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 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
  • You can access Deepness Dementia Radio by asking your device to ‘start deepness radio’ or by going to

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.

What do you value about Meeting Centres? A Questionnaire

Are you a family member, friend and/or carer of someone affected by dementia who attends a Meeting Centre somewhere in the UK? If yes, we need your help!

As some of you will already know, at the Association for Dementia Studies we are currently undertaking a research study called ‘Get Real with Meeting Centres’, funded by the National Institute of Health Research. The study has been developed to learn how we can best help Meeting Centres sustain in the long term.

We are really excited to be working with Dr Michela Tinelli from The London School of Economics. Michela is a co-applicant on the project and leading the Discreet Choice Experiment Questionnaire (DCE) one of our data collection methods that we are using.

The DCE has been designed to gather feedback from family members, friends and/or carers of someone affected by dementia who have past or present experience of Meeting Centres. We are asking them to provided us with information about the Meeting Centre they have experienced and what their preferences are relating to Meeting Centres. We hope that this information will create a rich picture of what the optimum Meeting Centre may be (including the services it provides and the costs associated with attending) and what we can recommend for the successful sustainability of Meeting Centres in the long term.

If you think you can help, please do so by completing the DCE questionnaire here.

Feel free to forward this blog post on to you networks as we are hoping to obtain as many responses as possible! The deadline for the completion of the survey is the end of May 2022.

Please feel free to contact Faith Frost (Research Associate) directly on if you have any questions about the DCE or require a paper version sent to you in the post.

House icon for the Get Real logo

Connect with us on twitter @MeetingCentres

Meeting Centre webinars 2022

If you’ve been following our blogs for a while, you’ve probably seen posts about previous Meeting Centre webinars that we’ve been hosting for the past couple of years. We’ve covered a variety of different topics and had a good turnout each time, with our blog posts (too many to link to) and recordings (available via the webinars page) also seeing a steady audience as they enable people to find out what went on even if they couldn’t attend in person. As the webinars have been well-received, we’re planning to continue them throughout 2022.

Here’s what you can look forward to over the next year:

  • 25th February (12noon to 1pm) – The Evolution of Meeting Centres in Scotland. Hear about the recent interest in and growth of Meeting Centres in Scotland. Why and how has this come about?
  • 25th March (12noon to 1pm) – My Meeting Centre Journey. Professor Dawn Brooker MBE will be reflecting on her involvement with Meeting Centres since 2014.
  • 29th April (10.30am to 1pm) – Heritage Dementia Pathfinders: Meeting Centres working both sides of the door. During this session creative practitioners from the local community will share their experiences of co-designing and implementing heritage projects at Leominster Meeting Centre. They will discuss what they have learned, lessons for future practice and embedding their work into the adjusting to change model.
  • 27th May (12noon to 1pm) – The Evolution of Meeting Centres in Wales. Hear about the recent interest in and growth of Meeting Centres in Wales. Why and how has this come about?
  • 24th June (12noon to 1pm) – Worcestershire Meeting Centre Programme. This regional initiative was the first of its kind in the UK. In this session we will look at what has been learned so far. We will also hear from Nathan Stephens who will give an overview of his PhD research on the value of Meeting Centres.

We’ll take a quick break over the Summer before coming back for the final few webinars

  • 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.

If any of the webinars have to change for any reason, we’ll keep you updated!

All of this information will be available on our website, but the link you’ll need to join each webinar is: (Passcode: 555223)

We hope that this sounds like an interesting series of webinars and you can come and join us to find out more in due course.

Connect with us on twitter @MeetingCentres

Sustainability of Meeting Centres

The eighth and final webinar in the current series took place on 26th November and focused on the sustainability of Meeting Centres. The webinar series was run in lieu of a face-to-face conference this year, so this webinar was tinged with an element of sadness that it was the last session.

