The Imagination Café

Lead Research Organisation: University of West London
Department Name: College of Nursing, Midwifery and Health


The Imagination Café aims to maximise the impact of Dementia and Imagination (D&I) by combining a touring exhibition with artist and care staff training. The project showcases the artwork made by research participants (people living with dementia), trains other artists and care staff using the creative approach developed during the project, and raises awareness of dementia and of the D&I findings with a wide and varied audience, extending beyond the geographical focus of the original research.

The project tours a specially commissioned art installation (The Imagination Café) to 3 locations, Llandudno, Edinburgh and London (the venues are MOSTYN, Edinburgh College of Art and the Menier gallery respectively). They have been selected for their interest in developing new skills and collaborations to promote working creatively with people living with dementia. The installation is in the form of a pop-up café, displaying artwork made during D&I on its walls. A prototype café will be designed, installed and tested in Nottingham before the tour begins (as part of D&I dissemination activities). The Imagination Café will be tailored for each touring location as part of the proposed project, in conjunction with collaborators in Llandudno, Edinburgh and London.

The immersive, experiential space will feature artwork made by people living with dementia during D&I, offering specially created refreshments for people living with dementia, devised by nutritional consultant Jane Clarke. The café will staffed by volunteers on each site for up to a week, and will offer creative activities, led by artists involved in the D&I project. Supported by host collaborators in each location, the team will engage with local organisations including schools, community groups and healthcare professionals to ensure a wide network of people visit and benefit from the activity. This includes offering events focussing on art and music, and Admiral Nurse and Alzheimer's Society drop-in sessions. Information and materials related to dementia will be available for the public to consider and read. Attendees will be invited to leave comments in a diary room.

Artists from D&I will offer training to other artists and social care staff in each area via a full day workshop. This will share the creative approach developed during D&I and will facilitate the impact and legacy of the project in the longer term.

The project aims to test the feasibility of an accessible, inclusive and touring art installation, bespoke to each location, to create awareness of dementia and to showcase creative activities that are being developed and tested in the field. It builds on existing collaborations and develops new ones across a wide geographical area, to ensure that the value of the original research is maximised and to develop skill and expertise in arts and dementia with new collaborators from a variety of sectors, alongside raising public awareness about dementia more generally.

Planned Impact

The project will build on interdisciplinary relationships developed with artists, cultural organisations, community groups and people living with dementia during D&I in the following ways:

The project aims to empower charities and cultural sector organisations to offer services in accessible, and often free, public spaces, reaching more people and potentially making cost savings in the way that services are delivered.

The wider provision of evidence-based creative activities offers potential cost benefits in terms of reducing the need for other interventions e.g. staff monitoring of people living with dementia.

The project is likely to benefit people living with dementia, as it will showcase their creative abilities, allowing their artwork to be viewed by a wider and more diverse audience than it was during D&I.

The project aims to challenge and change public perceptions about the condition and should stimulate discussion and engagement with this serious health issue, potentially lessening stigma and fear associated with the condition.

We will build new networks of people interested in creative approaches to dementia care, over a wider geographical area, thus ensuring that learning from D&I is shared and disseminated effectively, beyond academic outputs.

The project should benefit the wider community of people impacted by dementia as it will provide training for a new group of artists and social care staff to enable them to deliver and commission evidence-based approaches to the use of visual arts in dementia care settings.

The project will develop new collaborative relationships with cultural, academic, commercial and community stakeholders working alongside people living with dementia and their carers, e.g. MOSTYN is a new collaborator, keen to extend its work with people living with dementia after an initial project with a community group and an artist in Conwy in 2016, and Jane Clarke is a nutritional consultant who has devised a special menu to nourish people living with dementia. She worked previously as a consultant on the Jamie's School Dinners project and has similarly ambitious plans to influence policy and practice in dementia care nutrition and catering. PS/Y is an art and curatorial organisation with excellent links to the contemporary art sector and a track record of working on mental health topics such as hysteria. The Dementia, Arts and Wellbeing Network are funded by the AHRC and are a group of academics, clinicians and arts practitioners who have been involved in a consultation about the prototype Imagination Café installation developed in Nottingham. They are keen to continue to provide input and expertise to the proposed touring project.

Involving doctoral students from TAnDEM (Alzheimer's Society's Arts and Dementia doctoral training centre, University's of Nottingham and Worcester) gives them valuable experience of stakeholder consultation, working with artists and senior researchers, and engaging with the community as a public engagement exercise.

The artist training will provide an opportunity to test the toolkit developed as part of D&I.

Artists from the D&I study will be involved in developing and delivering the training thus equipping them with valuable skills for their career development and enabling a new generation of artists and care staff to engage with the approach developed, delivered and evaluated during D&I. This promotes knowledge transfer from D&I and will assist the artists with disseminating their skills and knowledge beyond D&I.

The project aims to empower charities and cultural sector organisations to reach new audiences and alter working practices by using an innovative 'pop up' format that addresses a serious health issue.

The project aims to empower a range of artists and care staff to build skills in delivering artistic activities specially designed for people living with dementia.


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Description A pop-up, travelling art installation, located in accessible community venues, is an excellent way of: raising awareness of dementia, highlighting 'dementia and imagination' research project findings, and to highlight creative approaches to dementia care. The multi-sensory nature of the project- i.e. a pop-up café offering a 'dementia-friendly' afternoon tea, art created by people living with dementia, and music, theatrical and other creative activities attracted a wide audience including those with dementia and the general public of all ages. The positive findings from the research project 'dementia and imagination' highlight creative ways in which people with dementia can 'live well' and can support carers.

We engaged new audiences by touring the project to several parts of the UK (Llandudno, North Wales, London and Edinburgh in Scotland. We trained approximately 80 artists, using the findings from 'Dementia and Imagination'. This ensures that the research has legacy and ongoing impact, enabling the visual arts approaches that we developed to be used by creative practitioners across the UK.

One unexpected finding was the interest in the project from those without dementia or a connection to dementia care. It was noted that some itinerant e.g. homeless people, those with learning disabilities, and others who appeared socially isolated visited multiple times and stayed for hours at a time. They appeared to enjoy the welcoming space, free tea and coffee and afternoon tea and free creative activities on offer.

The project helped us build and develop collaboration with several creative organisations including Culture&, Menier gallery, MOSTYN and City Art Centre.
Exploitation Route Accessible art installations are a valuable to challenge negative social and cultural perceptions of dementia. We achieved this by exhibiting art made by people with dementia that was accomplished and aesthetically pleasing. This elicited positive feedback from visitors. Many were incredulous that some with dementia was able to work creatively and to produce artwork worthy of exhibition. It was noted that the project provided a space for people to talk about dementia, in relation to family members or to themselves, and their own fears about the condition. Working in partnership with the Alzheimer's Society and Dementia UK ensured that appropriate support was available for attendees if required. In Scotland, TIDE carers raised awareness of their services as part of the project. Including a free afternoon tea created a welcoming and nurturing atmosphere that was appreciated by attendees in their feedback (left in a visitors book)

We reached diverse audiences by working in cultural institutions that were free for the public to enter, in Wales, Scotland and England. This enabled us to share 'Dementia and Imagination' findings more widely. Use of cultural venues provided appropriate sites to offer artist training. On each site there was wide interest in attending the free training. In London, the training was over-subscribed. The training enabled us to form and support a wider network of artists trained to deliver evidence-based creative practice, suitable for use in clinical, community and residential dementia care settings. Doctoral and Masters students were involved in delivering on each site, enabling them to learn about public engagement and to network with colleagues from other disciplines e.g. arts, psychology, medicine, nursing, museum studies.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The Imagination Cafe format has inspired several new collaborations. This includes a collaboration with Harlequins Foundation (Harlequins Rugby Club) and CW+ charity. Harlequins (Stoop stadium) have hosted 4 Imagination Cafe events as a way to engage retired rugby players who may have dementia, isolated elderly people and local people who may benefit. The events feature multi sensory activities including food, visual art and music and also incorporate rugby and sport activity and memorabilia, supported by players, coaches and other club staff. The longer term intention is to explore use of the stadium facilities as a community health and wellbeing resource. An Imagination Cafe event will also take place at Pitzhanger Manor Gallery and Museum to launch a new programme for people with dementia. The event will feature food and refreshments, archival object handling, Hogarth-inspired art activity and musical interludes.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Specialist advice at the Imagination Cafe 
Organisation Alzheimer's Society
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The Alzheimer's Society were an invited party to Cafe events.
Collaborator Contribution Alzheimer's Society staff offered specialist information and support to attendees.
Impact none.
Start Year 2018
Description Specialist advice at the Imagination Cafe 
Organisation Dementia UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Admiral Nurses invited to events to offer specialist advice to attendees.
Collaborator Contribution Admiral Nurses offered specialist information and support to the project
Impact none
Start Year 2018
Description Collaboration with CW+ and Harlequin Foundation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A series of Imagination Cafe events have been held at The Harleuqins Stoop stadium (home of Harlequins rugby club). There are in collaboration with CW+ (hospital charity for Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust). They aim to provide inclusive and stimulating events for older people with dementia and those over 54 yrs who are socially isolated. The events include specialist catering, music, art activities and exercise. They are supported by the rugby club (players and coaches) and staff from the NHS Trust. They have attracted between 40-96 attendees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020