Meeting Centres webinar – New Kids on the Block

Those of us of a certain vintage may have secretly been hoping for a surprise performance by the 80’s/90’s boy band, but the ‘New Kids on the Block’ webinar that took place on 24th September was a hit in its own right.

Professor Dawn Brooker MBE welcomed everyone to the sixth webinar in the Meeting Centres webinar series, which focused on hearing from a range of individuals who have just opened a Meeting Centre or are in the process of getting one up and running, looking at what inspired them to get going and some of the opportunities and challenges along the way.

The style of the webinar was ‘A conversation with…’, hosted by Graham Galloway who is Chief Officer of Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre. He was speaking with:

Graham started off the conversation by giving a bit of background about how the existing Kirrie Connections evolved into a Meeting Centre. When he heard about Meeting Centres he described it as a lightbulb moment which showed him how he could take the organisation forward. Kirrie Connections was already doing or offering a lot of the elements described in the Meeting Centre model, so it felt like a perfect match. It’s been a fantastic journey since then, and Graham is currently chairing a working group in Scotland with around a dozen organisations looking to open Meeting Centres.

What inspired you to get involved with Meeting Centres?

Isobel reflected that Alive! Had been doing a lot of work with care homes, but wanted to look at doing more work with the community and supporting people to live in their own homes. The organisation was Introduced to the Meeting Centre model and, as with Kirrie Connections, felt like it was a good fit for their future plans. They wanted to bring something new and innovative to Bristol, but recognised the importance of having the existing evidence base around the impact of Meeting Centres to support discussions with other organisations and potential funders.

For Julie it was a bit more personal, with the academic/research aspect of Meeting Centres not really being a factor for her. One of her colleagues saw a discussion about Meeting Centres on social media and inspired Julie to find out more about them. As with her Dementia Friendly Prestwick work, the starting point for Julie is always ‘Would my mum enjoy this?’. With Meeting Centres, the quality of support provided, the links with community, the duration and ongoing nature of the sessions (rather than just being an hour session), and the fact that they support the whole family were all important factors that spoke to her. She thought that Meeting Centres would have worked for her and her family.

Barbara spoke about a conversation she had had with Dawn back in 2014 about wanting to develop local, community provision as she felt it was the way forward. This coincided with the start of the Association for Dementia Studies’ involvement in the research around Meeting Centres, and Dawn recommended that Barbara keep an eye on Meeting Centres. When the evidence became available, Barbara found that it fitted well with other work that they had going on, and they have now been awarded funding to start two new Meeting Centres in Sandwell.

Pre-Covid, Breda had been running a memory café within her dementia friendly community. Her interest in Meeting Centres was sparked after hearing about them through the Life Changes Trust. The pandemic actually provided an opportunity by giving her thinking space and the opportunity to explore and discuss the potential of Meeting Centres, as well as getting her team through the online Meeting Centres Training Course. When the time came to consider plans for reopening, Breda and her team had to make the decision of whether to continue as a memory café or take the leap and open as a Meeting Centre. They decided to go for it, and have received funding from the Life Changes Trust to support them.

How did you go about the community engagement process?

Alive! are looking to set up two Meeting Centres in different locations, one in the city of Bristol which is big city, and one in North Somerset. They created a Steering Group in Bristol as they wanted to get people on board and engaged from the start, but it has been tricky during lockdown and the pandemic more generally. There has been a lot of support and interest as there is nothing like a Meeting Centre currently available in Bristol. Their Steering Group in North Somerset has linked together multiple Dementia Action Alliances in the area to decide on the best approach, but they were quite lucky to get a funder on board quite early on. The engagement process has been quite organic and flexible in some respects, but the overarching goal was to make sure that what’s being done is right for the area, with people living with dementia and their carers being involved throughout the process.

In Sandwell there is already a culture of partnership working, a thirst for training, and an enthusiasm and appetite to develop new ideas. They are part of a collaborative partnership of nine organisations commissioned to develop a wider support service which would ideally be aligned to the dementia pathway, and have been demonstrating how Meeting Centres can fill the gap in post-diagnostic support for people with dementia. They have also been working with Innovations in Dementia to establish a DEEP group to ensure the voices of people with dementia are included in those conversations.

