With four new Meeting Centres up and running in Worcestershire and two further ones in the pipeline as part of the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme, it felt like a good time to get everyone together and promote Meeting Centres to potential referrers across the county. Consequently, the Association for Dementia Studies hosted a networking meeting on 13th September to introduce all of the Meeting Centres in Worcestershire and raise awareness of how members and carers can be referred to them.
Around 40 professionals from various health and social care organisations across the county joined us to find out more about Meeting Centres, how they can support Meeting Centres and how Meeting Centres can support people they may work with. They were welcomed by Professor Dawn Brooker MBE who gave an overview of the session and introduced some of the key people involved in Meeting Centres. She also raised an important point for us all to bear in mind during the session, that if people don’t know about Meeting Centres and don’t use them, we could risk losing them as an important resource to support people affected by dementia.
Setting the scene
The recent increase in Worcestershire Meeting Centres is due to the £540,000 funding provided by Worcestershire County Council from their Business Rates Retention Pilot. Hannah Perrott, Assistant Director for Communities at Worcestershire County Council set the scene by saying how Meeting Centres addressed the goals of Worcestershire County Council in terms of providing support for people affected by dementia, and how excited they were to see the progress that’s already been made. She also reminded the group that there is still some funding available for further Meeting Centres as part of the initiative, with the next round of applications closing on the 30th September.
To ensure everyone was on the same page in terms of knowing what a Meeting Centre is, Dawn gave a quick overview from their origins in the Netherlands through to their evolution in the UK. In relation to the dementia pathway, Meeting Centres sit between dementia cafés and day care, and are intended for people living at home who are starting to experience difficulties as a result of their dementia. They aim to help people get back on an even keel and build resilience for the future. Meeting Centres are small-scale interventions focusing on local communities, welcoming both the person with dementia and their family carer, helping them to adjust to challenges they may face. They support around 15-20 people per day and tend to be based in community buildings. While they are driven and shaped by the needs of their members, Meeting Centres generally deliver a mix of activities providing social, physical and emotional support, helping to keep people active.
It was recognised that people can be reluctant to attend groups but experience from work around Meeting Centres has shown that once people get through the door they do like and enjoy attending Meeting Centres. It is therefore important to make people aware of Meeting Centres and refer people to them, so that Meeting Centres can work their ‘magic’ once people are there.
A question and answer session gave attendees the chance to ask questions about anything they had heard to this point, to clarify and points raised so far, and to make suggestions for connections and further networking activities that could take place. There was a lot of interest within the group and many good points raised with some great ideas of how to link people together. Discussions also took place around referral routes and who could be supported by Meeting Centres, particularly regarding age and diagnosis.
Before hearing directly from the Worcestershire Meeting Centres, Dawn provided the wider UK context around Meeting Centres. The previous MeetingDem project translated the Dutch Meeting Centre model for use in the UK, Poland and Italy, and as part of that two demonstrator sites were established in Droitwich Spa and Leominster. The current UK Meeting Centres Support Programme is aiming to increase the spread of Meeting Centres and there are now multiple Meeting Centres across the UK. Despite having to cope with the Covid pandemic, most Meeting Centres have continued to provide remote support when it was not possible to meet in person. While there have been developments in various parts of the UK, Worcestershire is the only county to take a more strategic and coordinated approach to funding multiple Meeting Centres.
The Worcestershire Meeting Centres
First off, we heard from Lynne Mole, Age UK Worcester and Malvern Head of Services. Their remit covers quite a large area within the county, and Meeting Centres have opened in several locations: two in Worcester (Bank House and Dines Green), one in Malvern Link, and one in Wichenford. There is also an intention to open a further Meeting Centre in the Tenbury area. A Meeting Centre manager has been recruited to operate across all of these Meeting Centres. They began by offering taster sessions in May/June time which proved quite popular, and now deliver a whole variety of activities based on what people want and are interested in. Lynne commented how wonderful it was to see the smiles and enjoyment among the members and carers, and see people develop over time.
Once a referral is received, the team will have a chat with them and direct them to their local Meeting Centre. They have a mix of some people attending by themselves, and some coming with carers who may choose to stay or choose to go and have some time to themselves. As the Meeting Centres are operated by Age UK, they do have good links to other services so the team are able to identify when people have extra needs and refer them on accordingly, or are able to have private conversations with people as necessary. They are currently working with the Platform Housing Group to subsidise people to attend their Meeting Centres, and while it was initially planned for those wishing to attend the Dines Green Meeting Centre it has actually been offered more widely across the county.
Next up we heard from Sally Dance who is the manager of the Evesham and District Meeting Centre. It only opened in July and is currently supporting a relatively small number of members, but is aiming to grow over time. While they have an overall plan for their days, they are flexible to accommodate different preferences or needs amongst their members. They are finding that they have not been getting many referrals, but those they have received have tended to come from GP surgeries and from interest through their interactions on Facebook. Their joining process involves an initial conversation with the carer before inviting member and carer to come in for assessment, and enabling them to attend a taster session at the Meeting Centre.
Our final Meeting Centre representative was Jude Henderson, Director of Services for Age UK Herefordshire and Worcestershire. They currently run Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre and are due to open two new Meeting Centres in Kidderminster and Stourport in the next few months. They have a great staff team who get to know the members to make sure the activities they provide meet their needs and are relevant. They also have good interactions and relationships with the family carers and hoping to get their regular carers meetings back up and running post-Covid. More widely, they also run a Meeting Centre for veterans in Hereford, where activities are tailored for that specific group of members and carers. Referrals will be directed to the relevant Meeting Centre, with members undergoing a soft assessment to ensure that the Meeting Centre is appropriate for them. It also provides an opportunity to get initial information to feed into the delivery of activities. Jude also shared a link to a short video clip about Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre.
Based on the level of interest generated by the three speakers and the range of questions being asked, there should be some new referrals coming through in the near future!
Following a short comfort break, the attendees split into three groups to have more detailed discussions relating to Meeting Centres in the three geographical areas presented. They considered how we can work county wide to optimise support for people affected by dementia, the opportunities and challenges presented, what referrers need from Meeting Centres and conversely what Meeting Centres need from referrers.
Key themes or points emerging from the breakout discussions were:
- Social media can provide a good form of engagement with potential members, carers and referrers
- ‘Getting to know you’ conversations and Meeting Centre taster days seem to work well
- It is important to ensure Meeting Centres and potential members and carers are a good fit for each other
- Professionals have good opportunities to share information about Meeting Centres with their teams, but it would be helpful to have leaflets with relevant contact details etc. It can also be useful to have leaflets to give potential members and carers during any visits or consultations
- Good discussions were had about some of the challenges around sustainability and deciding on costs to members
- It could be useful to share information more widely when recruiting for Meeting Centre managers as referrers may know of possible candidates
- It is important to link with social prescribing
The session ended by considering what needs to be done in terms of maintaining a countywide approach and keeping Meeting Centres on everyone’s agenda. Based on feedback, a quick win would be to have the contact details of all Meeting Centres in Worcestershire available in one place, such as in a leaflet or on the ADS website. We’re already winning, as this has been put into action since the referrers’ meeting, so if you want to find out more about the Worcestershire Meeting Centres this handy list is now available.
As a final reminder, there is still funding available via the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme, with next round of applications having a closing date of 30th September.
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