Amy Crawford – MGS Funded Museum Engagement Officer

One of the projects UOD Museums has been working on is creating a sensory backpack for use in care homes and community groups. We are aware that some people are not able to travel to our museum venues and wanted to create a backpack that encompasses our collections so we could bring the museum to other places – think of it like a travelling museum!

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the care sector particularly hard and activities for residents suffered as external groups were restricted access. The backpack we have created can be either handed in for use between staff/residents or relatives/residents themselves as a shared activity, alternatively we can come in person and facilitate a group workshop.

The backpack we wanted to create had to be accessible as possible. This meant including a variety of items as well as some that would benefit people with visual impairment and dementia. We tried to focus on different tactile materials for stimulation. To create a well-rounded experience the backpack contains objects based on our various collections :

Herbarium Etchings 

Our herbarium is home to over 13,000 plant specimens from Angus to Darjeeling. 

The problem with taking these specimens out of their storage is that they are incredibly fragile – it would be difficult to put them in a backpack without crushing them.

Our solution was to create custom wooden laser etchings using our herbarium as source material. These are highly detailed copies and are raised allowing individuals to feel the fronds of ferns for example, or the leaves of a rose. Alongside these etchings we have include selected scents of different flowers. The scents that people enjoy are varied and they aren’t for everyone (especially if adverse to perfume etc) but we have found it effective in evoking some positive memories for certain individuals with dementia – bringing back personal memories of a garden for example.

Example of our herbarium etchings

Painting samples

Our collections house thousands of artworks including paintings, sculptures and video works. In the backpack we have included high resolution copies of some paintings and sculptures, both traditional and modern for a full gallery viewing experience. The paintings come with brushes for each type of paint and small canvases with textured paint on (after all, you can’t get the full experience of an oil painting without feeling the texture!) We’ve found this works particularly well for those with visual impairment.

A copy of an Untitled painting by Patti Jack

The backpack contains much more including custom 3D prints, fabric swatches and sculpture material samples that cover our collections as well as the interests of D’Arcy Thompson himself. An easy to read booklet guides you through the experience from start to finish, and if delving into the backpack by yourself we will also leave you specially designed D’Arcy Thompson colouring sheets before you hand it back to us. We have several groups already booked in but urge any community group/care home that thinks they would benefit from the backpack to get in touch.

If we are facilitating we can bring extras like this sculpture by Karen Scopa (1995)


Please get in touch if you run/know a group that you think would benefit from using this backpack. Contact us at or telephone (01382) 384310

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *