The evolution of Meeting Centres in Scotland

The first webinar in the new series took place on 25th February, and joining Dr Shirley Evans to speak about the work that’s been going on in Scotland around Meeting Centres were:

The webinar started with Shirley giving a brief description of what a Meeting Centre is, to make sure everyone was on the same page. Essentially:

“A Meeting Centre is a local resource, operating out of ordinary community buildings, that offers on-going warm and friendly expert support to people with mild to moderate dementia and their families. At the heart of the Meeting Centre is a social club where people meet to have fun, talk to others and get help that focuses on what they need. Meeting Centres are based on sound research evidence of what helps people to cope well in adjusting to living with the symptoms and changes that dementia brings”

Shirley also directed us to revisit ‘The Magic’, a poem about Meeting Centres which you can find out more about in this short video clip.

Thinking about how Meeting Centres got started in Scotland, Graham first heard about Meeting Centres in late 2017 and felt that the model and ethos were a good fit for their existing work at Kirrie Connections and a good way ahead. Over the years, Kirrie Connections has been supported with funding from the Life Changes Trust, who have understood and appreciated the work that Graham and his team have undertaken, as well as embracing the Meeting Centre model and seeing how it could work across Scotland.

As Arlene explained, the Life Changes Trust was set up with £25 million for young people coming out of the care system and £25 million for people with dementia and their carers, with the aim of supporting and empowering people in those groups. In total, the Trust has funded 329 projects, supporting over 20,000 people with dementia and over 12,000 unpaid carers. After nine years, the Trust is coming to an end in March, but the day before the webinar they announced funding for 11 legacy partners, who will work to keep the Trust’s priorities alive. One of those partners is Kirrie Connections. The Trust has supported Kirrie Connections since before it became the first Meeting Centre in Scotland, and part of the work was to help establish a strong and forward-thinking network across Scotland to expand the development of Meeting Centres. The Meeting Centre approach sits well with the Trust’s Dementia Friendly Community work, which is a critical part of supporting people affected by dementia, as Meeting Centres focus on the needs of their own local community rather than looking more broadly across a city. Meeting Centres also provide a strong platform and infrastructure for a wider range of support and services, which fits with the Trust’s work around enabling people to access post-diagnostic support in different ways in their own communities.

Legacy partners have to cover two of the three criteria chosen by the Trust, which were felt to have strong evidence of impact:

  • Dementia Friendly Communities
  • Carer support
  • Meeting Centres

It’s also been very encouraging recently to see the Scottish Government investing in community-led dementia support across Scotland. Part of that investment will go towards the development of Meeting Centres in Scotland, helping to build the network at a national level. While it’s sad that it’s the end of an era for the Trust, they are looking forward to seeing how the work continues in the future.

On behalf of everyone involved, Graham extended congratulations and thanks to Arlene and the Life Changes Trust for all of their support and hard work over the past nine years. As a direct impact of their legacy, there are plans for ten fully-funded Meeting Centres in Scotland this year, and many other Meeting Centres have secured funding from their health and social care partnerships government.

Graham handed over to Kainde to heart about the work of About Dementia, who were funded by the Life Changes Trust in 2019. There was a recognition of the gap between national policies and grass roots dementia friendly communities, where people affected by dementia are a core part of community. About Dementia has been working to reduce the gap by looking at the challenges involved and what needs to change to cause a shift in policy, while ensuring that the views of people affected by dementia are kept front and centre. They have enjoyed and appreciated working closely with Kirrie Connections since the start of their project, with their partnership growing over time. In terms of the ongoing role of About Dementia from a legacy perspective, they need to harness the togetherness that the Life Changes Trust has created and build on what they have put in place, putting an emphasis on continuous learning and development, shared learning and practice, and evaluation. They have funding to carry out some work around peer support and will be putting people with dementia and unpaid carers in a place to say what that should look like and achieve. Recent funding from the Scottish Government will hopefully allow them to tie all of the different strands of work together in a new way. The pandemic has highlighted the limitations of statutory sector, while showcasing the innovation of initiatives such as dementia friendly communities and Meeting Centres in terms of the support they provided, and this was recognised by government and prompted a change in thinking. About Dementia has agreed funding for Kirrie Connections and to build on the existing network to ensure that people affected by dementia are represented.

