The March Meeting Centres UK webinar was led by Professor Dawn Brooker MBE who was reflecting on ‘My time with Meeting Centres’, or as she also called it, a retiring Professor’s reminiscence session. Although Dawn retired as Director of the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) at the end of March, she was very clear that this won’t be the end of her involvement with Meeting Centres as she will continue to work with ADS in an Emeritus Professor role.
As can be seen in the slide below, Meeting Centres have been on Dawn’s radar for over 20 years, having originated in the Netherlands in the 1990’s, with Dawn joining the MeetingDem Consortium in 2014.
Just to give a brief recap, an early definition was that a Meeting Centre offers:
- A social club for people with dementia with psychomotor group therapy and creative and recreational activities
- Information meetings, support groups and care coordination for carers
- A consulting hour, monthly meetings and social activities for people to attend/do together
The MeetingDem project looked at translating and adapting the Dutch Meeting Centre model to see how it could work in the UK, Italy and Poland. The first UK Meeting Centre opening in Droitwich Spa in 2015 and was soon followed by the Leominster Meeting Centre in early 2016. The project demonstrated that although there were some challenges to overcome, Meeting Centres could successfully be implemented in each country, and had a positive impact on people who attended. Work to deliver Pioneer Workshops helped to spread the word more widely across the UK, and the friendships developed through the project and these workshops have stood the test of time.
However, in 2017 when the project funding came to an end and there was no service provider in place, the two UK Meeting Centres were in a difficult position and facing closure. Both Meeting Centres formed Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIO) and were able to continue, still providing support to this day.
Word was spreading about Meeting Centres, with interest and networking taking place with Kirrie Connections in Scotland and Dementia Matters in Powys in Wales, which soon became our key ‘demonstrator sites’ alongside Droitwich Spa and Leominster. In 2018, funding from the National Lottery Community Fund made it possible to start building a group of ‘early adopter’ Meeting Centres, develop guidelines and resources, provide training for staff and volunteers, set up a community of learning and practice, and establishing a National Reference Group. (Details of this work can be found here)
Needless to say, we were very proud to win the Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to the local community in 2019!
Then Covid hit. This was not part of anyone’s risk assessment, but we were amazed by the support that Meeting Centres were still able to provide to their members and carers through lockdown. Our Community of Learning and Practice helped people stay in touch and offer peer support, and our training had to go completely online, but any project plans around sustainability and meeting targets were affected. Luckily, we were able to extend the project in response to these challenges.
The Worcestershire Meeting Centres Scaling-Up initiative using £540,000 of funding from Worcestershire County Council had also just got going when Covid appeared, and aimed to pump prime up to nine Meeting Centres across the county. One of our ongoing questions is ‘how many Meeting Centres are there?’, and while this is an ever-changing figure that’s quite difficult to pin down, we say that we’ll have gone from 2 to nearly 60 over about five years – despite Covid.
Looking to the future, Dawn considered the role of people directly affected by themselves in Meeting Centres and how this is already taking place in Scotland. The model being pioneered is having groups made up of a third of people being those living with dementia, a third being carers, and a third being professionals. This is an approach we hope to adopt going forward.
In the slightly shorter term, Dawn presented at the World Dementia Council on 28th March on ‘What vehicles exist for delivering post-diagnostic interventions? What psychosocial interventions can we deliver?’ where Meeting Centres will be a key element. Spoiler alert, Dawn left them with three challenges that need to be implemented.
Thanks to Dawn for sharing her insights and reminiscences about Meeting Centres. This blog provides a brief summary of what she discussed, so if you want to hear the full story please watch the recording which is available here. If you’ve missed any of our previous webinars don’t forget that you can find them all on our webinars page.
Our next webinar is schedule for Friday 29th April and is slightly longer (starting at 10.30am) as it looks at a variety of projects as part of ‘Heritage Dementia Pathfinders: Meeting Centres working both sides of the door’. You can find out more details and how to join the webinar on our website.