Meeting Centres in Scotland – a story in two parts

In the past week two event took place relating to Meeting Centres in Scotland, and our Research Assistant Jen Bray was able to attend both. Here’s what she did.

Part 1

On Friday 2nd September, the Dunblane Meeting Centre had an open afternoon to promote the expansion of their existing Memory Café, and their next step in becoming a full Meeting Centre. The event was primarily aimed as local health and social care professionals, organisations and individuals to promote the Meeting Centre and make people aware of what was available on their doorstep. There was a great turnout with a real mix of people, including some potential new members and carers who were able to meet the staff and volunteers, and get a feel for what a Meeting Centre is.

It was a great event with a really positive buzz, and I spent so much time talking to a variety of people that I forgot to take any photos! There was a lot of networking taking place, and plenty of cake to go round. As well as sharing my knowledge of Meeting Centres, I learnt a lot from everyone else and made some great connections. An added bonus was getting some ideas of things to do and places to explore in Edinburgh over the weekend! Thank you to the Meeting Centre staff and volunteers for making me feel so welcome, and it was lovely to meet them in person after only seeing them on Zoom sessions for the past 18 months. Well worth the trip!

Image containing four photos showing Dunblane Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, a garden, and some flowers

Part 2

On Monday 5th September it was the Alzheimer Scotland conference and another chance to meet ‘Zoom people’ in real life. The theme for the conference was ‘Prevent. Care. Cure.’ with sessions focusing on each of these three themes throughout the day. Two symposiums with parallel sessions also took place, and during the second one I was lucky enough to present as part of a session on Meeting Centres. After providing a bit of background about Meeting Centres and the ‘Adjusting to Change’ model, I handed over to Graham Galloway from Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre who showed the impact that their Meeting Centre is having. The session was concluded by Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor from Deepness Dementia radio & media who shared their plans for Meeting Centres on the Western Isles of Scotland.

It was a great session with a lovely audience, making it a nice, gentle re-introduction to in-person conferences in quite a while. A full conference programme meant we didn’t have a huge amount of time to just chat, but I definitely came away with a lot of interesting information to get my head around.

Image showing three photos from the presentation - the opening slide, Graham presenting, and Ron and Karen doing their bit

And so my trip to Scotland has come to an end. It’s been a fab few days with lots of lovely people, and it was great to get the chance to do this.

Meeting Centre webinars – back after a summer break

Following a (far too short!) summer break in July and August, the Meeting Centre webinars will be returning in a few weeks. We’ve got three webinars left in 2022, and they are:

  • 30th September (12noon to 1pm) – We’re All in this Together! People with dementia and family carers tell us what they value about Meeting Centres and how they see them developing across the UK.
  • 28th October (12noon to 1pm) – It’s all about the Research! Hear about the different research projects and from those collecting data on a daily basis at Meeting Centres. How are we adding to the Meeting Centre evidence base?
  • 25th November (12noon to 1pm) – UK Meeting Centres: standing on the shoulders of giants. Taking a look back and looking ahead over the next three years.

You don’t need to register for any of the webinars, just use the link below to join us on the right day at 12noon. We hope to see some of you there as it’s always great to have a ‘live’ audience and get some discussion going at the end of the session. The link you’ll need to join each webinar is: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/89853674462?pwd=Wk1uWTk4SzNvNTdiNU9WVHd4WE9odz09 (Passcode: 555223) This information is also available our website.

We’ve already had five webinars in 2022, but if you missed any of them don’t worry! Have a look on our website and you’ll find links to a recording and blog for each webinar so you can catch up in your own time. You can also access previous webinars that we held in 2020 and 2021, providing a great record of how our work around Meeting Centres has evolved over time.

See you 30th September!

Meeting Centre resources

As part of our earlier research around Meeting Centres we developed a guidebook to help people understand the process for planning and opening a new Meeting Centres. We also produced a booklet describing the ‘Essential Features’ of what makes a Meeting Centre. In our current work, we have spent time reviewing and updating these resources, as well as expanding the set to include a booklet for carers and various information sheets.

What did we do?

Our existing resources were originally developed back in 2017, so we were aware that they were likely to be out of date due to progress around Meeting Centres and our work around data collection activities. As Meeting Centres are gaining real traction and spreading across the UK, we felt it was important to take the time to take stock, review and update our resources. With this in mind, we pulled together various feedback on the resources. This included comments from people who had attended our training courses, including people affected by dementia, and the practical experiences of people who have actually been setting up Meeting Centres.

