On a sunny but frosty morning (not that it really matters when you’re in a virtual meeting), 26 of us got together on 26th November for the fourth National Reference Group, which should have taken place in May but was delayed – like most things – due to Covid.
After an initial welcome and housekeeping by Professor Dawn Brooker, she gave a recap of the National Reference Group meetings so far and what topics have been covered at them. Sustainability of Meeting Centres was the focus of this latest meeting, posing questions around the need for a geographical spread of Meeting Centres and considering which was more important, maximising the quality of support in a smaller group of Meeting Centres, or maximising the number of Meeting Centres.
There was also recognition of the impact of Covid on Meeting Centres and the Meeting Centres Support Programme project overall. Existing Meeting Centres have had to close their doors, but have still been providing some level of support to members and carers, mostly in a virtual capacity. Unfortunately, the project has lost a lot of ground in terms of getting new Meeting Centres up and running, and early adopters have been hit in the early stages of their planning and development.
Highlights from the National Lottery Fund 2nd Year Report indicated that in spite of Covid, the project has been progressing, and we’re still on target to open 15 new Meeting Centres during the three years. Valuable information was collected during lockdown to demonstrate the positive impact that Meeting Centres have still been able to have. Reassuring to see that it’s still possible to provide support that meets the different elements of the adjusting to change model – hopefully there will soon be a journal article to share with you.
Nicola Jacobson-Wright took over to present on the training, which required a rethink to redevelop it from face-to-face to online delivery. We’ve risen to the challenge and have come up with an exciting 5-week course containing a mix of activities, exercises and videos for students to watch and undertake in their own time, and live online sessions to get together with fellow students.
Dr Shirley Evans then let the group know about some of the significant developments that will be taking place over the next few months.
- Worcestershire County Council funding to help support the development of 9 new Meeting Centres across Worcestershire
- PhD studentship to look at the impact of a strategic regional approach to scaling up Meeting Centres – due to start February 2021
- NIHR funded research for a two-year project to focus on the ‘Sustaining locally-driven social care for those affected by dementia: A realist evaluation of successful Meeting Centres’
After a quick break, Thomas Morton presented the findings from the SCI-Dem project, which has been looking at sustaining community-based groups and activities for people affected by dementia. The work brought together the knowledge and experiences from a wide range of research and different groups and organisations as part of a ‘realist review’. There are too many recommendations to go into here, but they covered the following key areas:
- Getting and keeping members
- Getting and keeping staff and volunteers
- Getting and keeping support of other organisations
- Getting and keeping funding and income
Some great discussions followed, picking up on points around travel and funding, and there was agreement that the findings from the SCI-Dem project is very valuable and resonated with a lot of people.
This led nicely into a wider discussion around the sustainability of Meeting Centres in the UK to pick up on some of the questions posed at the start of the session.
In terms of quality or quantity, there was a strong feeling that getting something up and running was preferable than having nothing, and there is always the opportunity to build on and develop a service over time. In parallel though, having a few high quality Meeting Centres acting as demonstrator sites is also important, indicating that it doesn’t have to be ‘either or’, but rather a two-pronged approach. However, this does require ensuring that existing Meeting Centres continue to be funded as well as getting new ones off the ground. There was also recognition that the wider impact of Covid is still unknown, especially in terms of reduced funding opportunities and cuts to existing services more widely.
Despite being an online meeting, there were still good opportunities for questions and discussions throughout the meeting, with lots of ideas being shared within the group. It was also still possible for people to network and make connections with others – the chat was very active – so hopefully we may see a few new partnerships and Meeting Centres as a result of these emerging links.
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