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Meet the researcher - Dr Bruce Davenport

This month, we meet Dr Bruce Davenport from the School of Arts and Cultures

Dr Bruce Davenport is Research Associate in Media, Culture and Heritage, based in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Below we learn more about his ageing research in arts and culture, and his links with other groups within, and outside of Newcastle University. 

What is your main area of research?

At the moment I’m working on a project called Dementia & Imagination which studies the impact of creative activities for people with dementia and accompanying family members or care staff. It is a large multi-partner project involving research groups across the country: I’m part of the group at Newcastle University being led by Professor Andrew Newman. The project activity took place in three locations across the UK and now the team are analysing data and disseminating project findings. The project took a mixed-methods approach, and my work is mainly around analysing participants’ responses to a qualitative interview. We’re interested in both their experience of the activities, but also the impact of the activities have had on their social connectivity.

How does your work fit within ageing research?

My work sits within the psychosocial end of the broad ageing research spectrum. It relates to the use of museums, galleries and heritage sites as a therapeutic space or resource for an older population. My own approach is to learn from cognitive and neurobiological research and ask how findings from those fields might frame, or inform our understanding of professional practices within cultural heritage organisations.

What current age-related projects are you working on/or what projects have you worked on in the past?

Alongside the Dementia & Imagination project, I’m working on a couple of other projects relating to ageing.

I’m working with Professor Rhiannon Mason and Dr Areti Galani on a European project looking at the impact of reminiscence activities in open-air museums for people with dementia and their accompanying family members or carers. It involves five open-air museums (including Beamish Museum) and three universities. The project is called ‘Active Ageing and Heritage in Adult Learning’ and it is funded by Erasmus+. The project was initiated by the museums and the universities were invited to partner with them.

I’m also working on a small project with Dr Galani and staff at Beamish to explore unobtrusive methods of capturing the impact of the museum’s work with their ‘Men’s Group’ of older men with mental health problems.

Back in 2010, I managed an action research project; ‘Ageing, Health and Vitality’, which was collaboration between the (then) Institute for Ageing and Health and regional museums services. Again, this explored the impact of museum activities on the wellbeing of older people. I’ve also done some desk-based research for Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums that explored the potential of digital storytelling as a therapeutic activity for people with dementia.

Rhiannon, Areti and I also ran a pilot project looking at the ways in which objects provoke conversation in older people. We took a group of older women to Beamish Museum and to the Shipley Art Gallery to take part in object handling sessions. We then explored how the different objects and setting shaped the conversation.

How important is to explore engagement in culture amongst older people?

The headline answer to that is ‘very!’ The slightly more challenging answer is that ‘culture’ is not one single thing but covers a whole range of resources and activities. On top of that, there is enormous diversity in the way that people engage with culture or create and sustain cultures. The things that one person values may be meaningless to another – which is how it should be.

Taking a broad view of what is included in the phrase ‘engagement in culture’ entails a similarly broad view of the value of that engagement and how to capture it. This is why it is so important for projects, such as Dementia & Imagination, to take a mixed-methods approach.

Where are your main collaborations, and where would you like to make links in the future?

The work with Beamish Museum on the Men’s Group was jointly funded by The Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal. Most of my work has been done within the School of Arts and Cultures and the main collaborators have been museums in the region rather than other Schools or departments. Nonetheless, I bump into other researchers within the University who have similar interests. For instance, the Medical Humanities workshop hosted by NUHRI in April 2016 brought together a range of people who had overlapping areas of interest and it was good to share ideas and perspectives. It would be interesting to explore this further. I’d also be interested in talking to researchers from the more biological and neurological end of the ageing research spectrum to see whether we can look beyond our methodological differences and find common interests.

Dr Bruce Davenport

published on: 30 January 2017