Designing with aged care residents from a distance

By May 15, 2020Events
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The Creative Wellbeing Program is an initiative to introduce creative practices in care services. The program is run by Juan Sanin, Fellow in the Health Transformation Lab (HTL) and Lecturer in the School of Design in RMIT University. Using a ‘friendly hacking’ approach, Juan embeds himself in care organisations, where he works with staff and users to establish ‘lo-fi living labs’: spaces for social innovation based on improvisation, local knowledge, low-tech and DIY. The program started in 2019, when Juan worked with Bendigo Health creating a lo-fi living lab to introduce art-based activities in the psychiatric services of the hospital. 

This year, the HTL is bringing the Creative Wellbeing Program to Royal Freemasons Gregory Lodge, an aged care facility where Juan and a group of Industrial students plan to create a lo-fi living lab to design toolkits for delivering visual arts and storytelling activities for residents. In early March, Juan and his students visited Gregory Lodge a couple of times to meet and hang out with residents, but a couple of weeks later Covid-19 was declared a pandemia, spatial distancing measures came into place, and aged care facilities were locked down. 

Figure 1. Students and residents 

Although face-to-face collaborations had to be suspended this wasn’t the end of the project. The group of designers have started a remote collaboration with Gregory Lodge residents. Building on the method of cultural probes and assisted by Matiu Bush (Deputy Director of the HTL), Juan and his students are sending ‘care packages’ to 18 residents involved in the project. Each care package includes a letter, chocolates and a series of prompt cards that will facilitate a conversation between residents and students. Based on these conversations students will gain insights and inspiration to complete their projects.

Figure 2. Care package and its contents

Since spatial distancing measures came into place, work, education, research and social life have moved to online platforms. Online research collaborations are becoming very common, but a digital format wouldn’t have worked well in this specific project. Students have enjoyed hand-writing the letters (something completely ‘new’ for some of them) and the residents have expressed gratitude and happiness after receiving their care packages.

Figure 3. Resident receiving package

Gregory Lodge staff is helping the team of residents and designers to continue the collaboration. At the end of Semester 1, students will send functional prototypes of their projects, which include a self-published zine presenting stories and art works made by residents; a toolkit for recovering forgotten trades & hobbies; a ‘reminiscence box’ that will help Chinese residents to connect back with their motherland; and a ‘prompt capsule’ for engaging residents in visual arts, performative and literature activities. Each prototype will include instructions explaining staff how to test the prototypes with residents and recommend improvements. Next semester these prototypes will be refined to be implemented as part of the Creative Wellbeing Program for Aged Care. 

Figure 4. Resident reading the letter sent by one of the students

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