Staff and volunteers at Chester’s beloved zoo have collected memorabilia from throughout the decades in a bid to help people with dementia remember their past.

As part of a partnership working between Chester Zoo and DSN – Cheshire’s largest sensory loss charity, a Memory Box has been specially created for use at monthly cafes in the area for those who have a sensory loss and dementia.

You, Me and Tea is an inclusive cafe which helps those with memory loss to connect with other people in a safe and friendly environment over a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

The memory box is used within the session to evoke memories of old and working with key Cheshire stakeholders such as Chester Race Company and Bentley Motors, DSN has found many attendees memories are stimulated by items in the boxes and begin to open up.

Ceri Cambridge, Assistant Team Manager for Informal Education, at Chester Zoo said: “It’s been a really interesting project gathering items for the memory box. Our volunteers – who range from 18-79 – have helped us to collate a range of items from toys, guide books, maps and photos, while other Chester Zoo team members have also added in their own ideas such as smell pots which replicate familiar scents such as elephants!”

Chester Zoo was opened by George Mottershead in 1931 in Upton, Chester  as the world’s first ‘zoo without bars.’ Against the odds, George kept the young zoo open through the Second World War and, with the war over, the zoo began to grow fast. One of its slogans back then was ‘always building.’ Today, Chester Zoo is not only the UK’s most popular zoo; it is also a highly respected centre for global conservation and research, and passionately campaigns for wildlife.

Dr Jenna Wallace, who is leading research funded by DSN at the University of Manchester into the strong links between sensory loss and dementia, said the new box of rich zoo history was a great addition to the growing collection.

Dr Wallace said: “We are so grateful for the huge efforts the team at Chester Zoo have gone to to make such a truly unique box for You, Me and Tea.

“From our research, we know there are strong links between sensory and memory loss because of a general lack of stimulation to the brain. Studies have shown that sensory stimulation and familiarity are two highly engaging elements when it comes to working with people with dementia – it helps them a sense of reassurance and wellbeing. Everyone is so fond of the beloved zoo here in Cheshire and North Wales where DSN operates, so we hope that they will come into good use – even the elephant smells!”

You, Me and Tea is open to anyone with a sensory loss and/or with memory loss. All refreshments are free and there will be full trained staff to help with communication, including those with British Sign Language (BSL). For those who have transportation difficulties, there is also some transport support available upon request. For more information or to create a box on behalf of the organisation you work for, contact Dr Wallace via email

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