Working together to make museums more “age friendly”

Trish Botten, one of our Board Members, has written for us about her experience at the Age Friendly Museums Network. Read more below! 

Post-it notes from the Age Friendly Museum Network copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
What does Age Friendly mean to you?

I was delighted to represent Museums Galleries Scotland at a seminar hosted by the Age Friendly Museums Network (AFMN), at the start of the year. I acted as chair for the day at the, Charles Rennie Macintosh designed, Scotland Street School Museum. (Which was a treat in itself to visit).

The seminar was about cross-sector working, a term you may have heard used before. It was a chance to find out about museums and galleries working together with with professionals from health/social care/sport/culture and the voluntary sector. These professionals came to share skills, experiences, ideas and projects that will improve quality of life for older people and inspire greater participation, learning and well-being for this diverse audience group.

It’s a subject close to my heart, not just because I am an on ‘older’ person in my 60s. Until recently I was working full-time and caring for both my parents in their 90s. I know that what you need at 50 and 60 is very different from when you need in your 70s and 80s or even, if you are lucky, in your 90s.

My mother Morag, 93, loved her visit to the new Museum and Archive at Lews Castle in Stornoway just before the galleries were completed. Although she suffers from significant short term memory problems her delight in the moment was obvious. Looking at objects she remembered from her childhood, talking to the staff, lingering over photos of places and landscapes and testing out her rusty Gaelic!

Trish's mum, Morag, visiting a museum
Trish’s mum, Morag.

At the seminar the range of skills and experience in the room was staggering. Museums working with Care homes (Glasgow Life working with Social Services); Football Memories with the Scottish Football Museum; Memory Cafe – Glasgow Life working with Alzheimer Scotland; large scale projects with the potential for a Scotland-wide roll-out like Liverpool Museums’ award winning dementia awareness training programme for carers – The House of Memories Programme.

During an exemplar reminiscence session with Diana Morton from Edinburgh Museums, I had to own up to being the only person who had a knitted swimsuit when they were little. Indeed I still have a photo of me in it (photo not included) …and yes, it sags everywhere when wet. I have never forgiven my parents for making me wear it!

What stood out is was the amount of great thinking and practice going on that we can all share in and use to the benefit of our own communities of older people. The AFMN webpages, for example, have fantastic resources, events and case studies.

I found the seminar day with this lively group of cross-sector practitioners really stimulating. It’s a great example of the way that museums and galleries work outside of ‘perceived’ remits – literally working outside of the box.

This is not just about ‘doing’ things with older people but recognising their skills and contributions too. In the Western Isles, my experience was that the whole fabric of the heritage sector was kept alive through the vibrant historical societies and small independent museums. They are run mostly by the efforts of retired people volunteering their time and knowledge.

I am a passionate advocate for cracking the ‘grey’ ceiling. Our sector can showcase how we can make a difference to the lives of older people – and their’s to ours – and also to ensure that decision makers and the Government recognise our contribution.

That’s where groups like The Age Friendly Museums Network hit the mark. Changing the culture of all the services involved through embedded and sustainable partnership working. Loretta Mordi’s work here at Museums Galleries Scotland looks at how we can implement good practice across the sector and also influence policy and practice in working with older people.

The Age Friendly Museums Network believe museums and older people enrich each other. Hear, hear!

If you are doing this type of work in your museum or interested in the Age Friendly Museums Network, MGS would like to hear from you. Please contact Loretta Mordi at

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