A small but select group gathered for the latest webinar in the Meeting Centres series which focused on development and progress of the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme and how it relates to one of our current PhD studentships.
Following a brief introduction by Dr Shirley Evans, Dr Becky Oatley began by giving an overview of the background for the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme. Back in 2020, Worcestershire County Council provided £540,000 from their Business Rates for Public Health Benefit with the aim of pump priming Meeting Centres across the county with up to £60,000 of funding in total for their first three years. The programme was just at the point of inviting community organisations to apply for the first round of funding when Covid hit and delayed everything by around six months. Despite this initial setback, multiple applications were received and assessed, and there are now ten funded Meeting Centres across Worcestershire in addition to the original demonstrator site in Droitwich Spa.
Using the Evesham & District Meeting Centre as an example, Becky gave a brief overview of what happens at a Meeting Centre. Essentially, the activities that take place at a Meeting Centre support people to adjust to the changes that a diagnosis of dementia brings. While this includes carers, and additional support is provided for them where needed, it is currently optional for carers to stay and join in as for some the opportunity to have a break and respite may be the most important factor at that time.
There have been several challenges for the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme, not least the impact of Covid. As well as delaying the call for funding applications, Covid has affected the diagnosis process for potential members. As Meeting Centres are aimed at people who have mild to moderate dementia, this delay means that by the time some people are diagnosed they may be at a point when Meeting Centres are no longer appropriate for them. Additionally, anxiety or a reluctance to be back out and about going to group activities may dissuade some people from attending Meeting Centres. Rising energy and cost of living have also had an impact on Meeting Centres as the energy bills for their venues and the prices of various resources used in activities have increased and need to be covered. The final challenge has been around reaching new members. Although there have been lots of different activities going on with support from ADS to explore different routes to the Meeting Centre, both directly with the public and also with potential referrers, this has still been a challenge. Many Meeting Centres have been holding open days and taster sessions to give people a chance to see what the Meeting Centre and venue is like before deciding whether to attend.
So what next? The first Meeting Centres funded as part of the programme are just going into their second year of operation and have had their next round of funding confirmed. Part of Becky’s role is to develop a county-wide community of practice to bring the Worcestershire Meeting Centres together. It is hoped that this will provide a platform for them to share their practice and experiences, and invite other organisations to get involved to spread the word and knowledge of Meeting Centres.
For the second part of the webinar Becky handed over to PhD student Nathan Stephens, who is evaluating the social and economic value of the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme, and shared some of his early findings with the group.
Social Return on Investment (SROI) has previously been used by organisations such as the Life Changes Trust to evaluate the impact of Dementia Friendly Communities in Scotland. Impact is often measured in financial terms, but this is not necessarily the best way, so SROI takes a more pragmatic approach to measure and account for social value and look at what actually matters to the people involved. It accepts the complexity of interventions such as Meeting Centres and does not begin with predefined outcomes, but tries to capture the wider range of experiences and look at cause and effect. Ultimately though it is an economic measure so Nathan will end up with a monetary figure. However, it’s important not to view it as a single measure of success but to see the ‘£’ as a common unit making it possible to compare outcomes and see where most value is being created and where improvements could be made. (Please watch the recording of the webinar for a much better explanation from Nathan!)
Although there are now ten Meeting Centres funded as part of the programme, there were only five when Nathan’s PhD began. His work is focusing on three of these as a cohort for his evaluation. The first part of the work involved consulting with various stakeholders about their own experiences around Meeting Centres and what changes they have seen. This information has then been analysed and mapped to identify patterns and outcomes, as well as the activities that need to take place for those outcomes to occur.
So far 23 well defined outcomes have been identified across five stakeholder groups, and the next step is to evidence the outcomes to make sure that they are actually happening, and begin to associate financial costs to them to get the final SROI value.
Nathan took the group through a few of the themes that are emerging from his work so far. Firstly, building back strong, sustainable, and fair communities. Some of the points raised by Nathan around this theme to get us thinking included:
- Was access to the funding fair? It can be easier for larger organisations to apply due to their existing infrastructures and ability to respond to the funding call at fairly short notice.
- Is their equity of access to Meeting Centres by families? There is a need to reach different communities who would benefit from the support provided through attending and having contact with Meeting Centres, not just during the sessions but wider signposting to other services. The cost of attending may make it inaccessible to some people, especially in more deprived areas. If a Meeting Centre runs at the same time as other existing services it may be less likely that some people will attend, especially if there are transport or cost issues involved.
- The programme has helped to develop the workforce by providing opportunities for training and improving knowledge and skills, not just for staff but also volunteers and some carers.
- The programme has raised the profile of dementia in the county, and also highlighted the lack of post-diagnostic support available in many areas.
Secondly, there was a theme around connectivity and culture change. The programme, and Becky’s role within that, is helping to bring different organisations and services together. Having a shared purpose and common concept like Meeting Centres is key to mobilising this joint working. However, there are still challenges to overcome to ensure efficient and longer-term engagement.
The third theme discussed by Nathan was economies of scale. If an organisation runs more than one Meeting Centre they can share human, physical and technical resources across them to reduce costs, and also benefit from having centralised or shared systems and processes in place. While this can potentially be helpful in terms of sustainability, there is a concern that is may result in a standardised, simplified approach to Meeting Centres. This in turn could risk diluting the underlying Meeting Centre ethos by repeating the same model in multiple areas rather than really focusing on providing optimum support and knowing what is important for individual communities.
Nathan concluded his session by leaving us with a couple of points to think about:
- Have we reached a tipping point now that Meeting Centres are taking of and spreading rapidly across the UK?
- Are we at risk of the commercialisation of Meeting Centres?
Discussions after the presentations indicated that everyone could see the value of the work being done by Nathan and how the principles can be applicable to Meeting Centres in other areas.
Thanks to Becky for setting the scene about the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme and to Nathan for getting us to think about some of the deeper aspects of Meeting Centres that maybe we don’t necessarily want to face up to but really need to as Meeting Centres take off across the UK. It will definitely be interesting to see how things develop over time.
A recording of the webinar is available here.
Our webinars will be taking a short break over the Summer, with the next one due to take place on 30th September looking at ‘We’re all in this together!’. You can find out more information and details on how to join the webinar on our website.