Dementia Friendly Prestwick has been running activities such as relaxed cinema sessions and health walks for a few years with the aim of raising awareness of dementia. They have not necessarily been activities exclusively for people with dementia as it was felt they should be accessible to everyone and enable people with dementia to be part of the wider community. Dementia Friendly Prestwick also has a good social media presence to share what they are doing, aiming to be an open door for anyone who may have concerns about dementia. Their focus is on providing a friendly face and the opportunity to have fun, first and foremost. Regular events have helped to raise their profile, together with work around design to make Prestwick seafront more dementia friendly. The support they have been providing during the pandemic has also given them a good opportunity to start conversations with individuals about how they can provide support in a more formal way. They are taking it step by step, but making sure the community is engaged at every point.

How are you approaching funding?

Isobel said that they are planning to charge member fees as they have found from previous work that people tend to be more invested and engaged if they have to pay. However, fees need to be kept affordable, manageable and accessible. Although different funding models are being followed in Bristol (funding from two funders for two years) and North Somerset (Local Authority), it was recognised that charging is still required to help with sustainability.

In Dunblane, they have initial funding from the Life Changes Trust, so they are currently only charging a small attendance fee as it didn’t feel right to charge too much to start with. They are still applying for further funding from different sources. While Breda realises that funding is an important issue, particularly in terms of paying for a Meeting Centre Manager and Support Worker, she feels people shouldn’t let it put them off. When exploring what people are paying to access other forms of support from independent companies locally, sometimes through personal budgets, Breda felt that there must be a way to show what support Meeting Centres offer for a better rate.

While Barbara and her team have got a 3-year Lottery grant to cover their staff costs, they are still planning to charge people to attend their Meeting Centres. This is likely to be a challenge as Sandwell is not an affluent area by any means, so they are looking to get Meeting Centres included in care packages for people as part of what they should automatically receive when they need care. They are also exploring a voucher scheme where people could buy vouchers themselves or be bought them by an organisation, provider or charity, or maybe even by family.

Are there any particular current challenges for you? (other than the pandemic)

For Julie, finding a venue is an issue as there is shortage of empty properties in Prestwick. It’s also difficult to identify a suitable building, but she realises that they may have to find one that is ‘good enough’ rather than holding out for the perfect venue with the right stuff, which may not actually exist.

A venue is also an issue in Bristol because the Meeting Centre would want to use it for three days a week and ideally have parking. Opting for a roving Meeting Centre in multiple locations in North Somerset was partly to overcome the difficulty of finding a single venue. While they would ideally like to have their own venue(s) at some point, they want to actually get the Meeting Centre going and see how things go.

Barbara recognised that there is still a lot of anxiety and uncertainty around at the moment, with some people not wanting to attend groups. It can also be difficult for people delivering support to work out what they can and should be doing to keep people safe. As Graham acknowledged, building relationships with people can help with this as they have trust in you which could encourage them and make them feel more comfortable to get back out and about, or at least give things a go.

Top tips for people thinking about opening a Meeting Centre:

  • Be prepared to compromise, particularly in terms of a venue, and make sure you talk to everyone right from the start
  • Get people on board by helping them to understand what Meeting Centres are and what difference they can make to people
  • Feel the fear and just do it. You have to start somewhere so just give it a go
  • Be bold and believe in the Meeting Centre model. Be positive and tell people why it’s good, rather than asking them what they think

Graham closed the conversation by recognising that everyone involved in Meeting Centres is so passionate and believes in them and their impact.

Dawn summed up the session by saying how great it was to hear how much is going on and seeing the level of commitment from everyone. Even when things don’t go to plan it’s about hanging tough and finding an alternative solution. She also reiterated that the Meeting Centres group are available to help each other, so make use of us all.

Thanks to Graham for facilitating the conversation and to everyone for taking part and sharing their experiences. If you would like to watch a recording of the session it is available here.

The next webinar will take place on 29th October looking at ‘Scaling up Meeting Centres in a locality’. Please see our website for details on how to register to attend.

(For those of you might be wondering, yes, I did amuse myself by managing to get a few NKOTB song references into this blog, and yes, I do know the band members’ names without having to look them up)

Follow Meeting Centres on twitter @MeetingCentres

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

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