2009 was an important year for the Scottish Football Museum. In October the collections held by the museum were Recognised as being Nationally Significant. Four months earlier the museum embarked on a one year pilot project, using images from its collection to support people living with dementia. Almost eight years on and the pilot project has manifested into Football Memories Scotland, a national reminiscence project with over 150 groups stretching from Stranraer to Lerwick, including 20 professional football clubs. The museum’s digital collections have been instrumental in supporting the significant expansion of the project, coupled with the establishment of a network of partnerships at local, regional and national level.
The idea behind the reminiscence project was not originally the museum’s, but came from a group which we had established (the Scottish Football Heritage Network) which acted as a forum for senior football clubs in Scotland so that they could share information and advice on heritage and research. At the first meeting of this organisation in 2008, the Falkirk FC historian Michael White stood up and talked about the work that he was doing locally in his town to support elderly fans living with dementia, using images of old players to stimulate memory recall. He challenged the group to work together and share resources and the result was a pilot project, funded by Museums Galleries Scotland, which involved the Scottish Football Museum, Aberdeen FC, Hibernian FC and Falkirk FC. The pilot scheme was evaluated by Glasgow Caledonian University and hailed as an important therapeutic intervention for elderly football fans living with dementia. Alzheimer Scotland joined up with the museum in a formal partnership and the pilot became a permanent project.
Today, our groups have access to a range of therapeutic tools and our volunteers receive training. Packs of reminiscence cards are supplied as well as DVDs to provide an immediate resource for group facilitators. A website, www.footballmemoriesleague.co.uk, contains around 5,000 digital images which are available for our volunteers to access and print off in order to personalise reminiscence sessions for individuals. The museum also provides handling boxes which can be loaned out to groups and which contain an assortment of items, from old footballs and football boots, to rattles, scarves and scent boxes. Whilst supporting people living with dementia remains a key objective, we also have opened out the groups to include people with other forms of memory loss, as well as people living in loneliness and isolation or experiencing depression.
In recent years the project has started to receive wider interest. In 2016 the Scottish Football Museum co-hosted our first seminar on Sport, Mental Health and Dementia along with Edinburgh University. Interest in the Football Memories project has come from universities, hospitals and researchers in Europe, Japan, North America and South America.
The museum currently has an exhibition entitled The Game We Used to Play, which is dedicated to the Football Memories Project. Fourteen people from our groups were interviewed and the displays within the exhibition space were built around a memory from each person. These memories, and those from a further 22 interviews from people within our groups, will go into the museum’s oral history archive. The groups were intended to bring people out of isolation and into a sociable environment, as the diagnosis of dementia can lead to people giving up hobbies and losing friends over time. Now the exhibition and oral history contributions will go one step further; they will enable people with dementia to inform our visitors of past events through their own life stories and contribute to society as a result. It will also help to challenge the stigma around dementia.
The future will see the continued development of Football Memories Scotland, and a twice weekly model (the Football Memories Hampden Club) is being created, which will deliver a mix of reminiscence and light physical activity to local elderly residents living in communities surrounding the Scottish Football Museum. The reminiscence project is also being extended out to include four other sports as part of a wider collaborative partnership. Sports Heritage Scotland was instituted in 2015 and involves heritage organisations and national sporting bodies for golf, rugby, shinty, cricket, curling and football. Two museums, the Scottish Football Museum and British Golf Museum, are members of the network, and both are home to Nationally Significant Collections. Museums Galleries Scotland played a significant advisory role in the early months of 2015 as the network of sports came together for the first time. Funding from MGS in 2017 will see a dedicated Sports Heritage Scotland website with four digital archives being created and joining the existing football archive which will be uploaded onto the new website. This is all being done to support the continued expansion of reminiscence groups across Scotland. The Memories Project will enable elderly people with an interest in sport to access and benefit from sports reminiscence and to do so in a sociable environment.
The digital collections of the Scottish Football Museum have been important to support the expansion of the reminiscence project, and with support from the British Golf Museum and Museums Galleries Scotland, the museum sector is playing a notable role in, as one American academic noted, establishing Scotland as a global leader in the use of sports heritage to support people living with dementia.
Richard McBrearty, Curator, Scottish Football Museum