Extract from CADA Blog

Lived experience, leadership and the power of co-creation.

Tot Foster – Connecting Through Culture As We Age

For the last two years a research project at Bristol University has been pushing the boundaries of co-production with older people in the field of creative technology. Connecting Through Culture As We Age is led by Professor Helen Manchester and brings together a multidisciplinary academic team, local community organisations and eighteen older co-researchers who have experienced minoritisation due to their race, disability and/or socio-economic status.

The project took as its starting point the lived experiences and everyday lives of co-researchers. They undertook creative activities, individually and as a group, to support reflection upon cultural lives past and present, social connections, and their use of various digital technologies. We also explored together what co-researchers want from their lives moving on – what excites them? What makes them feel connected? What do they want to be able to do with phone or tablet? These activities have enabled later stages of research to be nuanced around co-researchers wants and needs and has helped the university researchers to learn how to support them to take centre stage in a co-production process which is the focus of this year; the ‘demonstrator projects’. After a period exploring co-design, building knowledge, relationships and digital literacies, co-researchers began work with people from the creative, cultural and digital sector to develop ideas for digital cultural experiences or services that aimed to support social connection and wellbeing in later life. Through this period of the project their identities shifted from co-researchers to co-designers. Six of the ideas that emerged from a series of workshops were funded and prototypes are being completed over the next month or so. These range from kits with digital instructions for those in care homes to make their own ‘Expressive Pockets’ using fabric image transfer technology, to an interactive book ‘Retirement Reloaded’ featuring writing by older women, to an augmented reality tool ‘Recycle City’ which can visually place structures made from waste products in local streets – supporting a re-think of how we live in urban areas.

As the project progressed it’s interesting that ‘age’ has become less of a topic of conversation. A non-hierarchical structure within demonstrator project teams has led to all involved relating to one another personally and individually; encapsulating our diverse identities and our lived experiences, and moving beyond assumptions related to chronological age. We have collectively explored the boundaries of what is possible in terms of supporting those who rarely lead on creative projects to be able to make key decisions, iterate ideas and see them through to a working prototype. The creative directions of the projects respond to the wisdom of long lives lived, and experiences of minoritisation and invisibility relating to the intersections of class, race, gender, disability, age and sexuality. As they come together, the projects have an overwhelming positivity, freshness and honest strength. In the longer term, not only have the university research team learned a huge amount about process and practices of co-design, but the future work of the creative and technology professionals involved has also benefitted from seeing their practices through a different lens; one which is more inclusive and relevant to minoritised older adults. And many of the co-researchers have been having a wonderful time, feel re-invigorated, heard and seen. As the project begins its final stage we are hoping to establish a means of the co-

researcher group sharing their experiences as co-designers with others in policy, arts and health in the future.