Back to the 40s and 50s with Halcyon House
Halcyon House, a dementia-friendly residential care home for older people, warmly welcomed Formby schoolchildren, who were invited to explore an exhibition showcasing the cherished memories and memorabilia of the residents from the 1940s and 1950s.
The exhibition was the brainchild of Halcyon House Activities Coordinator, Liam Brown, who runs regular memory sessions with the residents.
Liam explains, “Each session, someone brings in an item or photograph that has special meaning for them, or shares a special memory, and we discuss it as a group.” Michael Redman, aged 90, regularly attends Liam’s sessions, which have helped him to improve his communication skills and to bond with his fellow residents.
“Michael was quite introverted when he arrived at our home,” says Liam. “He wasn’t communicating very well with the other residents. However, as soon as he could identify with something that someone shared with the group, he completely opened up and was happy to also relate his memories and experiences.”
Michael recalls, “I was a jet engine fitter in the RAF for my National Service – a practical and interesting job, though we never got much recognition for it. After a brief stint at Biggin Hill I was put ‘on the boat’ in 1950 – that meant you were stationed overseas, in my case in Germany. It was a real eye-opener for me to see the damage we had done to country in the war. There was some animosity but I was never involved in any fights myself; let’s just say I was in a company of rational thinkers!”
For one memory session, Michael brought in a model Mosquito and Bowfighter airplane, which many of the other residents were fascinated by. He was able to tell them about his time working with the aircraft at RAF Woodvale, where he continued his career in the RAF after his National Service ended.
“I lived in Ainsdale, very close to the airbase. The Spitfires, Hurricanes and a few other aircraft were kept there during and after the war, as were the Mosquitos, and I got to see a lot of interesting planes going up and down. I worked on the Woodvale International Rally for 42 years, which started as a model aircraft show and grew to include all sorts of cars and other vehicles too.”
Following the session, Michael revealed to Liam that he had quite a sizeable collection of memorabilia from his career including three model aircraft, plaques and pamphlets from the Rallies he had worked on, a flight hat, and a book on Woodvale’s history.
Liam also had collected some 1940s and 1950s items of his own over the years, including wartime rationing books. He asked the other residents and staff to see if they had any of their own memorabilia, and eventually he had enough for a small exhibition.
It was not just residents and their families who donated, but Liam’s Halcyon House colleagues also brought in objects including an array of theatre props from the era. Not all of the items were war-based – one resident brought in a bowl that he had bought in Africa on his honeymoon.
Where those who donated an item could not say where it had come from or the story behind it, Liam diligently researched each one, enabling him to provide a short, accurate write-up. Armed with his own collection, Michael’s memorabilia and the various items donated by other residents and colleagues, he was finally able to display everything in a museum-style exhibition at the home.
The exhibition was very popular and many of the residents were extremely proud of it, ensuring that their friends and family members got to see everything during their visits.
The home soon received interest from Formby High School, and several students were invited to visit the exhibition to complement their studies. The residents devised a worksheet and stationed themselves around the exhibition during the students’ visit. They were delighted to tell them more about the collection and share their own childhood memories. The students were excited to see armed forces uniform, medals and even a shell casing, as well as some of the schoolbooks and equipment that students from the wartime and post-war period has used.
Michael says, “The students showed a surprising amount of interest in something that happened so long ago. Some of them told me that they had grandparents and relatives who were actually based at Woodvale themselves, so we bonded over that.
“Before they left I asked them what they thought of us, and I was very pleased to hear how interesting and knowledgeable they thought we all were!”
Liam says, “It was great to have the students from Formby High School visits us at Halcyon House, and it was clear that they enjoyed the experience, as did our residents. We’ve had them back to visit again since – of course, the ones that had met Michael the first time made a beeline straight for him! Hopefully we can make it a regular feature of our programme.
“I’m hoping to start an intergenerational pen-pal scheme too. Some of our residents don’t have many friends or family that they talk to regularly, so we hope it will help alleviate some of the feelings of loneliness and isolation for them, which is what Abbeyfield as an organisation aims to do.”
As for the exhibition itself, Liam says, “We set it up in our sun-lounge when the weather wasn’t so good, and it ran for about a month. However, when the weather improved we wanted our residents to be able to use the room to relax, socialise and see our garden in bloom, so we made the difficult decision to take the exhibition down.”
Michael, meanwhile, is now enjoying his time at Halcyon House, with his wife of 62 years living nearby.
“I’ve also got two children and nine grandchildren. They live in all corners of the world but they see me when they can. Nonetheless, I very much enjoy it here, even when they’re not around.
“As long as you have something to concentrate your mind on, that’s of value. Liam is full of interesting ideas to keep us occupied and entertained and I’ll try my hand at anything, especially the arts and crafts. I made a coaster recently – well, I’d never even considered doing anything like that before, but everyone said it was really good and my wife has even put a magnet on it and stuck it to the fridge!”
Due to the success of his exhibition, Liam hopes to create similar ways to show off the residents’ talents in the future. He is currently in touch with a group of local artists with a view to displaying some of their artwork alongside some art made by the residents. He hopes the artists will be willing to run some workshops or classes, share some tips and help the residents to develop their artistic skills.