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COMPLETED: Material Citizenship Framework Project

Principal Investigator: Professor Jackie Bridges (Professor of Older People's Care, School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton)

Co-investigatorDr Kellyn Lee (Visiting Fellow, School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton)

Researchers: Dr Jane Frankland, Leah Fullegar

Collaborator: Zoe McCallum (Chief Operating Officer, Brendoncare)

Started: 1 February 2020

Completed: 30 November 2022

Project partners: Brendoncare Foundation.

Co-funded by University of Southampton ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, Alzheimer’s Society, The Brendoncare Foundation


Material Citizenship, a new approach to dementia care, uses objects used to carry out tasks (such as a mobile phone or curling tongs) as a mechanism for improving the care experience for care home staff and people living with dementia in care homes. It does so by:

  • Encouraging care home staff to include personal possessions in care plans

  • Support use of personal possessions to maintain routines and rituals

  • Enable people living with dementia to carry out everyday tasks, supporting them to the live the life they want to live


Material Citizenship training was delivered to four care homes, part of two care organisations in the UK. Adopting a Material Citizenship approach has had a positive effect on many of the people who live, work and visit these care homes.

According to one care home manager, taking a Material Citizenship approach has transformed how they provide care.  They have seen an improvement in the wellbeing of residents and increased confidence in staff who attended the training. Care home staff are now supporting people living with dementia to engage in meaningful activities such as delivering newspapers, baking bread and polishing their own rooms – with the polish they like. It has also had a more fundamental impact on the care practices of a  care home.  In one care home the manager gave an example of how it has changed the culture in the care home. Prior to introducing Material Citizenship catering staff worked certain times of the day and food was restricted to set meal times. This has changed and catering staff are now available to support residents in meal choices and meal times that suit them.  It was also reported that prior to Material Citizenship, time restrictions of when people should leave the care home and return to the care home were in place. Residents no longer need to be back at certain times, they have more freedom to come and go as they wish, something noted by an external healthcare professional as being wonderful. 

Material Citizenship has enabled care home staff to grow in confidence. Prior to attending training care home staff were observed to be frequently deferential when interacting with visiting healthcare professionals. Now care home staff are more willing to engage and assert themselves to get the best possible outcome for residents.

By applying a Material Citizenship approach it has been reported staff are less likely to rush to the assumption that medical intervention might be the best way forward to to reduce behaviours they find challenging. Instead, staff are using objects as a way of exploring why a person may be communicating in a negative way and have more confidence when working with people living with dementia.


Material Citizenship: An ethnographic study exploring object–person relations in the context of people with dementia in care homes

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