FILM is a powerful way of triggering and connecting with memories. Yet for people with dementia, going to the cinema can be a bewildering, frightening experience.

In Bradford, monthly film screenings are making cinema-going more inclusive and accessible, in a safe, welcoming environment. The programme of Dementia Friendly screenings at Picturehouse at the National Science and Media Museum are supported by the BFI and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Staff have undergone training to recognise the needs of people with dementia, and adjustments to signage, lighting and glass doors make the venue more accessible.

Roxy Van der Post, access champion at Picturehouse Bradford, worked with the museum’s Reminiscence Programme leader, the Bradford branch of the Alzheimer’s Society, Pathways Breaks and the University of Bradford’s Dementia Studies department, on developing the scheme. Screenings so far have included Meet Me In St Louis, An American in Paris and Funny Face, and the next one is Dad’s Army, on Tuesday at 11am.

Picturehouse launched Dementia Friendly screenings in 21 cinemas nationwide, following trial runs in London and Liverpool. Supported with National Lottery funding through the BFI’s Film Audience Network, the aim is to make cinema a fun, inclusive experience for people living with dementia, their families and carers.

“Lights are left on low, there are no trailers or allocated seats, and the audience is encouraged to move around, talk and sing along, should they wish,” said Roxy. “Tickets are £4, free for accompanying carers, doors open at 10.30am and there are free refreshments in the Pictureville Bar before the film, so people can familiarise themselves with surroundings. There’s a 20-minute interval halfway through all Dementia Friendly screenings.

“We show mostly musicals, as music is good for stirring memories, but we ask customers to fill in feedback forms and request screenings, to help shape the programme. We’ve had some great feedback. Last month a care home brought a bus full of people, on the way back one lady wrote an account of her trip at the cinema.

“People often say, ‘I haven’t been to the cinema for years’ and for carers too it’s an opportunity to get out and socialise. We’re now getting regulars coming back.”

Clare Mason, volunteer leader at Pathways Breaks - a Bradford organisation supporting people with young onset/working age dementia and their families - has worked with Roxy on accessibility. "We looked at things like making steps more visible and the contrast between light tables and dark carpets. People might want to ask a question during the film - knowing that they don't have to be quiet, makes the experience more comfortable and enjoyable," said Clare. "People with dementia want to carry on doing things like going to the cinema or theatre. These screenings are a chance to socialise - also for carers, whose own social lives are often curtailed.

"Many people who are younger with dementia have mortgages, loans and young families. Making the ticket price so reasonable allows them to enjoy films with their families."

"It's a long time since we came to the cinema," said Karen Scanlan, attending last month's screening with her husband Kevin, who has dementia. "Everyone is so friendly. It's good to have an interval, it can be quite intense sitting through a film in one go. Kevin wasn't sure if he'd enjoy it but he did. It's a nice, relaxed environment."

Dawn McCormack, Activities Manager at Cooper House Care Home, Wibsey, brought some residents to the screening. "It's a chance to enjoy cinema and socialise," said Dawn. "One lady, Elsie, had her hair set and got dressed up. She was clapping at the end of the film."

Clare Binns, Picturehouse Programming and Acquisitions Director, said: “We believe cinema should be accessible to everyone, it’s fantastic to make our cinemas more welcoming to the dementia community."

Eleanor Thornley, from the BFI Film Network Hub added: “There's nothing like seeing a film on the big screen, the BFI Film Audience Network is passionate about making sure everyone has access to this communal experience. We're so pleased to support this initiative, ensuring that people living with dementia and their loved ones and carers can still enjoy the cinema.”

* Picturehouse has an accessibility hotline, 020 7294 7908, between 9am and 8.30pm. Or visit