Although we didn’t carry out a formal feedback gathering activity, we’ve been keeping track of suggested updates and changes for a while now, so thank you to everyone who has shared their thoughts with us. We also reviewed the language we used within the guidebook, tried to bring out the role of people affected by dementia in the planning process, and acknowledged the impact of the pandemic. The data collection forms within the guidebook were also updated to reflect those that were piloted with different Meeting Centres and are now being used widely in practice. While none of these were major changes and may not be immediately obvious, we hope that they have strengthened the guidebook and brought it up to date.

We’ve also created a new information sheet to help spread the word about Meeting Centres and help people understand why you might want to open a Meeting Centre.

The main activity was actually carried out by Together in Dementia Everyday (tide), who worked with unpaid carers from Meeting Centres across the UK to reflect on their own experiences and compile a booklet of information specifically for carers. Their aim was to focus on what they think carers need to know about Meeting Centres. It’s a great new addition to our suite of resources, bringing the views of carers to the fore.

What’s left to do?

Work is still ongoing to develop a booklet of information specifically for people with dementia who are looking to become Meeting Centre members. This work is being led by Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre, and will be written by members, for members. As with the carers’ booklet, this will be another amazing resource to enhance what’s already in place. We didn’t want to rush the development of this booklet, so will be added to our resources in due course.

We’re also going to be including a lot of information around data collection on the Meeting Centre blog site to help people understand what is involved and to support those who may be less confident with these sorts of activities.

Where can I find the resources?

To try and make the resources easily available, you can find them in two places. Firstly, they are on the ‘Useful Resources‘ page of this Meeting Centre blog site. Secondly, they are on the Association for Dementia Studies’ website.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in creating or reviewing the resources. We’re treating the resources as living documents and will continue to review them over time.

Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme

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.

Slide showing the various Meeting Centre locations on a map of Worcestershire including Kidderminster, Evesham, Malvern Link and Redditch

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.

Image showing quotes from members and carers such as 'When I come to the Centre I feel like I belong. You all listen to me and we share a lot of laughter and that makes me happy' Also 'The Meeting Centre helps us to realise that we are not walking the dementia pathway alone. We enjoy the friendship we find there and the varied activities'

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.

Slide showing where members come from. For example, referrals from professionals, via a Task and Finish Group, self-referrals, via open days, and after free taster days

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.

Image showing two slides of the various stakeholders at system, organisation and individual levels, and the start of the mapping process with coloured blocks linked by arrows to show how different bits relate to each other.

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?
Slide showing the two points to think about, with definitions of what tipping point and commercialisation mean

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.

The Evolution of Meeting Centres in Wales

On a sunny Friday lunchtime our latest Meeting Centres webinar took place with attendees from across the UK. The session was introduced by Dr Shirley Evans, who gave a bit of background about how the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) first began working with Dementia Matters in Powys (DMiP) in 2015 when establishing the Leominster Meeting Centre.

The webinar was presented by Deborah Harold from DMiP, who started by setting the scene about where Powys is and the largely rural nature of the county. In fact, as Deborah highlighted, Powys is the most rural and sparsely populated county in England and Wales and covers around 2000 square miles.

Back in March 2017 the first Welsh Meeting Centre opened in Brecon, having secured a small grant from the Integrated Care Fund for a pilot phase. Further funding from the National Lottery Community Fund enabled the Meeting Centre to continue, with three more Meeting Centres also being covered by the funding. Consequently, in April 2018 two new Meeting Centres opened in Ystradgynlais and Llandrindod Wells with Newtown Meeting Centre following in October 2019. The Newtown Meeting Centre is supported by Dementia Friendly Newtown, who recognised the demand and need for a Meeting Centre and approached DMiP to ask if one could be set up. They also provide financial support by covering the venue hire costs and transport costs.

DMiP slide with maps showing the spread of Meeting Centres in Powys

The four DMiP Meeting Centres became a demonstrator site as part of the UK Meeting Centre Support Programme in late 2019. As a demo site, they share their experiences and host visits to support others looking to set up their own Meeting Centres.

