In the latest in our series of monthly webinar sessions focusing on Meeting Centres, Deborah Gerrard, Chief Officer at Dementia Matters in Powys shared how Powys Meeting Centres are supporting people with dementia and their carers through virtual Meeting Centres.
Who are Dementia Matters in Powys? Setting the scene
Dementia Matters in Powys formed in September 2016 and run four Meeting Centres with funding from the National Lottery. The Meeting Centres are based in Brecon, Llandrindod Wells, Newtown and Ystradgynlais are run by six members of staff and 16 volunteers, with governance from a board of three Trustees.
Before COVID-19 around 45-50 members were regularly attending the Meeting Centres, but as many of them are more vulnerable it was decided that all four Meeting Centres would be suspended from 16th March. An emergency planning meeting also took place with staff to plan how members and their carers could be supported throughout the crisis.
So what happens at the moment?
Currently, Dementia Matters in Powys (DMiP) runs a weekly countywide virtual Meeting Centre online. They take place on Thursday mornings for about an hour and a half, which has been found to be a good duration for everyone involved.
As DMiP was already using Zoom in its work, the virtual Meeting Centres have naturally evolved to use this platform. The sessions have evolved over time based on what is found to work well, for example it can take time for everyone to introduce themselves at the start of a session so instead people are asked to identify themselves to the rest of the group when their names are read out.
In addition to the Meeting Centre sessions, DMiP is offering several other forms of support to members and carers. Virtual carer support group meetings are facilitated, with three local sessions taking please on a weekly basis for problem sharing, and one countywide session per fortnight with more of a focus on information sharing. Weekly telephone or facetime contact between members and staff also takes place, as well as regular contact from volunteer buddies for people who have requested that extra level of support. From a practical point of view, calls are done via a cloud-based system so there is no cost involved for the volunteers or staff when making calls.
DMiP have also taken inspiration from the Kirriemuir Meeting Centre and are sending out personal letters, notes and cards, particularly for people who are less able to engage with virtual sessions. They have also built on existing links with local schools to ask children to write letters, draw pictures, sharing crafts for members and carers, which are shared via the post. This is their ‘Brighten up Someone’s Day’ initiative.
Last, but by no means least, volunteer befrienders have been collecting and delivering essential items to members and carers where needed. Although there is a good level of community support generally in Powys, if was felt that having a familiar face would be good for those involved in the Meeting Centres.
What at the plans for the future?
While DMiP want to be able to open all of their Meeting Centres again, the timescale is currently unclear. There is particular concern due to the vulnerable nature of the groups involved, which could mean that some people may not be able to physically attend a Meeting Centre until next year. However, there is a desire to keep offering the virtual Meeting Centre sessions, support groups, telephone buddies and befrienders regardless, as they are working well and would continue supporting people who may not be able to come to a Meeting Centre in person.
Following Deborah’s presentation there was a good amount of discussion, with people feeling more encouraged to persist with trying to set up a Meeting Centre when they had struggled previously, and interest in how the virtual Meeting Centre sessions were having an impact. Deborah gave more details of the sessions, saying that people are still getting a lot out of them, even without the physical aspect of being together in the same room. Social engagement is still happening (albeit at a distance), and people are enjoying some of the themed sessions such as pets, art, nature, history and singing. The Elvis and Tom Jones sessions involving a ukulele sounded particularly interesting!
The focus of the sessions has been to include ways to get people involved and interacting with each other, for example getting people to send in videos and photos that can be shared with the group during the sessions. It was also mentioned that regular ‘round-up’ leaflets are being sent to members and carers, which include ideas for different activities for people to do outside of the sessions, like bird watching.
Physical exercise came up in discussion, and Deborah said that seated exercises are done at the end of the virtual sessions, and short video clips are also put on social media. The discussions also prompted Deborah to consider including exercise prompts in the round-up leaflets to encourage those who are not able to access the virtual sessions or social media.
It was also acknowledged that a positive side-effect of the new ways of engaging with members and carers is that they have provided a good opportunity for staff and volunteers to get to know everyone a bit more, particularly on an individual basis with the phone calls. It’s not always possible to have one-to-one in an actual Meeting Centre as staff don’t normally have the time.
There was also a query about infection control when sending items through the post. Deborah reported that staff are taking sensible precautions such as wearing gloves when handling items and envelopes, and leaving them untouched for a few days before actually putting them in the post. While this can result in a slight delay, it was felt to be better to err on side of caution. Befrienders are also wearing gloves when delivering prescriptions and shopping to members and carers.
Lots of useful resources were shared during the discussions, which are listed below. Please note that we have not checked and are not recommending these, just letting you know what other people are finding useful.
- The self isolating bird club on twitter and Facebook
- Nature-related resources
- Printable sheets for exercise at home from the NHS and British Gymnastics
- Seated exercises for older adults
Thanks to Deborah for this webinar, and best wishes to everyone involved in facilitating Meeting Centres in these challenging times.