throughout Norway to have access to arts and cultures. Alongside this the Lillehammer kommune (the local municipality wherein Maihaugen is located) has decided to provide it’s own, additional funding to ensure that school-children can go on visits to museums etc.. In a parallel to this, the government has now set up the ‘kulturelle spaserstokken‘ (cultural walking-sticks) which is a fund that kommunes or other organisations can bid into to provide cultural activities for older people. (There is also (apparently) a semi-formal degree programme for active older people who want to continue learning.) At Maihaugen the kulturelle spaserstokken is being used to fund reminiscence sessions in one of their period homes. The staff are dressed in period clothes; they structure what is said and done around a narrative. Participants come into the living room and share coffee and biscuits. A cat lives in the house and participants enjoy stroking the cat. The setting, the cat and the enacted narrative are all allowed to stimulate memories in an natural fashion. Inevitably, as with conversations everywhere, participants’ comments also stimulate other participants memories.
Maihaugen has a collection of domestic buildings representing most decades of the 20th Century meaning that they have a natural progression already built into the museum. As time goes by staff will start using a different house that it more appropriate to the age of the participants. In recent years the demographic of the Norwegian population has become more diverse and staff are mindful that this will affect the way they will need to work in the future.
This programme is a top-down programme introduced by the Norwegian government but it suggests that at some time the people within government were persuaded of the value of this type of work. I’d love to know who did the persuading and how they achieved it. (Again, the smaller population and the relative security of national finances will have a role to play here.)
The ‘Meeting with Memories’ programme started in a view museum around Oslo but was then widened to include museums across Norway. It came with a particular methodology which included contact with a consistent group of people over a stretch of time and this may not always have been possible. It is difficult to judge how well this programme has spread beyond the museums that were involved in that programme.
One of the interesting points in my discussions was around evaluation: At the moment there is no formal evaluation of sessions at Maihaugen but, when asked, the carers are very happy that this sort of work is taking place. The staff at the Lillehammer kommune are also happy with the way that the work has gone and are promoting it (and the availability of funding) to other care homes in the area. When discussing ‘quality’, the members of Hedmark Museums (which the Emigrant Museum is a part of) decided that many indicators of quality were subjective and liable to change so they opted to focus on numbers. There is a logic to this but it will militate against reminiscence work which works best with small numbers of participants. What was pointed out to me though was that in small communities a different, more social judgement about quality is also at play. If you live and work in a small community and you do work that is good or has positive consequences then word gets around. Other people get to know about what you have done and the judgements made about it and that, in turn, leads to more work coming your way. It may not be scientific but I can imagine that it works.