Then in March 2020, just as DMiP were settling in to having their four Meeting Centres up and running, Covid hit and the Meeting Centres had to close. However, they didn’t want to abandon their members and carers, especially as they didn’t know how long they would be shut for, so they provided telephone support, newsletters etc. and also launched a Virtual Meeting Centre to maintain overall Meeting Centre ethos. In the weekly Virtual Meeting Centre sessions they used themes such as nature watch or the 60’s to engage people and provide a focus. The sessions brought together members and carers from the different Meeting Centres across the county. They also ran carer sessions for local support through each Meeting Centre, one of which is ongoing. In terms of activities, a monthly ‘Knit and natter’ group was set up with resources being sent out to people. That group is still going strong and the Newtown branch is helping to raise funds for their Meeting Centre. DMiP also offered physical exercise opportunities, with one carer setting up a YouTube to share video clips of seated exercise. Online seated sessions were also provided by linking up with the dance company Impelo, who are now coming into the Meeting Centres in person to work with members and carers. DMiP set up their ‘Winter games’ where members and carers were given the opportunity to try lots of different activities at home, and share their creations with others. Those creations were also exhibited at their ‘Summer games’ when people were able to get together in person. This event followed a suggestion from a member about wanting to meet people from the other Meeting Centres that they had only previously met online. Deborah announced that DMiP have just secured funding for a similar summer games event this year with a Jubilee theme – just don’t ask about the goat! (If you’re intrigued, you’ll have to watch the recording!)

Slide showing examples of the activities from the Winter games

DMiP secured funding to reopen their Meeting Centres in October 2021, but a condition of the funding required slightly different angle so Powys Hybrid Meeting Centres were launched. These enabled people who were unable, unwilling or less comfortable to mix with others and attend a Meeting Centre in person to still participate in activities and be part of sessions from their own homes. DMiP was able to loan out equipment with built-in internet to support this, which also allowed people to connect with families and friends.

The fifth physical Meeting Centre opened in Welshpool in March 2022 after a slight delay due to the January spike in Covid cases, but is now one of the best attended Meeting Centres. Dementia Friendly Welshpool supports the Meeting Centre, having originally approached DMiP to get it set up, by covering venue costs and helping with promotional activities.

DMiP slide with maps showing the spread of Meeting Centres in Powys plus the Virtual Meeting Centres

Recent art sessions, ‘Painting With Frannie’, have been taking place at various locations including Brecon Meeting Centre, with an exhibition at the Senedd as part of Dementia Awareness Week. The sessions are run by Frances Isaacs who has Posterior Cortical Atrophy, and she got to meet many ministers through the exhibition and demonstrate the importance of the work going on. The sessions are part of a Powys-wide project with Government funding.

Image showing people taking part in the art sessions

So to summarise where DMiP has got to, there are now five Meeting Centres up and running in some of the main towns across Powys, with further support provided via the hybrid model. In addition to Deborah there are four full time members of staff who are supported by an amazing team of over 20 volunteers. DMiP is also part of the National Consortium of Meeting Centres who met for the first time recently to consider next steps once the current ADS research project funding comes to an end.

Following the presentation from Deborah there was time for some wider discussion and questions, with a brief summary provided below:

  • There are lots of smaller towns in Powys, so satellite Meeting Centres might be an option. They are likely to be difficult to fund and sustain, but it may be possible to set up memory cafes as feeders into Meeting Centres.
  • In Scotland they are looking at a satellite model and mobile Meeting Centres, so are likely to face similar issues as in Powys. Internet connection is an issue in Powys but they have found portable devices (GrandPad) that can overcome it even in remote areas, enabling people to still join in sessions virtually.
  • DMiP does not have its own buildings, and storage can be an issue. Some venues have limited storage that they can use, otherwise staff have to make sure they’ve got the right equipment and resources each day. It can be difficult in terms of logistics, but also means that groups aren’t able to put their own stamp on a space like other Meeting Centres in Leominster and Kirriemuir. However, owning a building has its own challenges such as overheads.
  • In terms of promotion and advertising, support from Dementia Friendly Communities is key. DMiP actually formed through a strong link with Dementia Friendly Brecon, who recognised the need for a countywide approach. A longer-term goal is to achieve Dementia Friendly Powys. The local activities and support from Dementia Friendly Newtown and Welshpool have helped to put the Meeting Centres on the map, with higher member numbers being seen in both areas. DMiP do a lot on social media as it’s free, but recognise it may not reach all audiences, so it’s useful to be able to tap into local groups and organisations and what they’ve got going on.
  • Liverpool is looking at setting up a mobile Meeting Centre, but even though it is a big city there are similar problems as in rural areas. It’s parochial, so people living in some areas won’t attend groups in other areas. Liverpool Meeting Centre won’t be able to have its own venue, but being in different places will make it possible for them to try out various options and locations to see what works and where it might be best to have a focus. The important thing is seeing what works for your own area and community.
  • The intergenerational work being carried out by DMiP is also important and heart-warming, helping to breakdown stigma and create connections with the next generation.
  • Meeting Centres are able to support people who are awaiting diagnosis and support them to go through the process. This can be particularly helpful when memory assessment services are experiencing long waiting lists but don’t want to leave people without support in the interim.
  • The main concern for DMiP is the continual search for funding, when the benefits of the work being done and the support provided is so vital and obvious. Meeting Centres tick a lot of boxes as a provision that could be rolled out across the country, but often struggle because many funders prefer to fund new projects rather than support existing initiatives.

