Although most people were working from home, it didn’t matter for our latest online seminar which this time focused on the experiences of the Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre. Mike Watts took on a dual role when presenting this session, being both a Trustee of the Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre Charitable Incorporate Organisation (CIO) and a member of the Association for Dementia Studies team.
To set the scene, Droitwich Spa is close to Worcester in the West Midlands. As its name suggests it is a spa town, and salt has formed an important part of its history since Roman times.
Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre normally runs three days a week at the rugby club, excluding the current situation.
A bit of history
Droitwich first got involved with Meeting Centres over six years ago as part of the pan-European MeetingDEM project which was looking to replicate the Dutch Meeting Centre model in the UK, Italy and Poland, and see what needed to be adapted for it to work in different countries.
When exploring potential locations for a Meeting Centre, Droitwich was found to fit the criteria having a population of over 5,000 people aged 65+ (and being conveniently close to the University of Worcester). A Community Engagement Event for interested parties kicked things off in May 2014 with several organisations forming a Planning Group and several working groups which met regularly during the planning phase until July 2015.
Up and running
The Meeting Centre opened in September 2015 in the Droitwich Spa Community Hall and was initially staffed and funded by the Alzheimer’s Society. During the pilot phase as part of the MeetingDEM project, there was no charge for people to attend the Meeting Centre. While this may have helped to bring people in and raise awareness, it may not have been the best option long-term. The Meeting Centre got off to a good start with an increasing membership and committed staff team.
Bumps along the way
In early 2017 national changes within the Alzheimer’s Society meant that unfortunately it would not be able to support and fund the Meeting Centre beyond August 2017. Faced with the real possibility of closure, a local charity was established to try and raise funds. With help from Thursfields Solicitors the Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre CIO was created in May 2017 with seven Trustees, including four carers of members who attended the Meeting Centre.
Weathering the storm
By September 2017 enough funding was available to secure a venue, and Age UK Herefordshire and Worcestershire volunteered to provide a reduced service as an interim measure until further income was available. Sufficient funds had been raised by January 2018 for the Meeting Centre to be open three days a week, with Age UK Herefordshire and Worcestershire continuing to deliver the service. Additionally, following discussions with members and carers a charge was introduced of £20 per day for each couple.
A bit of breathing space
Although it’s a continuous issue to raise money to keep the Meeting Centre going, some positive news was received in June 2019. Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre secured a National Lottery Community Fund grant to provide 50% of their funding for the next four years. While the other 50% still has to be found, it does take some of the pressure off for a while.
The past few years have been a rollercoaster experience, and just when things were calming down the Meeting Centre has had to close due to Coronavirus. The staff team are doing their best to keep in touch with members and carers and support them during this difficult time, offering assistance with shopping, medication, chatting, and preparing suitable activities to keep people engaged.
On a more positive note!
The Meeting Centre has proved to be a lifeline for many members and carers, and one of the key success factors is having a committed and stable staff team. They deliver a varied programme of activities which has been put together to reflect the wishes of the members and what they enjoy. They also do intergenerational activities including linking with local groups such as the ‘Mini Explorers’ Nature Nursery and local schools.
There has been a range of positive feedback and testimonials from both members and carers.
“It’s the best thing that’s happened for me in a very long time” (member)
“I feel as though I matter, that I’m noticed again” (member)
“My mother is less stressed and less anxious, it’s given her a new lease of life” (carer)
“My husband has a purpose in his life, he is happier, gets less agitated, and he feels he has some worth again” (carer)
Although carers do not tend to stay during the day, regular carer meetings have proved popular and useful. Obviously plans for these have had to be put on hold at present.
It has also been useful to have a good referral network and community engagement, helping to raise awareness of the Meeting Centre and promote local fundraising. Good contacts with local newspapers and engagement with social media also help to keep the profile of the Meeting Centre high. Additionally, putting photos on social media of the various activities is appreciated by family members as it helps them to see what has been going on.
Key things to note for others who are considering setting up a Meeting Centre
So if you are thinking about setting up a Meeting Centre of your own, the following should be taken into consideration:
- You need to engage with the community, both initially and on an ongoing basis
- Securing funding could be a challenge, and you will spend a lot of time bid writing
- Finding the right premises for three days a week may not be that easy
- It’s important to have a stable and committed staff team and a Board of Trustees
Droitwich Spa has designated days for people to come and visit and see what goes on (generally the second Wednesday of each month), so the invitation is there for when current situation is resolved.
There are also a few video clips from members and carers to hear about their experiences of the Meeting Centre, so please use the links below:
Following Mike’s presentation there was some discussion and questions from attendees. People running other Meeting Centres were interested in the CIO structure and also how the relationship with Age UK Herefordshire and Worcestershire works. Mike feels that it generally works well as it is a local branch with a certain degree of autonomy, allowing it to focus on providing local support rather than having to go through the central Age UK system. Also, they run other services locally such as the Dementia Advisor Service, making it easier to establish connections. It can also be useful for a small group of Trustees to have a more experienced organisation actually running the Meeting Centre and delivering activities.
Challenges around marketing were also explored, especially when working with staff who were not experienced at this. For Droitwich Spa Meeting Centre, their social media is run by Age UK staff making it easier, but general marketing around town can be trickier, such as having posters and leaflets kept up to date and stocked in local shops, surgeries and the library. Managers from Meeting Centres in Kirriemuir and Powys also shared their experiences on what works for them.