Following a brief welcome and introduction by Professor Dawn Brooker MBE, Dr Shirley Evans began the session by taking stock of the work that’s been done around Meeting Centres so far on the UK Meeting Centre Support Programme. As a quick summary:

The number of Meeting Centres

Prior to lockdown there were 13 Meeting Centres, and despite all the difficulties and restrictions imposed by the pandemic there are now 33 funded Meeting Centres with around 12 more in the pipeline. There’s a lot going on in both Scotland and Wales, as well as in multiple regions of England. As our initial target was 15-20 Meeting Centres, we’re thrilled with the amount of progress, especially in the current situation.

Community of Learning and Practice

The aim of this part of the research project was to share the learning from Meeting Centres. This has been achieved in a variety of ways including through the National Reference Group, bespoke online workshops and this webinar series. We’ve been facilitating a fortnightly online meeting where people involved in running and developing Meeting Centres are able to share their experiences, ask for advice, and get moral support through tricky times. Also, these blogs! More broadly, this Meeting Centre blog site is being developed as a repository of useful resources.


Over 100 people have been through our Meeting Centre training course which initially were delivered face-to-face but have been redeveloped for online delivery as a result of the pandemic. The guidebook, which many people find a great help, is in the process of being updated based on learning and experience, and will be supplemented by additional booklets focusing on specific topics.

Measures, questions and interviews

We’ve been collecting various data from the four Meeting Centre demonstrator sites, including during the pandemic to reflect the change in how support is being provided, and hats off to everyone for their input to this during such a difficult time. From it, we know that Meeting Centres have supported around 200 members and over 100 family carers, providing face-to-face support on over 1100 days as well as facilitating around 260 virtual support sessions when the Meeting Centres were closed. We also have evaluation data from over 70 members and a similar number of carers, which will enable us to see the impact of Meeting Centres at the end of our research.


Part of the data collection has involved assessing how satisfied members and carers are with the Meeting Centres, and it all looks very positive. There will always be areas to look at in terms of improving, and while suggestions may have only come from a very small number of people, they are worth taking on board.

At this point there was a brief pause for questions and comments, with some additional information being provided about the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme.

The webinar moved on to look at the future and how Meeting Centres can be supported after the current research project ends in January 2022. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, the Association for Dementia Studies will be able to continue supporting Meeting Centres through to the end of February 2023. As part of this, there will be a National Consortium of interested parties to focus on the future structure of national leadership and coordination of Meeting Centres across the UK. The new funding will cover work to address five key areas as shown in the slide below.

Slide showing the five key areas

We’ll also be looking at different questions of what could/should happen in 2023-2024, exploring various options around how ongoing support for Meeting Centres can be provided. Nothing’s been decided yet so all possibilities are still on the table, and obviously no decisions will be made without full consultation and engagement with the National Consortium. We’ve already had some initial thoughts around the Community of Learning and Practice and the Demonstrator Sites, posing questions around how things could work as Meeting Centres continue to spread across the UK.

Slide posing some questions

There have also been some thoughts around the Meeting Centre training course and how it could be delivered as numbers increase. Could we get other people involved in delivering the training? Will there need to be a cost to attend the course once the research funding comes to an end? Again, we’ll be exploring options over the next year.

Data collection is also an area for consideration, which to date has been part of the research project. Do we need to continue with data collection in the future? Should it have more of a local focus rather than being coordinated centrally which could become quite time and resource intensive? So many things to think about…I think we’re going to be busy for a while to come!

The session ended with time for questions and reflections. An important point for us to bear in mind is how different people will have different needs, with people who are new to Meeting Centres being more likely to get benefit from regular webinars throughout the year than a one-off conference that may fall at the wrong time for them.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this webinar series, we hope it’s been useful!

A recording of this webinar is available here.

If you’ve missed any of the previous webinars you can find catch up with recordings via the Meeting Centre blog site here.

Meeting Centres – what’s the situation?

The world of Meeting Centres is ever-changing, so although the following may well be out-of-date by the time you read it, we thought we’d try to give a quick round-up of what’s been going on. Spoiler alert: a LOT has happened despite the pandemic!


Four new Meeting Centres (Worcester City, Evesham, Malvern Link, Malvern Hills) have opened as part of Worcestershire Meeting Centres Community Support Programme funding, with two further Meeting Centres approved in Kidderminster and Stourport.

Droitwich Spa reopened in April and numbers have been growing since then.