It was clear from the feelings expressed by everyone in the webinar that the work being by DMiP, and by Meeting Centres more widely across the UK, is necessary and genuinely appreciated. Thanks to everyone for taking part.

A recording of this webinar can be found here.

The next webinar will take place on 24th June and is looking at the ‘Worcestershire Meeting Centre Programme’. For more details and the link to join, please visit our website.

Keep up to date with Meeting Centres on twitter @MeetingCentres

The ever-expanding Meeting Centre family

Since the start of April, we’ve been sharing daily posts on our social media channels (@DementiaStudies on Twitter, @adsuow on Facebook) to introduce everyone to the different Meeting Centres – and members of the wider Meeting Centre family – throughout the UK. When we started we weren’t quite sure how long it would take as we thought new Meeting Centres might open before we got to the end, and we were right! As a result, we’ve only just finished the daily posts!

The Meeting Centres UK logo, showing two stylised people touching hands and creating the outline of a house

We know some people don’t have access to social media, so we’ve pulled all of the information together in this blog. As each Meeting Centre is unique, it would be impossible to tell you everything about them, so we’ve stuck to some basic info and provided some links to help you find out more. Keep an eye out for one in your area.

A collage of images showing members taking part in different activities
An image of a tree made up of buttons, with words such as welcoming and inclusive around the outside. This is an example of one of the activities carried out at the Meeting Centre
  • Kirrie Connections, Kirriemuir, Scotland is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with more information on their website www.kirrieconnections.com
A flyer for Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre. The information on the flyer can all be found on their website
The Newtown flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
  • Evesham & District Meeting Centre, Worcestershire is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and the website is https://edmhss.org/
An image from Evesham's flyer, and all the information can be found on their website
The Dementia Friendly Dunblane logo with three forget me not flowers
The Brecon flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
Image of a room with tables and chairs set out
  • There are actually three venues forming the North Somerset Meeting Centre. Clevedon is open on Tuesdays, Portishead on Wednesdays and Nailsea on Thursdays. The website is www.aliveactivities.org
The North Somerset flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
The Ystradgynlais flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
The Worcester flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
The North Tyneside flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
The Malvern Link flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
The Hereford Veterans flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
The Llandrindod Wells flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
The Malvern Hills flyer, which shows information that is available on their website
A series of photos taken from their website, showing people joining in different activities such as crafts and outdoor exercise
  • Oldbury Meeting Centre, West Midlands, runs on Tuesdays. The website is https://www.agewelluk.org.uk/ There are also plans to open a second Meeting Centre in the Sandwell area.
An image of the Oldbury flyer, showing the address (Warley Baptist Church, Castle Road East, Oldbury, B68 9BJ) and opening times (Tuesday, 10.30am – 3.30pm)
Photo of an event showing people sat round tables outdoors
  • Not strictly Meeting Centres, but groups run by The Academy for Dementia Research & Education align very closely with the Meeting Centre model and are part of the wider Meeting Centres family. The group in Northampton, Northamptonshire runs on Mondays, while the group in Lutterworth, Leicestershire is Monday to Friday. The website is www.academyfordementia.org
The Academy for Dementia Research and Education logo
The Coach House where the Meeting Centre takes place
Image showing two photos taken from Prestwick social media or website, one with people attending an outdoor event and one with people sat at tables in a social club
The Forget Me Not Meeting Centre logo, which is a wreath of flowers and leaves around an ammonite
  • A new Meeting Centre will be opening in Montrose, Scotland in May for three days a week. We’re not sure of the details, but think this is the email to use if you’re interested! Meetingcentre@montrosect.org.uk
Banner saying ‘coming soon!’
The Lochside Connections logo, showing the Meeting Centre logo next to a blue shape representing the loch
Wirral flyer giving information that is available via the website
Image showing two female members of staff from the Meeting Centre
  • New funding has recently been announced to support the opening of Meeting Centres in Redditch and Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, so keep an eye out for future developments
Banner saying ‘coming soon!’
  • We’re not sure of the details or timescales at present, but it looks like there’s good progress developing a Meeting Centre in Stornoway, Scotland.
Image of the building where the Meeting Centre is likely to be held

There are also lots of areas with strong potential and interest to open a Meeting Centre, including Tenbury Wells, South Gloucestershire, North Wales, Wolverhampton, Havant, Alton, Aldershot, Liverpool, Musselburgh, Rosyth, Fife, Arbroath and Aberdeenshire. It looks like the Meeting Centres family will be expanding very soon!

