Meeting Centres: Our journey so far

The first in our new Meeting Centres webinar series took place 26th February and was a double act between Professor Dawn Brooker and Dr Shirley Evans, who took us through what’s been happening so far regarding Meeting Centres and how we’ve got to where we are now.

This webinar series runs throughout 2021 and replaces the conferences we originally had planned as part of the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme as it looks like getting together in person isn’t going to be possible for a while yet. The eight webinars will follow on from each other and build up over time, with this first webinar helping to set the scene.

First off, we looked at an overview of previous research projects that the Association for Dementia Studies have completed which have contributed to our work on Meeting Centres, plus our current work around Meeting Centres. Even for those of us who do this every day, it was a useful reminder that it’s not just the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme going on, but there are also a number of related projects underway.

Rather than go into what Meeting Centres are, the audience was directed to our website where there are lots of resources available such as the Essential Features of a Meeting Centre. Instead, there was an overview of the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme, which is aiming to develop a backbone of Meeting Centres across the UK to help build momentum and visibility, making it easier for new Meeting Centres to come on board in the future.

Before exploring our progress with regards to the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme, we of course had to acknowledge the impact of the Covid pandemic. However, while it has affected everyone and made it difficult for emerging Meeting Centres to get started, there has still been a lot going on, as can be seen in previous blog posts for:

There has also been a lot of interest and activity across the UK, with a lot of possible developments on the horizon.

The UK Meeting Centres Support Programme, funded by The National Community Lottery Fund, has four main targets and despite the pandemic we’re making good progress towards all of them. We’ve also been doing a lot of work around dissemination to get the word out about Meeting Centres and raise their profile. Our efforts are gaining good traction now, and new journal article about the support provided by Meeting Centres during lockdown has just been accepted, so hopefully that will be available soon.

A key part of the work being undertaken at the moment is providing training and education for those looking to deliver a Meeting Centre, aimed at staff and volunteers who may or may not have prior knowledge of dementia or the Meeting Centre model. As a result of the pandemic, this has had to shift from being a two-day course delivered in person, to an online course run across five weeks. Each week ‘students’ have a combination of activities and learning to do in their own time, and a live online session to discuss a topic and share ideas with their fellow students. It was great to have some of our current students on the webinar providing positive feedback in the chat – we didn’t pay them, honestly! The next course is scheduled for the start of May, so there’s still plenty of time to sign up if you’re interested. It’s also currently free to attend, as it’s funded as part of the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme.

Outside of the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme there have been three key developments recently. Firstly, the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme has received £540,000 from a Worcestershire County Council business rates pilot to help establish nine Meeting Centres across Worcestershire. Excitingly, the first three Meeting Centres have just been awarded funding, and the next round of applications closes 31st March. Secondly, Nathan Stephens began his PhD studentship with us at the beginning of February, looking at the impact of a strategic regional approach to scaling up Meeting Centres. His PhD is match funded by the Shaw Foundation and the University of Worcester, and there will be an opportunity to hear from him at the webinar in October – we thought we’d let him settle in first! Thirdly, a new research project called ‘Get Real with Meeting Centres’ has just started, which is going to be looking at the findings from the SCI-Dem project and the sustainability of Meeting Centres over time. There has recently been a blog about this, so for further information please have a look.

Sustainability is a wider issue for consideration during the final year of the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme, and we’re looking at it from multiple aspects. These are shown in the image below, but a couple of key points are interlinked, namely should we be concentrating on going for more Meeting Centres to get a better geographical spread, or should we focus on the quality of existing Meeting Centres? As with most things, it’s a case of balancing quality and quantity.

The webinar concluded with a question and answer session, which had good engagement from the audience. The next webinar will take place on Friday 26th March, titled ‘We didn’t risk assess for this!’, and will be looking at how existing Meeting Centres have responded to the pandemic. You can register here.

If you would like to (re)watch the webinar, a recording is available.

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow, and keep up to date with Meeting Centre news on twitter @MeetingCentres

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