In this piece, we reflect on hosting an exhibition of research findings from the project on older people's perceptions of Strengths and Vulnerabilities in the UK food system.
After months of planning and preparation, we were proud to have Deputy Mayor of Hatfield, Lynne Sparks, open our exhibition, Twenty Five, on Thursday 9th June to an enthusiastic reception. With a tea-party for our participants in the afternoon and the VIP launch in the evening, by the close of the first day our temporary gallery was buzzing and had already had over 700 people through the door!Designed in collaboration with students from the department of Interior Architecture with creative direction from Dr Angela Dickinson, the exhibition recreated the home environment, the shopping experience and gardening, and really brought the stories of our project to life
Beautiful life size images from kitchens across Hertfordshire (including the kitchen sink!) allowed an intimate glimpse into the daily lives of our participants, with interactive displays in the shopping space giving visitors an insight into how the challenges of routine tasks change as our sight degenerates. Our garden section even included some home grown vegetables and herbs, just like we’d seen in our participants’ allotments!
With images, quotes and video footage displayed in the gallery space, the exhibition was a chance for visitors and participants to see first-hand the data we had collected, to find out more about how the study had been conducted and to begin to try to understand the lives of our participants and what we might learn from the study. For some, the exhibition was more than just public engagement in research – many visitors found the images moving and were touched by what had been shared in the research. We heard lots of stories about people’s own grandparents and parents, reminiscences about the way shopping used to be, happy memories and sad ones.
For our participants it was a great opportunity to meet others involved in the research, to see the culmination of their generation contribution to our study and, for some, to see the inside of their kitchen cupboards blown up to life size! We were delighted to be able to thank them with an afternoon tea and a copy of the exhibition book to take home.
Impact and public engagement have been key foci of this study and the exhibition has been a fantastic way for us to share our learning with a new audience as well as look at our data in a new light. It has given us the opportunity to develop partnerships such as with Erik Klein Wolterink, our artist collaborator, and reminded us of the humanity of our subject. It has been a real joy to see so many people engage with our research on so many different levels – we are especially proud that our participants enjoyed our exhibition. Although the exhibition is now finished we hope to hold another one at a later date and are now concentrating on pulling together our findings to make sure this research continues to have a positive impact.