Meeting Centres National Reference Group – latest news

In mid-May 2021 the latest meeting of the Meeting Centres National Reference Group (NRG) took place, the second held as an online meeting due to the pandemic. It brought together around 20 interested parties from different organisations across the UK, as well as Professor Rose-Marie Droes who founded Meeting Centres in the Netherlands and was able to provide an international perspective as Chair of the MeetingDem Board.

Chaired by Professor Dawn Brooker, the meeting was essentially split into two parts, one reflecting on what’s happened so far and one looking at what happens next.

Image showing a signpost with signs for 'progress' and 'what next?'

In the first part of the meeting Dr Shirley Evans, with input from relevant NRG members, provided an update of progress on the project to say where we’ve got to. Here are some of the highlights:

An explosion of new Meeting Centres

There has been a lot of activity recently, with four new Meeting Centres being funded in Worcestershire this year. At least six new Meeting Centres are being planned in Scotland in the next 12 months, and a similar number expected in various parts of England. That’s just the ones we know of that are funded or looking very promising. In addition, there continues to be a lot of interest on a pretty much daily basis, so by the time you read this these numbers are likely to be out-of-date!

Image showing an increasing number of house icons, representing the growing number of Meeting Centres over time

An active, effective and growing Community of Learning and Practice

As you’ve hopefully seen from previous blog posts, we’ve been hosting regular BYOL and monthly webinars to share Meeting Centres with everyone. What you probably don’t know is that since lockdown began last year we’ve been facilitating a regular meeting for Meeting Centre Managers and other interested parties. They’ve provided the opportunity for people to share what they are doing, raise issues they’re facing, share examples of good practice, ask others what they would do in certain situations, and generally provide peer support and encouragement to keep the momentum going even when Meeting Centres haven’t actually been able to open.

Image showing a network of people

We’ve also been developing and delivering our online training for staff and volunteers, to help them understand how to develop and implement a Meeting Centre. We’ve had some good feedback so far, and by the end of the year hope to have trained over 80 people. The next course starts 2nd August, so if you are interested please have a look at our website and get in touch.

In addition to blogs, our Meeting Centre blog site has also been expanding to include a repository of useful resources to support people remotely, but we have plans to develop the site further to include a space where people can connect and discuss with each other. We’ll keep you updated with any progress!

Collecting meaningful and impactful data

In spite of the difficulties posed by lockdown, our Meeting Centre demonstrator sites have continued to collect useful data to add to our growing evidence base around Meeting Centres. As well as being useful from a research perspective, the type of data we ask them to collect is based on what Meeting Centres might be asked for in funding bids around attendance, impact and satisfaction. The intention is therefore that data collection is mutually beneficial and has a practical purpose. Additionally, although each Meeting Centre contributes its own data it can draw on the wider pool of evidence across all Meeting Centres. It might be a challenge at times, but it is worth it!

Image showing documents around a graph, representing completed forms feeding data into a central pool of evidence.

A robust portfolio of related projects

While the NRG is part of the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme (UKMCSP), we also have several other related projects underway which complement and enhance this work.

  • Worcestershire Meeting Centres Support Programme – Worcestershire County Council is using funding from the County’s Business Rates Retention Pilot to support the setting up and running of nine new Meeting Centres in Worcestershire over the next three years. Four Meeting Centres have been awarded funding so far, and the latest round of applications closes at the end of June
  • A PhD studentship, match-funded by the Shaw Foundation, to explore strategic approaches such as regional support to scale-up Meeting Centre provision, using the Worcestershire model as a case in point. Our new PhD student Nathan Stephens joined us in February
  • Get Real with Meeting Centres – NIHR funded research into the sustainability of Meeting Centres, using a realist evaluation to explore what helps Meeting Centres to succeed and what needs to be in place to sustain them over time. Consultations and interviews will hopefully start over the summer
Image showing four jigsaw pieces linking together

Looking to the future

The second part of the meeting looked toward the future, considering what could happen after the funding from the National Lottery Community Fund comes to an end at the beginning of 2022. It is clear that Meeting Centres are a great way of supporting people affected by dementia, and that individual Meeting Centres are flourishing despite the pandemic. However, because of the pandemic we have not been able to progress the exact nature of a national infrastructure to support new and emerging Meeting Centres.

A proposal was discussed for a bridging plan for 2022-24 that would be directed by a National Consortium of interested parties with an aim of furthering the strategic establishment of Meeting Centres across the UK. It was suggested to have the following key outcomes:

  • Communities across the UK have easy access to information and advice about Meeting Centres
  • Communities across the UK have easy access to web-based resources and up-to date guidance on MC implementation
  • Meeting Centres Staff, Leaders and Trustees have access to Community of Learning & Practice & Demonstrator Sites
  • Meeting Centres have easy access to Skills Training for Meeting Centre Staff and Volunteers
  • Meeting Centres collect data on implementation and have this analysed over time
  • Meeting Centres have access to up-to-date knowledge of Meeting Centres research and evidence
  • Policy Influencers in each jurisdiction will have up to date knowledge of Meeting Centres

After putting forward the proposal, Professor Brooker opened the floor to the wider group for discussions to get feedback on the proposal and see how those outcomes might be achieved in practice. There were lots of thoughts and some great points and ideas for us to reflect on and build into our plans. Watch this space!

Thanks to everyone for attending, and maybe the next meeting will be in person rather than online.

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

Keep up to date with Meeting Centres on twitter @MeetingCentres

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