Exploring Retirement

"The institutions and instruments which have been created to meet the problem of ageing, are in no position to provide us with a policy for that great majority of retired people who present no problem at all"

Peter Laslett: A Fresh Map of Life.

Exploring Retirement is written by and for retired people, to assist active retirees make the most of their additional years of good health. If you are interested in writing for Exploring Retirement, please contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk For ideas to write about, have a glance at the July 2014 issue of Exploring Retirement, available by clicking on "Past Issues" in the navigation bar on the left of this page. These are only suggestions, please contact us if you have a different topic you would like to share your thoughts on.

We trust that you will continue to enjoy our monthly publication and please tell your friends about the site.

Welcome to the July 2017 edition of Exploring Retirement! In 2017 we are focussing on different creative activities in retirement, especially those that offer the opportunity to make new friends. If you are engaged in an unusual creative activity, we would love to hear from you.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining their principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

Mind, Body and Spirit: How museums can impact health and well-being

What is a museum? What is it for? Is it just a collection of fossils gathering dust in glass cases? Or can it be something more? In 2014 a new report was published entitled "Mind, Body and Spirit: How museums impact health and well-being". This publication reported the findings from a year-long action research project funded by Arts Council England (ACE) and initiated by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG), based in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. It set out to show how museums are well placed to respond to changes in public health, using their collections to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, to counter health inequalities within communities, and contribute positively to the goals of public health bodies.

The Report examined the growing body of museum practice addressing community health and wellbeing, health promotion and education and tackling health inequalities. Many of these projects are innovative or experimental, stimulating new ways of using collections or addressing specific themes, groups or issues. In particular, the Report focused on a year-long action research project entitled Museums, Health and Wellbeing. This was involved the creation of a network of museums in the East Midlands region of England. Funded by Arts Council England, the project enabled five museums from the region to develop projects which would contribute to the health and wellbeing of their communities. Some of the resulting initiatives are set out below.

  1. Encountering the Unexpected involved smaller museums from Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire taking their collections out to engage and interest older people living in the community and in residential or care homes. Collections of objects familiar to older people from their childhood and younger days were used to invite discussion, make connections between the past and present, and create an enjoyable, sociable experience.

  2. In Derbyshire, the Crich tramway Museum in the Amber Valley worked with an intergenerational group of older and younger people, using their collections to explore the theme of life journeys, dreams, memories and independence, at the same time as strengthening social ties amongst the group.

  3. The extensive John Player & Sons Archive, which is held by Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, presented an opportunity to use a historical collection to address a contemporary health issue - to reduce smoking prevalence in the city. Using the rich collections from the John Player & Sons Archive, which includes striking adverts and packaging produced at a time when the dangers of smoking were not so well known, Nottingham's project developed and piloted a set of resources which could be used with schools and youth groups. Most people start smoking when they are teenagers, on average around age 16-17, so interventions are increasingly focused on trying to stop young people from starting smoking in the first place.

Quite clearly there is a change of mindset happening among museum staff. These initiatives, and others, have got people really excited about the possibilities. I would invite our readers to visit their local museum and see it through different eyes. How can the vast collection of objects, materials and art be made more accessible and relevant to the everyday lives of us all. We need not be passive spectators, but contributors to this new movement. We can be an amazing resource. As always, what we need is imagination and, collectively, we have got a lot of that!

Featured Activity: Creative Opportunities in Museums

Nearly all museums and heritage organisations use volunteers to work in all sections, from front-of-house to research, events and exhibitions departments. In recent years, public museums have become increasingly dependent on volunteers to maintain services in the face of funding cuts. The annual Museums Association Survey found that, in 2015, 45% of museums in the UK increased the number of volunteers in post while 24% reported a decrease in full-time staff.

Volunteering for a museum can be a rewarding experience. Volunteers perform a wide variety of museum work including research, collections care, cataloguing, tour guiding, and front of house. For the volunteer it can be a way of contributing to society in a meaningful and productive way. Volunteers can also help the museum deepen their relationship with local communities, broaden the active involvement of a diverse range of people with our heritage, and more often than not they bring a range of expertise and knowledge that is invaluable to the effectiveness of the museum.

Probably the best way to convey the range of work possible is to give you a few examples. If you have a specific interest, then why not contact the Curator at your local museum and discuss your ideas with them.

  1. Kathryn volunteered at Castle Ward (a large house and estate on the shores of Strangford Lough) throughout 2007 and 2008 . She was based in the Tack Room, situated within the Stable Yard. Using a hundred year old image of a horse between the shafts, she developed a task which invited children to work out how the various parts of tack hanging on the original pegs fit together to make up a harness. Kathryn also helped to interpret the lives of the working horses on the Castle Ward estate, using the collection of harnesses to recall the farm work they undertook, and relating the lives of known Castle Ward horses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Kathryn's project portrayed farm practices of the past, and helped to gather stories from older people visiting the site. Her interpretation of the Tack Room also helped to raise awareness of ploughing championships still being held, and to provoke discussion about horse welfare today.

  2. At the National Trust in Northern Ireland, 15 volunteers were crucial in helping to implement the new Collections Management System. Recruited, trained and managed by a former Assistant Curator, the volunteers included retired people, students studying for their MA in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of Ulster, and recent graduates seeking work experience. The volunteers greatly enjoyed getting close-up, hands-on access to the historic objects in the Trust's care, which included fine porcelain and works of art at Castle Coole and Mount Stewart, spades at Patterson's Spade Mill, and a large collection of doileys at Ardress House. They shared in the excitement of revealing once more the costumes at The Argory, a collection last opened in the 1970s, which they helped to unpack, catalogue and survey.
  3. Museum Docent

    A docent is an idea that comes to us from the USA. Docent is a title given to persons who serve as guides and educators in museums and art galleries, or in an historical house. Docents act as knowledgable companions, helping visitors to gain additional insights into the material on exhibit. The word docent is derived from the Latin and means to teach or to lecture.

    In this short video clip Diane Merrill, a retired teacher and a docent at the Holocaust Museum in Houston, discusses what it means to her to be a docent.

    I am not aware of docents working in UK museums or art galleries but I would be delighted to learn differently. If any of our readers can provide local examples, do get in touch.


    Michael McSorley

    Michael has had a lifelong love of cycling and in this month's article he shares his love of the sport with his readers. The accompanying photo shows the sheer scale of the 2017 Gran Fondo in Northern Ireland, in which Michael recently took part. The magnificent building in the background is Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly (parliament). Click here to read Michael's recollections of his most recent cycling adventure.

    Jeanette Lewis

    This month Jeanette departs from her usual posting, as Canada celebrates 150 years since it's founding. She uses the opportunity to look back at the major events in the life of the Canadian people and considers how Canada has been transformed into a modern, diverse society. To read her fascinating article, click here