We’ve pulled together all of the locations from this blog onto one map to show the current spread of Meeting Centres. It’s probably already out of date though!! Apologies if we’ve missed anyone. Please feel free to get in touch and let us know if there are other Meeting Centres out there.

Map of the UK showing dots for each Meeting Centre that is open, coming soon, or has strong potential

Thanks to everyone for the tremendous work that’s gone in to getting all of these Meeting Centres up and running.

Familiar face, new role

Ruby Swift has been with the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) for several years as a PhD student, but since completing her doctoral research in 2021 she has moved into a Research Associate role on the ‘Get Real with Meeting Centres’ project. Today’s blog takes a look at Ruby’s ADS journey and what she is working on now. Over to Ruby.

Headshot of Ruby

I joined ADS in 2016 as PhD student within the TAnDem Doctoral Training Centre: a collaboration between Worcester and Nottingham Universities, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society to research the Arts and Dementia. As well as conducting our own individual research projects, the TAnDem students worked together to research and promote awareness of arts and dementia through activities such as hosting an annual conference, giving conference workshops and presentations and working with the Alzheimer’s Society to produce short the videos Still here: The arts and dementia and Alzheimer’s Society Research: The creative arts and dementia.

My doctoral study explored shared musical activity within the caring relationships of people with dementia living at home. Since then, I have been involved in legacy work from the research conducted by the TAnDem PhDs, included hosting and reporting on the roundtable event The Arts and Dementia: Shaping the Future, held at The Hive Community Library in Worcester.

A group of people sat in a semi circle at the roundtable event, with one person stood up facilitating the session
(Credit Jonathan Barry)

I am currently working as a Research Associate on the NIHR funded Get Real with Meeting Centres project which is concerned with understanding and promoting the sustainability of Meeting Centres. My role came about as a result of early findings highlighting that many people do not currently access the Meeting Centre service available to them. It is unclear who is not being reached and why, and it is my job to try and find out.

Since starting my new role in February 2022, I have been immersing myself in the various aspects of Meeting Centres by:

  • visiting local Meeting Centres where I have enjoyed spending time with members and their families and taking part in activities
  • speaking to people involved in running Meeting Centres, as well as healthcare professionals who make referrals, to get their perspectives on the barriers that prevent people from attending
  • attending regular virtual Meeting Centre meetings and webinars
  • taking part in Get Real data analysis
  • working with demographic information from Meeting Centres, including the age, gender and ethnicity of members to try and find out who is being reached and who is not.

I will shortly be starting to hold interviews with people in Herefordshire and Worcestershire who have been told they could attend a Meeting Centre but have decided not to. These first-hand accounts will potentially help us to understand what can be done differently to reach and support more people to attend Meeting Centres in the future. If you are interested in being interviewed about this, please do get in touch at r.swift@worc.ac.uk or 01905 542637.

Working both sides of the door

Leominster Meeting Centre Heritage Project: working both sides of the door

This month’s webinar was a true hybrid affair, with some people attending and presenting online while others had assembled in the Town Council Chambers in Leominster. The webinar was planned as a showcase of the Heritage Pathfinders project which has taken place at the Leominster Meeting Centre. A lot of information was shared during the webinar and this blog will never do it justice, but we hope it gives a flavour of what was presented and encourage you to watch the recordings to hear it directly from those involved.

You can find the recordings of the two parts of the webinar here and here.

Hosting the webinar was Tim Senior from supersum, one of the project partners, who gave a bit of background to the programme. Twelve projects from individual Heritage Pathfinders were proposed and taken forward during the programme, looking at a wide variety of different avenues for engaging members and carers at Leominster Meeting Centre with heritage. The programme was funded by the Tudor Trust and Herefordshire Community Foundation.

Image showing photos of the twelve Heritage Pathfinders

Several of the Heritage Pathfinders presented their projects during the webinar, but you can find an overview of all the projects here.