Thanks to the funding from About Dementia, Graham confirmed that the Meeting Centre network will be having regular meetings in Meeting Centres, including visits to other Meeting Centres, which will ensure that people with dementia are embedded in the development of Meeting Centres.

The next speaker was Ron, who was involved in organising the 100/6000 conference in 2021. Ron felt that one positive to come out of the pandemic was that it has helped people with dementia to realise that they can do more than they thought and be able to gain a bit of control, when other services and agencies were unavailable. Rather than being empowered, Ron felt that they took the power for themselves. Deepness became a ‘dementia owned’ organisation, with their Board consisting of more people with dementia than without. It’s not about putting dementia in the room, it’s about putting experience in the room, and the concept is that each person has 60 years of experience to draw on. The 100/6000 conference was an opportunity for people affected by dementia to share their experiences and make their views heard, with professionals being made to sit and listen. Funding from the Life Changes Trust has enabled them to plan with confidence, with another conference taking place in Scotland this year as well as one in Sheffield.

Ron visited Kirrie Connections and was convinced by Meeting Centres as what he saw was people with dementia being treated equally and Graham being open and available. They were looking to set up a Meeting Centre in the Western Isles when the pandemic hit. That forced them to learn how to deliver and access a variety of activities online, but those skills could come into play when working out how to operate a Meeting Centre. The size of the Western Isles means that just having one Meeting Centre would not work, but even in more populated areas you need more than one Meeting Centre due to their focus on local communities. Ron and his wife Karen Taylor are looking at having a core Meeting Centre with satellite hubs on different islands which can provide support one day a week. They are currently trying to work out where it makes sense to have a hub to reach as many people as possible, taking issues such as access and transport into account. While they appreciate that numbers may be small in some areas, it is still important to be able to provide support for even a few people, so they are looking at how to adapt the Meeting Centre model to meet the needs of the communities involved.

In addition to this work, Ron and Karen are working with the Association for Dementia Studies on the online Meeting Centre training that they currently deliver. They will be helping to adapt the training to ensure it captures the views of people affected by dementia, and there are plans for them to get involved in its delivery in the future.

Also on the webinar was Breda Seaman from Dunblane Development Trust, who runs the second Scottish Meeting Centre in Dunblane. News of their funding as a legacy partner is already getting out and they have had congratulations and offers of help, including a possible location which may be an opportunity to deliver additional sessions for younger people with dementia.

Useful links shared during the webinar:

  • Life Changes Trust has captured a lot of its learning from their projects and beyond in a resource called ‘Dementia A Whole Life Approach’. You can get a copy from their website, but they still have printed copies available which you can request by emailing dementiaprogramme@lifechangestrust.org.uk
  • You can access Deepness Dementia Radio by asking your device to ‘start deepness radio’ or by going to www.deepnessdementiaradio.com

As Shirley summed it up at the end of the webinar, key points coming out were around ‘grass roots’, ‘networks’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘enabling’, backed up by ‘determination’, ‘passion’ and ‘care’, which has all added up to successfully influencing policy.

This blog is just a brief summary of the amazing work being done in Scotland which really doesn’t do it justice, so we recommend taking the time to watch the recording and hear about it for yourself.

The next webinar will take place at 12 noon on 25th March, where Professor Dawn Brooker MBE will be talking about ‘My Meeting Centre Journey’. A full list of the planned webinars can be found below and the Zoom details are available on our website.

Author: Association for Dementia Studies

We are a multi-professional group of educationalists, researchers and practitioners who are expert in the field of person-centred dementia care and support. Our aim is to make a substantial contribution to building evidence-based practical ways of working with people living with dementia and their families that enables them to live well. We do this primarily through research, education and consultancy.

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