Movies Memories: How GFT built a dementia-friendly film community

Posted on January 13, 2022 by Jodie Wilkinson

Categories: General

In this blog we hear from Jodie Wilkinson, Public Engagement Coordinator for Glasgow Film, about how they built a dementia-friendly film community through their Movie Memories engagement programme. Jodie discusses the practical steps they took in researching and creating the programme, offers some tips on running your own dementia-friendly screenings based on their learnings, and shares a method of evaluating the social value of programmes like this – which can be a useful tool when applying for future funding.

Around the difficult and challenging times we and our communities find ourselves in, 2022 marks a period of reflection and celebration for Glasgow Film Theatre as we look back on the success and legacy of one of our recent engagement programmes: Movie Memories, an innovative dementia-friendly film programme developed as a result of a long-term organisational strategy to build a dementia-friendly community with cinema culture at its heart.

In sharing the research commissioned by HammondCare to evaluate the project and by honing in on some logistical and holistic learnings, I hope that you, someone who believes in the power of cinema and its potential impact on audiences, will see the potential gains to exhibitors in providing dementia-friendly cinema and acquire an understanding of the real-time benefits of a programme that offers high-quality, cinematic experiences which speak to people affected by dementia (this includes a person living with dementia, their partner as full-time carer, their paid carer, family and friends).

Movie Memories research publications. © Glasgow Film Movie Memories: Ingrid Mur.
Movie Memories

Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) is an independent cinema in Glasgow city centre which plays a leading role in the cultural life of the city. Providing people of all ages with opportunities for connection, community, and culture through engagement with film is a key driver for GFT. Over recent years, the organisation has developed three primary accessible programmes: D/deaf and Hard of Hearing-friendly Visible Cinema, an autism-friendly Access Film Club, and Movie Memories.

Funded for three years by the Life Changes Trust, Movie Memories was launched in October 2017 to provide a programme of classic and contemporary film screenings alongside multi-arts entertainment. This was preceded by 6 months of research and development which involved: talking with our front of house team who had noticed significant changes in some of our older audiences’ needs; speaking with local people living with dementia; connecting to organisations who work with and advocate for people living with and affected by dementia; reading the available material I could source about dementia-friendly cinema practice; and discovering those people of lived experience, like Agnes Houston MBE (Movie Memories Dementia Coordinator), who we could collaborate with, learn from and help make Movie Memories relevant and meaningful to the audience we wanted to attract.

“Yes, dementia brings changes but that doesn’t mean I want or should be given different experiences from the ones I had always enjoyed prior to my diagnosis.”Agnes Houston, MBE

And so, the programme was built on a commitment to Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts […] and its benefits.” A human rights-based approach to cultural participation, based on mutual respect and open dialogue with participants, goes beyond a commitment to our community, vital though that is. It is also an obligation that we have to the people of the city. As we navigate our way out of the immediate impact of a global pandemic, the fallout of which may marginalise and make many more people vulnerable, human rights-based cultural engagement strategies are critical. And if not now, then when?

A musician performs at a Movie Memories screening. © Glasgow Film Movie Memories: Ingrid Mur.
Key components to building a dementia-friendly film community
  • Using a learning organisation approach, we created a Dementia Coordinator role and collaborated with dementia activist, Agnes Houston MBE.
  • We formed a Movie Memories Ambassadors cohort – GFT volunteers upskilled with Dementia Awareness and Dementia Friends training.
  • A dementia-friendly audit via Agnes and the Dementia Alumni Group pivoted our understanding of how we could improve the in-house environment. This built confidence and enabled the Front of House team to respond creatively to the challenges of creating a dementia-friendly environment.
  • To widen programme reach and visibility, annual pop-up events were designed within the annual Glasgow Film Festival.
  • We formed a steering group comprising 11 different perspectives and 9 organisations representing dementia advocacy, activism, carer and network support. Through quarterly meetings this voluntary group advised us on film curation and challenged the language of our communications to ensure we were best representing this audience.

Together, these steps laid the foundations for our dementia-friendly community with cinema culture at its heart to become a reality.

