Meet our new PhD student

This week’s blog is an opportunity for our new PhD student Nathan Stephens to introduce himself. He will be looking at the impact of a strategic regional approach to scaling up Meeting Centres for people affected by dementia. Over to you Nathan:

A few weeks into my PhD and some things are beginning to make sense, others not. But a marked difference from week one (now a little blurry), which in truth was a blend of utter jubilation and deflation – “I am ‘virtually’ here…”. This provoked thought: What about those without access to the internet? What about the roughly 60% of people attending Meetings Centres that this represents? I’ll return to this later.

Anyway, it was about time I ‘formally’ introduced myself and hopefully provide some insight to “who I am”, and “what I’m about”. A lover of phenomenology, I feel it is important for the researcher’s presence to be acknowledged. After all, I am trying to make sense of someone making sense of the world, and if you can make sense of me, perhaps you will make sense of the research. If that makes sense? But firstly I would like to say a sincere thank you to everyone at the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) and wider for the very warm welcome. Regardless of why you’re joining a team, it is a daunting experience. I think/hope a combination of this, and Shirley (Director of studies) and co.’s robust induction programme has coerced me into the team. Having this opportunity to peek behind the academic curtain and witness the plentiful work going on, and all with a key drive to have a tangible impact, gives me a huge sense that the next three years are going to be some of my best!  

So what do we know?

Well I am ‘here’, and I have begun the PhD journey. However, this isn’t the only journey. I am an informal caregiver for my Nan, Margaret (pictured below with a painting I did) who is living with dementia. This is my second personal experience with dementia and it doesn’t get any easier with time. The first is a huge reason for me being at ADS today. When my Grandad got diagnosed in my late teens, I was benighted to the condition, so much so I would render it epiphanic. I became alarmed at the lack of innovative attempts in the way of preventing and alleviating symptoms, engrossed by the possibility to provide tailor- made exercise programmes, and inspired to fulfil my nuanced purpose to improve people’s lives (noteworthy: at this point I had only visited one nursing home). Sufficed to say, I never did get my exercise idea off the ground, but it led me to academia – an indirect cause, but one with emergent effects (you can tell I have been reading evaluation literature). Two degrees, one dodgy knee, and a broad array of jobs later, I have sort of ended up where I left off, in a roundabout kind of way.

So where are we going?

Well you would have thought (as did I before joining ADS) that Covid would have put the brakes on community-based initiatives, but in fact we have seen a surplus beyond the surplus value of meeting centres. The community spirit ethos bred into Meeting Centres has transpired and grown into an adaptable virtual/remote machine that has continued to meet people’s needs, and now entering a post-Covid epoch, will have an even fuller arsenal.

With a plethora of support, an intranational evidence-base, and growing global infrastructure, Meetings Centres present as one of, if not the sexiest (always wanted to use that word) approach to building real community resilience. To ground this is the rhetoric of Boris – we need to ensure Meeting Centres are the building blocks of the government’s ‘Build Back Better’ agenda to reducing inequalities, alleviate public sector services, support communities to flourish, and integrate the welfare system.

So where do I/it fit?

My professional and personal experience, that according to theory renders me an “expert by experience” in the field, has helped contextualise the value of Meeting Centres, and understand (without actually attending one) why they are such a worthy cause. The Worcestershire Meeting Centres Support Programme, which through a novel strategic regional approach is set to be the largest implementation project yet, has the opportunity to be a blueprint for nationwide dissemination of Meeting Centres; championing efforts to fill the inequitable gap that currently exists in post-diagnostic support. I have the job of researching this, as it develops, and hopefully in 3 years providing a thesis that demonstrates the impact and value of a regional approach. Currently I have little more than a web browser with that many tabs open, I open a new browser each time as it’s overwhelming, and a desk full of scribbles that again amount to the same problem as the former. But, I think there are a few signs in this blog as to where the research might be heading, and to be the individual heading that is an absolute dream and I cannot wait to share the journey with you over the coming weeks, months and years.



Connect with Nathan on twitter @NathstenW

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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