Between August 2013 and May 2014, Bloomsbury Festival in a Box: engaging socially isolated people with dementia researched, implemented and analysed a pilot scheme for engaging people with dementia in the arts. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the two-year Cultural Value Project, the project was a collaboration between the School of Advanced Study, University of London, University College London, the Bloomsbury Festival, and Age UK Camden, which worked with Age UK Camden’s Dementia Befriending Service to engage with six people living alone and with dementia in Bloomsbury and Camden.
At its core, the project sought to create a miniature and peripatetic version of the Bloomsbury Festival–an arts festival based in central London–that would be tailored to the needs of people living with dementia and would allow them to share insights into their lives in the area. ‘Archives’ of the engagement process were collected for each participant, and their contents analysed via a multi-disciplinary narrative research framework. This multidisciplinary approach— with primarily qualitative, but also quantitative components–combined literary and textual analysis, cultural and social history, interpretative phenomenological analysis, narrative gerontology and old age psychiatry. The research box itself was designed by architecture firm Lyn Atelier, known for their innovative work at Southbank Centre and the Barbican.
Today, the Bloomsbury Festival in a Box scheme continues to run as part of the Bloomsbury Festival’s year-round engagement activity – supported by St Andrew Holborn and the School of Advanced Study. The scheme faciliaties visits to peoples’ homes, group workshops in community settings, and acts as a catalyst for new artworks and projects. Over the past four years the project has developed a significant archive housed at Senate House, University of London.