Top tips to developing dementia-friendly cinema engagement
  • Ensure organisational commitment to developing and providing an accessible cinema experience. Trust builds in audience sustainability.
  • Research your local dementia communities. Reach out and make connections to support and advocacy organisations. Spend time in dementia cafés.
  • Engage with dementia carer networks and connect with carer support services. Carers of people with dementia provide vital care and cultural opportunities to find the space they need to recharge can be few and far between.
  • Establish a team of committed staff and volunteers.
  • Use the approach of a learning organisation: including learning from others with lived and learnt experience.
  • Seek advice from your local dementia organisations.
  • Provide kick-start and ongoing dementia awareness training for staff and volunteers.
  • Commission a dementia-friendly audit and risk assessment of the environment to ensure the venue can be comfortably navigated by people with dementia and their carers.
  • Make decisions on film programming based on information from audience feedback and previous attendance figures.
  • Choose a time and day for the film screening that doesn’t have busy foot traffic inside the venue and is informed by the time and life demands of people with dementia and their carers.
  • Ensure that people with dementia and their carers have a positive, safe, and enjoyable experience. This begins before they enter your space and after they leave. How do they book? How do they get to you? What will the experience contain?
  • Evaluate the experience of audience members, staff, and volunteers at regular intervals (via audience feedback, event team feedback and periodic surveys).
  • Notice and value the micro-activities that make the whole experience come together.
  • Continue to be a learning organisation. Continue to learn from people’s experience of the cinema event you are providing.
  • Share your learning with other organisations.
The Movie Memories Ambassadors outside of GFT. © Glasgow Film Movie Memories: Ingrid Mur.
The value of the Movie Memories Ambassadors

These are key voluntary stakeholders and a vital team of people. Upskilled with Dementia Awareness and Dementia Friends training, they provide contact and connection for our audiences. Wearing their bright red sashes, they line the venue route like a human chain to welcome people with smiles and warmth. The inclusion of the ambassador role breathes life into the events each month and enhances the audience experience exponentially. In turn, the ambassadors find great reward through participating. They get to meet socially as a team, take ownership by hosting events and feel the power of their contribution by seeing how their presence impacts others.

The value of an interval

Providing an interval may seem unimportant as it only adds time onto the event duration, but its inclusion is an intrinsic component to the audience’s rounded experience. For us, an interval – a defined space in time – brings the lights up. It allows a timeout for refreshments, a chance to process part one of the film, a moment for a toilet break so a scene isn’t missed and, just as essential, an interval offers the opportunity for social engagement with others. This can be non-verbal (making eye contact, smiling at one another and wordlessly noticing people’s expressions) or fifteen minutes filled with chatter and memory recall.

Audience members at a Movie Memories screening. © Glasgow Film Movie Memories: Ingrid Mur.
The value of ‘Social Return on Investment’ for future funding

Much of the value of real world activities is not easy to measure in financial terms – things like happiness, dignity or social inclusion. This can mean that outcomes which are important to people and communities are overlooked, or discounted.

Primarily, Social Return on Investment (SROI) is an outcomes-based measurement and evaluation tool that helps organisations to understand and quantify the social, environmental and economic value they are creating. SROI measures extra-financial value, the important yet often unquantifiable, external benefits produced from interactions with in-house activities that are not currently reflected or involved in traditional financial accounting processes.

  • SROI measures change in ways that are accepted by the people or organisations that experience the change (stakeholders), involves them and articulates this from their perspectives (e.g. Movie Memories stakeholders are: people living with dementia, carers, volunteers and GFT).
  • Relevant outcomes are identified by the stakeholders themselves and a monetary value is assigned to these outcomes by identifying indicators which can be allocated a financial value (or proxy). Comparing this value to the investment required to achieve that benefit produces an SROI ratio.
  • Developed by the New Economics Foundation [1], SROI aims to measure and communicate this broader value.
  • Via the SROI process an organisation can then: evaluate impact on stakeholders, identify ways to improve performance, and enhance the performance of investments.

The Movie Memories research by HammondCare revealed that Movie Memories has a significant impact in supporting people living with dementia and their carers. For every £1 of investment in Movie Memories, the social value contribution of the programme is estimated to be £4.74.

Audience members at a Movie Memories screening. © Glasgow Film Movie Memories: Ingrid Mur.
Further reading


Thanks to HammondCare – The Dementia Centre.

This work is supported with funding from the Life Changes Trust. The Trust is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

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