Standing on the shoulders of giants

In the final Meeting Centres webinar of 2022 we got a bit nostalgic by taking a look back at how far the work around Meeting Centres has come in the UK, as well as looking at current work and plans for the future.

Dr Shirley Evans, Interim Director of the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) and guru of all things Meeting Centre-related, began the webinar by providing a bit of history about Meeting Centres and how they came to be in the UK. Shirley recognised the roles of Professor Rose-Marie Dröes and Emeritus Professor Dawn Brooker MBE, showing the two following short videos to provide context and extra information about Meeting Centres.

It was interesting to see how much progress has been made since the videos were originally filmed, not just in the UK but also in the Netherlands, and also what has remained constant such as the underpinning ethos of supporting people to adjust to the changes brought about by a dementia diagnosis and the Essential Features of a Meeting Centre.

Shirley handed over to Jennifer Bray, ADS Research Assistant, who picked up on some of the points raised in the video clips to reiterate how Meeting Centres first came to the UK and how various research projects have supported their development and spread. The current focus is on the Community of Learning and Practice where people at different stages of setting up and running Meeting Centres can ask questions and share their knowledge and experiences, as well as updating and maintaining resources that were developed as part of the original Meeting Centres research.

Slide showing the progression between different Meeting Centre projects from the 1990's in the Netherlands to the present

An important factor of Meeting Centres is that they are evidence based, so Jen provided a summary highlighting some of the main findings from the research so far, such as improved self-esteem, feelings of happiness and sense of belonging for people with dementia, and family carers experiencing less burden and feeling better able to cope. The spread of Meeting Centres across the UK was also acknowledged, starting with one pilot in Droitwich Spa, moving to further demonstrator sites in Leominster, Powys and Kirriemuir, and now being at around 50 UK Meeting Centres with more emerging almost on a weekly basis.

Jen finished by looking at the possible scope for research involving Meeting Centres, ranging from Meeting Centres being the core focus of a project, to Meeting Centres being used as an example alongside other services, or as a place to pilot different interventions with a group of people affected by dementia.

Slide showing the different ways in which Meeting Centres might be involved in research

Research Associate Thomas Morton picked up the baton and talked about some of the research that has involved Meeting Centres in various ways. For example, SCI-Dem included Meeting Centres as an example of a community-based intervention, we’ve got a PhD studentship focusing on Meeting Centres, the Worcestershire Meeting Centre Community Support Programme aimed to set up multiple Meeting Centres across Worcestershire, and the Leominster Meeting Centre Heritage Project used the Meeting Centre as a base for various heritage-related interventions.

Thomas provided a bit more detail about our ongoing ‘Get Real with Meeting Centres’ project which is due to end in early 2023. Although it’s been the topic of a previous webinar, it was useful to have a recap of the project and view it in light of the evolution of Meeting Centre research in the UK. It’s looking at the experiences of people attending, running and support Meeting Centres and is currently in the process of analysing all of the data to find out what it all means! Based on what people are saying, the findings will be focusing on four main areas or ‘systems’:

  • Membership
  • Finance
  • Internal relationships
  • External relationships

Thomas and the team will be exploring each area in greater detail to identify different aspects (with supporting quotes from the data) relating to sustainability. An example is shown below.

Slide showing the four areas or systems, a breakdown of 'membership' and an example saying 'IF use of a venue is not fixed - THEN this may discourage members - BECAUSE they will find it disorientating and upsetting and may not have confidence in the MCs future' plus a selection of quotes to support this view

We will be pulling all of the information together around a number of different themes, and producing a series of recommendations to (hopefully) help Meeting Centres be more sustainable in the future. These will be disseminated through various project outputs with different audiences in mind.

Slide showing some of the themes arising, such as 'Membership: What's attractive to people, what might put people off, issues with referrals, links with H&SC etc.' and 'Venue choices and location issues (inc. transport and rurality)'.

Thomas ended his section by looking at potential future Meeting Centre-related research, mentioning a current bid looking at the role of food in different settings, where Meeting Centres are included alongside other initiatives such as dementia cafes and lunch clubs. Similarly, other ideas such as physical activity could use Meeting Centres as an example or base for piloting possible interventions.

Shirley brought the webinar presentation to an end by pulling everything together in an overall summary. Ultimately, in the past eight years there has been significant progress and developments across the UK, despite the pandemic.

Slide summarising some of the main achievements around Meeting Centres, such as 'over 50 funded MCs with significant momentum in a number of areas' and 'the development of a 5-week online course for MC staff, volunteers and trustees which has now run four times and has evaluated very positively'.

We’re currently working on a three- and five-year plan to consolidate the current national and regional networks, with some activities being devolved to different nations. We’re hoping to get to a point where there is a self-sustaining model in place, and a central body established to provide continuity, connection and quality assurance.

Our overall vision though? To have a Meeting Centre in every town.

Thanks to our presenters, and if you missed the webinar or want to watch it again you can find the recording here.

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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