Despite COVID-19 restrictions tightening again and the weather turning chillier, we made the most of a sunny Friday lunchtime to try and be positive by looking at how Leominster Meeting Centre has been able to re-open to support members with dementia and their family carers. As the Meeting Centre was open at the time of the webinar, two of their Trustees Shirley Evans and Phillipa Bruce-Kerr did a double act on behalf of the manager Joy Valentini.
After providing a brief history of Leominster Meeting Centre, which has been open since Feb 2016, Shirley gave an overview of how the Meeting Centre had been operating back in early March 2020. In ‘normal times’ (remember those?) Leominster Meeting Centre was open four days/week, supporting 30 pairs of paying members and family carers. They were also embedded in the local community and involved in the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme, and everything was looking good.
When lockdown began on 23rd March, the big question facing Leominster Meeting Centre was ‘What do we do now?’ Obviously they couldn’t stay open, but they didn’t want to abandon their members, so they reframed the question to be ‘What do we have to do to keep going, but in a different way?’ As can be seen from the image below, it turns out that they could still provide significant support but their way of working also changed significantly.
Leominster Meeting Centre re-opened as much as it could on 4th August. It took at lot of effort from all involved, and they had to put a lot in place to make it safe for members and staff. These were big changes for a small organisation, but they got there and were able to welcome small groups of members back to the Meeting Centre. Just when they’d got into the swing of things, the new restrictions meant that things had to change again. Like everyone, Leominster Meeting Centre was constantly having to adapt whilst trying to be there for as many people as possible.
Some of the key messages emerging from what has worked for Leominster Meeting Centre included:
- Good hygiene practice, which is actually a lot wider than COVID-19
- Preventing infection transfer between people either directly or via surfaces, which involves:
- Hand washing or sanitising
- Regular cleaning
- Physical distancing
- Good ventilation
- PPE where necessary
- And above all a good dose of common sense
Shirley concluded her part of the webinar by talking about how things have worked during lockdown and since re-opening.
The financial position
Phillipa took over to give the financial perspective on lockdown, and its impact on sustainability and the Leominster Meeting Centre budget. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has affected the availability of funding and some grants, so it is unclear how easy it will be to get funding in the future to keep the Meeting Centre running. During lockdown no staff were furloughed so Leominster Meeting Centre still had to pay their salaries, and as they have their own premises they still needed to pay the lease on the building. These costs are not insignificant.
Some of costs were covered through a combination of membership fees, small grants, and funding from National Lottery Fund, but Leominster Meeting Centre lost a significant chunk that would normally come from community fundraising activities such as their Summer fayre. The challenge is to work out how to cover that gap. Luckily no members have cancelled their monthly payments as they feel that the support they were receiving during lockdown was worth the cost, and this has been helpful. Importantly, Phillipa acknowledged that although there is an obvious need to focus on what is happening now, they cannot afford to lose sight of the longer-term funding needs to enable Leominster Meeting Centre to be sustainable. Funding is always a challenge, but COVID-19 has made the situation a lot worse and it is unlikely to change for a while.
Despite all of the challenges they’ve faced, Leominster Meeting Centre has a clear view about their strategy. For example, they are going to continue being part of research projects such as the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme to get evidence of the impact of Meeting Centres, which will help to support future funding applications. They also recognised the need to remain linked in to local community initiatives and work with others to strengthen their position.
During wider discussions and an informal question and answer session, it was acknowledged that although Leominster Meeting Centre has successfully re-opened, it doesn’t have all the answers and is learning (and adapting!) as it goes along. For example, are visits in someone’s home possible as the weather gets worse? Would It be disconcerting if staff had to wear PPE in order to do this, when members are not used to seeing them in it? Would going for a walk or a coffee be a suitable alternative? One view is to try things out and see what works for different people, and not being afraid to change things in response.
Funding was obviously an issue concerning everyone, but this will be different for each Meeting Centre and their local area.
Shirley ended the webinar by acknowledging the importance of Meeting Centres and the support that they provide for people affected by dementia, which has never been more vital than during the COVID-19 lockdown.
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