Scaling up Meeting Centres in a locality

The eighth webinar in the Meeting Centres series took place at the end of October, with the focus being on how we can scale up the Meeting Centre approach across a geographical area.

The session began with a welcome by Professor Dawn Brooker MBE, who reiterated that while Meeting Centres have a local focus, it can make sense to have a more strategic approach when looking at opening multiple Meeting Centres in a similar geographical area such as a county or region.

Dawn handed over to Deborah Gerrard, Chief Officer for Dementia Matters in Powys, to facilitate a discussion with a panel of speakers with different perspectives on the subject:

  • Nathan Evans – Director of Partnerships and Development at The Shaw Foundation
  • Isobel Jones – Chief Executive Officer of Alive!
  • Nathan Stephens – PhD student with the Association for Dementia Studies, investigating the value of a regional approach to Meeting Centres in Worcestershire
  • Tora Owen – Family carer for her mother who attends Newtown Meeting Centre

Deborah began with a brief history of Dementia Matters in Powys, which expanded from a dementia friendly community in Brecon to a county-wide spread of Meeting Centres. Powys is a large and sparsely-populated county with people being unlikely to travel large distances, so having multiple Meeting Centres in different parts of the county was vital. They had just got four Meeting Centres established in Brecon, Llandrindod Wells, Ystradgynlais and Newtown when Covid hit, but they have been providing remote support throughout the pandemic as explored in a previous blog. Thanks to funding from The Shaw Foundation they were able to develop their technology offer to help people access online support, and have recently secured funding to open a fifth Meeting Centre in Welshpool. They will be using a hybrid approach to enable people who are unable to attend in person (for whatever reason) to still be able to benefit from participating in Meeting Centre sessions and activities.

Opening up the discussion more widely, Deborah posed several questions to the invited panel.

What is the attraction to funders for a regional approach?

Nathan Evans – In reality, funders are looking for the biggest return on their investment. Meeting Centres meet a lot of The Shaw Foundation’s priorities, and a regional approach enables Meeting Centres to adapt to their surroundings. As a funder you hope to be the spark to enable initiatives to get off the ground, but using a regional approach could also make it more appealing to larger funders in the future.

Nathan Stephens – Meeting Centres provide added value by focusing on their community. They also fill a gap in existing services, and when scaled up they can bring different parts of the system together at different levels, particularly in the context of integrated care systems. When you scale up you can also extend the impacts that have already been seen in individual Meeting Centres to more people, but also broader social impacts such as volunteering.

What do you think are the advantages of a regional approach to Meeting Centres?

Isobel Jones – Scalability makes it possible to share staff and resources within an organisation if you are running multiple Meeting Centres. It can also help with time and cost savings as you can plan an activity once but deliver it in multiple locations, and benefit from cost savings by buying ‘in bulk’. You are also able to share policies so individual Meeting Centres don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. At the same time, there is a level of flexibility so an organisation can still make each Meeting Centre fit with the local community, so although all the Meeting Centres may have the same foundations, they will each have their own individual flavour and colour. A regional approach can also ensure that everyone can benefit, so it’s less of a postcode lottery with only small pockets of people being able to attend.

What do you think might be the disadvantages?

Nathan Stephens – It needs all parts of the system working together for a strategic, regional approach to work, so if that doesn’t happen there is a risk that Meeting Centres may be set up to fail. There is also a risk that it could become a more commercial proposition as Meeting Centres become more well-known and popular, which risks the underlying principles and model being compromised. It is also worth considering whether multiple Meeting Centres in an area will really mean that everyone who needs to or wants to can actually attend.

Isobel Jones – Alive have been considering a roving Meeting Centre in a bus as a way of reaching more people. One of the problems they have considered is that if you have Meeting Centres in multiple locations on different days but sharing resources, there can be issues around where to keep the resources if you need to keep moving them between locations.

What do you think might be the benefits for members and family carers of a number of Meeting Centres in a region?

Tora Owen – The hybrid model being used in Powys will make it possible for everyone to join in regardless of where they are in the county. If you have multiple Meeting Centres people won’t have to travel as far so it will be easier to attend. Remote connection across multiple Meeting Centres also makes it easier to get to know people who you wouldn’t otherwise have met, which has been seen in Powys as the remote sessions brought together all four Meeting Centres. More Meeting Centres could mean that each one has smaller groups, so members and carers can forms stronger bonds with everyone and benefit from more personalised support, both within the Meeting Centre and outside of it.

Deborah Gerrard – When restrictions allowed, Dementia Matters in Powys have also been able to bring people together in person for events across Meeting Centres such as their summer games. It was lovely because people already knew each other through the remote sessions, and finally got to meet in person. They have also got plans to have informal, friendly competitions or a ‘league’ between the Powys Meeting Centres in same area, which may not have worked if people in the different Meeting Centres didn’t know each other.

How can we best involve members and family carers in a regional approach?

Tora Owen – Opportunities could include helping out with technology and transport to help people to access the Meeting Centres. They could also help with promotional activities and raising awareness of Meeting Centres, as it can have more impact when you hear directly from people who attend and benefit from Meeting Centres.

Isobel Jones – A final benefit could be that referrals may be easier with regional approach. It could be a stronger selling point with commissioners and potential referrers, and it may also be easier to raise awareness of a local network of Meeting Centres rather than an individual Meeting Centre.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and perspectives, and apologies if I’ve misrepresented any views in this blog (any mistakes are mine, not theirs). You can watch a recording of the webinar to hear from our speakers in their own words, as well as to pick up on some of their anecdotes which really brought Meeting Centres to life. The recording is available here.

The final webinar in the series will take place on Friday 26th November 2021 at 12 noon, looking at ‘Sustainability of Meeting Centres: opportunities, challenges and the way forward’. It will consider how Meeting Centres can move forward individually, as part of a regional approach, and as a UK-wide network, and what the next steps are. Details of how to register can be found on our website.

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