Derek Fisher is a house manager for a charity that provides sheltered accommodation for disabled people: allowing them to live independently . Derek has had a keen interest in dementia for the past 16 years and has worked in social care. Derek is involved with the dementia assistance card and has been from its inception. He is also campaigning for a national 24/7 dementia helpline. Derek lives in Essex and his hobbies include football, cricket, reading and blogging.
In these times of austerity, I am constantly aware of the declining numbers of community initiatives and support for people with dementia. Unfortunately lack of funding is resulting in the closure of community social and information venues, day services and dementia cafes, however such services are vital to the wellbeing of people with dementia and their family and friends. Therefore, in this blog I wish to share my personal experience of establishing a dementia café in the hope that this will help other people establish or continue running such valuable initiatives, as it cannot be stressed enough that setting up a dementia café has enormous social and possibly life enhancing opportunities. There are of course costs and other logistical obstacles but these should pale into insignificance when compared to the huge physiological plusses this offers.
I was involved in the setting up a dementia or Alz café a number of year ago. Although the original venue is no longer used, the café continues to flourish at an alternative venue nearby. It as obvious to many that a call was needed for one and we stumbled upon the opportunity by chance. We set one up in a day centre on a day that was very underused by day centre members. From the outcome, it proved a winner with all concerned. People came in good numbers from the local area and we were very fortunate to have the use of the space for free.
I must at this point add that finding a venue is not as hard as it seems. Religious halls such as churches, synagogues and mosques, scout huts, rooms in GP surgeries are just a few suggestions that spring to mind. Remember there's no harm in trying to seek out a cost effective bargain as venues places may offer the use of their hall for a minimal cost or possibly just a donation. The only other cost to the café would of course be the tea, coffee and any food supplied, and you could appeal for donations and ask local supermarkets if they can offer some support. Café raffles can be a good way of raising fund too and local shops might make donations if approached – I think the motto is there's no harm in trying and being a little cheeky! It may also be possible to obtain a grant from the local authority for venue hire or towards the costs e.g. Council community chest grants or innovation monies for setting up and evaluating new local projects. There then comes the issue of staff. Despite what you may think, you don’t need loads of staff. In fact all you need are a few willing, committed and good hearted volunteers to assist a professional who has in depth knowledge and understanding of dementia to be able to take a lead in offering dementia-specific support/information.
We were very fortunate in so much that we had an Alzheimers Society rep willing to take charge. If you need professional help then why not approach the local Alzheimers Society, your local GP surgery or hospital, or memory service/clinic. Dementia UK would be of assistance in helping you also. Willing health and social care professionals are not necessarily managers so it is good to have a team with a wide range of knowledge and skills, especially someone with a head for numbers and someone with good leadership skills.
Our cafe was based at a community day centre on a Friday originally and was advertised intensely – how and why?. We opened up to a good attendance and that remained steady throughout . To recoup the cost of the hire of the hall and the overheads re food and drink we charged a minimal amount. People were more than willing to pay. The café is an outlet for people with dementia to meet with their peers and socialise in an informal manner whilst their carers do likewise with their peers. It’s a great meeting place where people share their thoughts and can express themselves in a cordial and user friendly atmosphere, but is the only space where there is already some understanding of dementia so support is informed, validating and suggestions given for possible ways forward. Given how isolating dementia can be, spaces like this are much needed for social interaction and feeling as though you are not alone in your experience of dementia.
We had speakers and entertainers and played games such as bingo. However, the highlight was always music. This was always well received and people got up to dance and would readily sing along. It mattered not if the music was live or taped, however live music always has a great presence and joy which enhanced the experience.
It was soon discovered that socially isolated people living with dementia became outgoing and extrovert in many ways. This, we thought, only went to enhance their life’s and that of their hard-pressed carers. It became a weekly highlight.
The time came when the venue, for several reasons had to be changed. Fortunately, a local charity that runs community schemes from their offices offered the use of a room on a weekly basis. The costs were once again met by the minimal charge to the attendees. No one ever complained about paying.
We all noticed the vast improvement that this café gave to all those who attended. We also noticed that it was a chance for strained family carers to have a break for a few hours. This enabled them to recharge their run-down batteries.
The emotional gains from a café far outweigh any logistical barriers that one finds. Look beyond the mountains and see the pastures that exist. The café in question is still going strong today. Indeed there are many flourishing cafes around the whole country and the idea is continuously growing in obvious popularity.