Pop-up 1950s and 60s rooms bring memories flooding back and help people with dementia

A pop-up 1950s kitchen and 60s-inspired living room are taking Merseyside pensioners back to the good old days… and helping people with dementia.

The nostalgic ‘reminiscence pods’, which include everyday items to touch and smell, even feature a vintage-style television set with newsreels from a bygone era.

The pods are being used by housing association Riverside to help older residents strike up conversation and reminisce – and to support people with dementia so they feel safe and secure.

Carbolic soap and reproduction packaging of vintage brands including Spam, Omo and Pilot Matches all feature in the so-called ‘rem pods’.   

And one of the sets was installed for residents at Riverside’s Windsor Court Retirement Living complex in Bootle.

Riverside's Stuart Borland with resident George Gane at Windsor Court, Bootle
Riverside’s Stuart Borland with resident George Gane at Windsor Court, Bootle


Sisters Betty Hughes and Rita Connelly enjoyed stepping back in time and remembering their childhood years.

“The pods are very nostalgic,” said 72-year-old Betty, who has lived at Windsor Court for 16 years. “They take me back to just after the Second World War and all the things my mum and dad used to do, such as washing with carbolic soap.”

Among other items on display was a cast iron ‘shoe last’ used to repair footwear.

Mrs Connelly, 77, who has lived at Windsor Court for 12 years, added: “My dad would mend all our shoes on one of these, and with eight children it was well used!

“Seeing the ration book brings back memories too. During the war, my parents used to get the ration books renewed on Ludlow Street, along with the sweet coupons because sugar was scarce. In September my mum would save our coupons for Christmas so she had sweets to give us.

“We had an outside toilet and got washed in a tin bath or would go to the swimming baths. There was an outside tap and in winter it would freeze up so we would have to hold a candle to defrost the water in the pipes.” 

The ‘rem pods’ also create therapeutic settings familiar to people with dementia, helping to improve their mental well-being. Just looking through old photographs, smelling something they recognise, or listening to music can prompt conversation as well as ease distress and anxiety.

Catherine ‘Kitty’ McCornick, aged 87, has lived at the Riverside scheme in Bootle for 11 years and has had dementia for the past six years. Her daughter Betty Palin looked around the rem pods.

“I remember having that wallpaper in my mum’s living room when we were growing up, and the smell of the carbolic soap takes me back,” said Betty.

“Dementia can be horrendous. Those who have it do things which are out of character, such as make a cup of tea although they have just made one, or leave the tap running. My mum can remember her nine children but not her 27 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. It is heart-breaking and upsetting for us, and she still thinks we are children.

“My mum loves every minute living here. It’s a safe environment and she has always felt safe.”

Riverside's Teri Constable in period costume, with Elizabeth Palin at Windsor Court, Bootle. Elizabeth's mum Catherine McCornick is a resident there.
Riverside’s Teri Constable in period costume, with Betty Palin at Windsor Court, Bootle. Betty’s mum Catherine McCornick is a resident there and has dementia.


Sue Fairley, Riverside’s Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator for Merseyside, said: “The rem pods create a setting that is comfortable and familiar to people with dementia; they start conversations.

“The rooms help people with dementia because they create environments that they remember and are comfortable with. People can live well with dementia and Kitty is a good example.

“We hold various reminiscence activities throughout the year. Customers bring old memorabilia to the sessions, such as old photographs or a scrap books, and create a map of their life.”

Riverside has more than 200 Retirement Living schemes across the country and many are being renovated and decorated to dementia-friendly standards.

A rem pod was also installed for residents at Riverside’s new extra care development Harrison Park in Hall Road, Hull. The building has been designed to cater for customers with dementia, using a range of design techniques to help them maintain their independence for as long as possible.

As well as the kitchen and living room ‘rem pods’, an old-fashioned pub and the interior of a corner shop are also used by Riverside customers and staff.

Kelli Melloy, Riverside’s National Health and Wellbeing Service Manager, added: “Having the rem pods brings back nice memories for all our customers, including people with dementia. They are very beneficial because they bring everyone together and get them talking about happy times.”

 To find out more about Riverside’s Retirement Living services visit: www.riverside.org.uk/find-a-home/retirement-living