Wirral through the Ages: engagement case study

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Richard Vass

Richard Vass was 82 years old when the pop-up museum was open in the Pyramid Shopping Cente. He lives on his own in Woodchurch, Wirral. By his own account, he has no social activities but keeps himself busy by reading and occasionally visiting the local shops on the bus. Richard visited the exhibition to share a photograph of his father Captain William Vass, who had fought in the First World War having read our appeal for photographs.

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Richard Vass with Joanne Kirton from Big Heritage and Derek Millar from Pyramids Shopping Centre

A family rift had meant that Richard had no records of his father’s service or achievements in the war, and had never seen his medals or service record. However, he did have a wonderful social history collection of items belonging to his father including the blanket that kept him warm in the trenches, his field maps, and perhaps most poignantly, his whistle blown to signal for troops to ascend ‘over the top’. More importantly, Richard had a collection of genuinely exciting and engaging stories and anecdotes about his father than he was keen to share with us.

For the final two weeks of the project, despite suffering with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, Richard made his way to the exhibition regularly to tell more stories about his father, and to share his father’s possessions for other members of the general public to see. Big Heritage were able to trace his father’s service record and presented Richard with a copy of his father’s medals for him to keep.

Richard is an example of a number of isolated older people in Wirral that accessed the Wirral Through the Ages project on multiple occasions. The project served as a personal mnemonic for older people to share their own stories with us, and enjoying the social engagement of other people keen to hear their stories. The power of reminiscence as a tool to help slow the effects of dementia and as a means of social engagement are well documented, but Wirral Through The Ages provided this in an accessible setting free from any stigma attached to health services.

Richard said “I’ve loved coming for a cup of tea with the staff and telling stories about my father. The visits were always the highlight of my week and my father would be proud of his things being exhibited for such an important anniversary.”