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Memories Made and Found

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

A new accessible guide to Grosvenor Park is helping locals living with dementia access a space that is bringing back happy memories.

The pandemic found many of us reconnecting with the natural world, but for some members of Grosvenor Museum’s Meet and Make group, their relationship with the historic Grosvenor Park has diminished.

The increasing severity of the dementia they or their loved ones are living with can make it increasingly difficult to access the 20-acre Victorian Park. This jewel in Chester’s crown, which overlooks the River Dee, is something the Covid-19 Reflections project hoped to help them reconnect with.

The Meet and Make group comes together fortnightly to enjoy activities based around museum exhibitions and handling its collection of objects. A recent get together found them heading outdoors, however, for a trip to the park.

Park development officer Andy James was the group’s knowledgable, patient and friendly guide, who took the group on a slow-paced tour accessible for wheelchair users. They explored the Rose Garden – an original feature of the park which Andy explained his team spend a lot of time managing and keeping looking its best. Because it’s been there since Victorian times, when it was a place to promenade or rendezvous with friends – or even a sweetheart – a lot of people remember it.

The group had several questions for Andy when he took them to visit the Tulip Tree – why is it called that, for one. When it’s in full bloom, it really does look like it’s covered in tulips, he explained. It has a unique and distinctive four-lobed leaf which is symmetrical along the centre. The example in Grosvenor Park is mature and very large – usually they are a lot smaller. One member of the group noted the “crunchy leaves under our feet,” on that sunny autumnal day, and another laughed as they told the others, “that bird made me jump!”

Another tree was pointed out to the group – one known as the ‘Living Fossil’. This species of tree was believed to be extinct, but it was found to be still growing in a region of China and has various biological features which tell us it dates back a very, very long way, Andy explained. The group chose to hug the tree and, gazing up into the foliage above, one member remarked it was “strange how the branches are so small”.

The Miniature Railway caused much excitement among the group, with members eager to share memories of it.

Other pitstops included at the Viking Sculptures, Willow Artworks, the Pond, where the group enjoyed watching the ducks, and the Normandy Tree – planted in 1984 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the battle, a poppy wreath is laid there each November 11th. A Lombardy Poplar, the tree is fast growing and one member of the group commented that they “can grow so tall it can fall over – just like us!”

Onto an area known as the Outlook – a location a lot of people remember for its stunning views. You can look out onto Dee Terrace – the stone balustrade along the edge, then the River Dee. Many Chester residents also have fond memories of the scout hut on the opposite side of the river. “I can remember the cannons at the outlook,” said one group member, bringing their own extra knowledge to the pitstop on what was shaping up to be an extremely evocative tour for those living with dementia.

The Miniature Railway caused much excitement among the group, with members eager to share memories of it. “I can remember going on the railway. We used to live in Handbridge,” recalled one. “Steam came out of the chimney,” another remembered. “It’s nice to see the railway, it brings back memories,” added another.

“The visit has given us confidence as a group to visit more places”

The final stop on Andy’s tour was the Lodge Building where park gardeners once lived. During the mid-to-late-1900s, Andy told the group, the gardener had a couple of dogs. Apparently, he used to lock all the gates at the correct time and if someone wasn’t out in time, he would set the dogs to chase them out.

“Unleash the hounds!” one participant called out, laughing at the tale.

Today the building is a café, and the space gave the group the chance to reflect on their visit. They had all thoroughly enjoyed it and for many it provoked memories of many happy times spent there.

“The visit has given us confidence as a group to visit more places,” one member commented. “We’d like to go to St John’s Church and Chester Zoo.”

Working with the museum and the park teams, one outcome of our Covid-19 Reflections programme will be a dementia-friendly trail to Grosvenor Park in the hopes that other people will be able to enjoy the tour as much as this group did.

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