Hilary Norris told us about her ‘Living Orchard’ project which focused on apples as an important symbol in Herefordshire. The project used apples as the underpinning basis for a range of activities such as cooking, games, visiting the nearby Millennium Orchard, linking up with other local groups, and taking part in the annual apple fair. The project engaged all the senses, included social aspects, and encouraged embracing mess.

Next up was a short film from Rachel Freeman who took members from Leominster Meeting Centre for walks around the grounds of the National Trust’s Croft Castle, and audio recorded what was said during those walks. Clips from the recordings were used to create an interactive map around Croft Castle that others could follow and listen to while being in the same places as the recordings were made. The aim is to launch the trail during Dementia Action Week for a minimum of six months.

Kate Green followed, with her project on walking in a non-linear way. Kate took people out for walks around Leominster, with no particular route in mind. She also did solo walks in different areas, including the seaside, which she live-streamed back to the Meeting Centre and got members to decide where she should walk and which direction to take.

Sal Tonge also used a short film to tell us about her project which incorporated singing, dance, movement, learning new lyrics, and interacting with each other. A key aspect of the project was inviting Meeting Centre members to come up with their own stories behind different images, encouraging spontaneity and imagination in a safe space where there are no right or wrong answers.

A recording of the first part of the webinar is available here.

Following a short break, Elizabeth O’Keefe looked at the provision of dementia friendly worship. Working with the members, Elizabeth was able to share relevant stories relating to the building where Leominster Meeting Centre is based (The Old Priory), explore the importance and symbolism of candles, and provide members with the opportunity to make beeswax candles. The project allowed members to engage at different levels based on their own experiences, and members expressed a wish to visit and engage with Hereford Cathedral.

Gemma Moore’s ‘Drawn in Time’ project looked at how the act of drawing can potentially alleviate stress and help people to express themselves. All sorts of media, techniques and styles were used, and members were encouraged to explore their own ways of making their mark. Different themes were used as prompts, such as favourite items and places, as well as heritage.

Next up was Marsha O’Mahoney, who looked at creating an interactive diary using the Mayfly App. The app enables you to record audio on a sticker which you can put in a diary. When you scan the mayfly sticker, the audio plays, giving an extra dimension to the diary. Marsha worked mainly with a carer at Leominster Meeting Centre, who was initially put off by the idea of ‘digital technology’ but was more than capable of using the app and was actually very tech-savvy. For those who feel they are not technologically minded, regardless of their actual ability, the language used to introduce the app can be an important factor. We use different forms of technology every day in almost all aspects of our lives, but a lot of the time we may not consider it as ‘tech’.

The final presentation came from Yvie George who looked at archaeology and people’s connection with objects and possessions. Leominster Meeting Centre members were invited to bring in important possessions to create a pop-up museum and share their stories of why those objects were valuable to them. As part of the work, at least one of the items was painted by Yvie and was accompanied by a recording of the member sharing their story.

The session was concluded with Tim talking about the Adjusting to Change Model which underpins the Meeting Centre ethos, and bringing together the learning across the projects. For those who may not be aware, the Adjusting to Change Model comprises seven key areas as shown below.

Image of a slide showing the seven areas of the Adjusting to Change model

Tim considered how the various creative projects had an impact in each of these areas, grouping them around practical adjustment, social adjustment and emotional adjustment.

Practical adjustment

Image showing the two slides relating to practical adjustment - living with the disabilities dementia brings, and developing relationships with care professionals and staff

Social adjustment

Image showing the two slides relating to social adjustment - relating to care and treatment environments, and building strong social networks and friends

Emotional adjustment

Image showing the three slides relating to emotional adjustment - getting onto and even keel emotionally, maintaining a positive self-image, and preparing for an uncertain future

The Heritage Pathfinders programme has been hugely successful, and shown that Meeting Centres can be a core place to bring together multiple different sectors and organisations. Members, carers and staff at Meeting Centres can not only benefit from such projects but also be a driving force behind them. Resources from the project will be developed and made available in due course.

Image showing overlapping sectors and how Meeting Centres relate to Dementia Friendly Communities

A recording of the second part of the webinar is available here.

Thanks to everyone involved in this programme.

My time with Meeting Centres

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.

Slide showing a timeline of events relating to Meeting Centres, most of which are covered in the blog

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!

Image showing winners of the Times Higher Education Awards

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.

Image showing a map of Meeting Centres in the UK

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.

Image showing the three challenges around funding, mindset and staff skills

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.

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.