By SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm In Our View magazine
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has used a humanoid robot showing clips of George Formby and the Queen’s coronation to help older people reminisce about their lives.
In December the council used the robot, known as Pepper, in a reminiscence therapy session at Southend Care’s Priory House residential care home. Pepper showed videos on its built-in screen and staff asked questions about when residents first saw the clips and how they made them feel.
Residents also sang along to audio played by Pepper, which the council believes is the first robot used by a UK local authority.
Paul Mavin, group manager business support at the council, says that he was “a bit taken aback” by how easily the seven or eight residents accepted the robot. “We were half expecting a little bit of fear or trepidation from some of the residents, but they really took to Pepper straight away,” he says.
Southend is planning more such sessions, but with an expanded role for Pepper. “We were asking questions, they were directing their answers to Pepper,” says Phil Webster, manager of Southend’s equipment service. “At the end of the session, they said ‘goodbye Pepper, thank you Pepper’.” The robot will be programmed to ask initial questions in future sessions, which will also use shorter audio clips to match the length of time residents like to sing for, as well as larger images.
Sharon Houlden, Southend’s director of adult social care, says the council bought Pepper to move social care innovation beyond assistive technology such as flashing light doorbells. “As part of our social care transformation programme we wanted to do something that genuinely was very different to anything else we saw out there,” she says.
Photo: Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
Pepper’s Twitter account: @peppersouthend
Read a longer version of this article in the new issue of Socitm’s In Our View magazine, now available to everyone.