On Friday 29th January Deborah Gerrard from Dementia Matters in Powys used our final Meeting Centres ‘Bring Your Own Lunch’ session (more on that later) to tell us about the huge array of support that they’re providing during the pandemic. In normal times, Dementia Matters in Powys operate four regular Meeting Centres in Brecon, Llandrindod Wells, Newtown and Ystradgynlais.
When faced with having to operate in the new world of Coronavirus, stopping their support was not an option. While their doors closed in a physical sense, the Dementia Matters in Powys team of staff and volunteers have been working hard to keep the Meeting Centre ethos going, and maintain contact and support with their members and carers.
One of their main activities is running a virtual Meeting Centre session once a week, with a different theme each week. Anyone can suggest a theme, which provides a focus for the session. Each session follows a similar format, starting with nature watch where people are encouraged to share stories and photos from their gardens or walks. Sessions end with a singalong which everyone enjoys. The main issue faced is relatively low numbers, which is exacerbated by the rurality of the area and the fact that not everyone is able to use technology to join in. However, those who do attend the virtual Meeting Centre thoroughly enjoy it.
A wide variety of other online groups and sessions are offered, with some being led by staff members and others being run by volunteers with staff support. Many have been created in response to needs raised by the members and carers themselves, and although the group sizes might be quite small, they are definitely meeting people’s needs. The groups include:
- Virtual carer support sessions three times a week. These are sharing (or swearing?) sessions where carers feel comfortable to discuss their issues and concerns, and generally offload.
- These are supplemented by monthly carer information sessions where wider professionals are invited along to share relevant information with the carers.
- Young Onset Dementia support sessions, with parallel sessions for carers of people with Young Onset Dementia.
- ‘Cuppa n compost’ sessions specifically for men living with dementia
- Welsh language dementia support sessions
- A monthly ‘knit n natter’ group (see image below)
- Once a week sessions of ‘wiggle with a giggle’, which lead people through armchair dance movements that link with the themes of the virtual Meeting Centre sessions.
Dementia Matters in Powys are also very conscious of supporting those people who cannot attend online sessions, so provide other forms of support too, including:
- Telephone contacts, with staff and volunteer telephone buddies
- Emails, letters and cards – particularly for special occasions – to keep in touch with people
- The regular ‘Round up’ bulletin is posted out to everyone
- When restrictions allowed, the team carried out garden visits and encouraged people to get out for organised walks in small groups
- One volunteer offered a garden tidy up service to help people who weren’t able to do the work for themselves, which can make a big difference for people
- Sending out activity and pamper packages for members and carers (see image below).
One of the most recent initiatives we heard about was ‘Winter games’. The aim has been to provide support and meaningful occupation during the winter months when people are more likely to be indoors. People can choose three activities, such as painting by numbers, making wooden models, embroidery and jigsaws. Completing these activities has encouraged interaction between family members, with people working together and creating new shared memories. Hopefully there will be an exhibition at some point in the future to share everyone’s wonderful creations. Dementia Matters in Powys is hoping to do a ‘Summer games’ in some form, and is planning to repeat the Winter games next year regardless of the pandemic situation, as everyone spends more time indoors during the winter.
The number of people accessing support has increased during the pandemic, but Dementia Matters in Powys still has the capacity to support more. Their pool of 20 volunteers has proved invaluable, and everyone has adapted very well to the new ways of working. Some sessional staff have been employed to facilitate some groups, and a new sessional role was created for a digital connections officer to get more people online.
Unfortunately, funding casts a bit of a shadow, as the current funding for Dementia Matters in Powys is due to end in September. The priority for Deborah is therefore to get more funding in place to enable them to continue providing support, and to take forward their range of exciting ideas and plans.
During a question and answer session, there was a discussion around people paying for sessions. The majority of existing members and carers continued to pay for services when the Meeting Centre and associated groups moved to online delivery, and Dementia Matters in Powys have been asking for £10 per month towards the sessions to reflect what people may have been paying previously.
In terms of the sessions themselves, there has been quite a variety in terms of who attends which sessions. Some people only attend specific sessions, while others attend multiple different sessions. There is a desire amongst the carers for the virtual carer support sessions to continue even after face-to-face sessions become possible again, as carers have reported feeling more supported in virtual groups. Dementia Matters in Powys is also hoping to continue with some of the special interest groups like ‘knit n natter’ and ‘wiggle with a giggle’, as it can actually be easier for some people to attend online groups. Rather than having to potentially struggle to get people ready and physically travel to a group, having the group essentially come to you in your own home where people may feel more comfortable and less anxious can be a bonus. An additional ‘open door’ online session is also being considered, acting as a regular drop in space that anyone can come to when they have something that they wish to discuss.
So thank you to Deborah for sharing what’s been going on in Powys, it was a very inspiring session. You can follow Dementia Matters in Powys on twitter @DementiaPowys
As mentioned earlier, this was the last Meeting Centres ‘Bring Your Own Lunch’ in its current format. From February, we will instead be running a series of monthly webinars focusing on different topics of relevance to Meeting Centres. The first one takes place on Friday 26th February, and you can find out more information on our website.
Connect with Meeting Centres on twitter @MeetingCentres