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Reflecting on keepsakes helps seniors stave off loneliness

29 March 2016
New project aims to tell seniors' stories through treasured objects

Socially isolated seniors in regional New South Wales will explore the meaning of the precious objects in their lives as part of a new project run by the University of Sydney Node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE).

Stock image of pocket watch. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

University of Sydney historians are looking for seniors to reflect on their special possessions, which may include jewellery, toys and sporting memorabilia. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Modelled on the highly successful Love in Objects project run in London in 2014, Treasured Possessions will see seniors and community members from Dapto and neighbouring suburbs in Wollongong come together to reflect on the emotional value of their own precious keepsakes – from war medals and photographs, to family heirlooms and cherished childhood toys.  

Running for eight weeks from early April, the project will also incorporate museum visits, talks from historians and curators, and memoir writing and photography classes designed to encourage participants to connect with the past and with others in the community. CHE's research will help show how emotions from the past are shaping their lives today.

A doll. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The project will culminate in a multimedia exhibition of treasured possessions and stories created by the participants and open to the public.

Treasured Possessions founder and University of Sydney researcher Dr Kimberley-Joy Knight said the project aimed to increase the quality of life of older Australians living in Dapto, an area with a significant number of people at risk of social isolation.

"Dapto is ranked in the bottom 25 percent of the ABS’s Socio-Economic Index for Areas, which is below the regional, state and Australian averages for disadvantage by area. Furthermore, 10 percent of households in Dapto are occupied by 'lone older persons' (aged 65 and older), which is again above the state and national averages," she said.

Sporting memorabilia. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

"The core aim of this project is to reduce this isolation by fostering positive emotional experiences and memories, and creating a social environment where people from different cultures and backgrounds can share their life experiences."

Dr Knight said the project shares the valuable knowledge of older Australians with their communities.

"Unlike other projects, this program has been designed with sustainability in mind, creating the potential for a lasting contribution to many communities where seniors can feel engaged in history and valued as sources of knowledge and life experience," she said.

For further information or to join the Treasured Possessions project, please visit the CHE website or contact Dr Knight on 0432 851 563 or kimberley.knight@sydney.edu.au.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Division of Humanities and Social Sciences)