West Midlands more broadly

Leominster reopened in August 2020 and managed to remain open since then, albeit with reduced numbers due to Covid restrictions. Now almost back to normal but bookings are still required to manage numbers.

Hereford veterans Meeting Centre opened, specifically supporting veterans with dementia.

Herefordshire online Meeting Point has proved successful and restarted in September following a summer break. Funding is being sought to expand the number of Meeting Centres in Herefordshire.

Ross re-opened in September and runs every Wednesday.

Sandwell are getting staff in place and are aiming to open two Meeting Centres in early 2022.

South West

Purbeck have had to look at an alternative venue as their previous venue is being used as a Covid vaccination centre.

Swanage is also looking at opening a Meeting Centre, which would link well with Purbeck.

In Bristol one Meting Centre is in progress and funding for another three is being planned.

North Somerset has three venues booked and a manager in place, so are hoping to open soon.

South East

It’s still early days, but there is strong interest in Meeting Centres being opened in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

North West

Work is progressing on Meeting Centres in Liverpool and the Wirral.

East Midlands

The Northampton group has reopened with reduced numbers due to restrictions.

The Leicestershire group has been back up and running since May with appropriate Covid measures in place.

North East

North Tyneside has had one Meeting Centre up and running since July, with another hoping to get going in the near future.


Powys have been continuing to provide online support to members and carers and have just re-opened their four Meeting Centres in Brecon, Llandrindod, Ystradgynlais and Newtown. A fifth Meeting Centre is also opening in Welshpool.


There is a lot of work going on across Scotland with new funding opportunities, including from the Life Changes Trust.

Kirriemuir reopened in a new venue, having bought and renovated it during lockdown. They have also secured funding to help develop three new Meeting Centres in Angus.

Dunblane opened at the beginning of September, and numbers have been growing ever since.

East Lothian is looking to open a Meeting Centre in Musselburgh in April 2022, and are currently working to find and secure a suitable venue.

Prestwick is progressing well with a venue identified and funding in place to enable the Meeting Centre to open fairly soon.

Fife is planning a Meeting Centre and funding has been applied for.

So that’s a whistle-stop tour of Meeting Centres in the UK! Apologies to anyone who we may have missed off, or who has made progress since we put this summary together. The Meeting Centres picture is constantly evolving and it’s hard to keep track of all the great work going on!!

Scaling up Meeting Centres in a locality

The eighth webinar in the Meeting Centres series took place at the end of October, with the focus being on how we can scale up the Meeting Centre approach across a geographical area.

The session began with a welcome by Professor Dawn Brooker MBE, who reiterated that while Meeting Centres have a local focus, it can make sense to have a more strategic approach when looking at opening multiple Meeting Centres in a similar geographical area such as a county or region.

Dawn handed over to Deborah Gerrard, Chief Officer for Dementia Matters in Powys, to facilitate a discussion with a panel of speakers with different perspectives on the subject:

  • Nathan Evans – Director of Partnerships and Development at The Shaw Foundation
  • Isobel Jones – Chief Executive Officer of Alive!
  • Nathan Stephens – PhD student with the Association for Dementia Studies, investigating the value of a regional approach to Meeting Centres in Worcestershire
  • Tora Owen – Family carer for her mother who attends Newtown Meeting Centre

Deborah began with a brief history of Dementia Matters in Powys, which expanded from a dementia friendly community in Brecon to a county-wide spread of Meeting Centres. Powys is a large and sparsely-populated county with people being unlikely to travel large distances, so having multiple Meeting Centres in different parts of the county was vital. They had just got four Meeting Centres established in Brecon, Llandrindod Wells, Ystradgynlais and Newtown when Covid hit, but they have been providing remote support throughout the pandemic as explored in a previous blog. Thanks to funding from The Shaw Foundation they were able to develop their technology offer to help people access online support, and have recently secured funding to open a fifth Meeting Centre in Welshpool. They will be using a hybrid approach to enable people who are unable to attend in person (for whatever reason) to still be able to benefit from participating in Meeting Centre sessions and activities.

Opening up the discussion more widely, Deborah posed several questions to the invited panel.

What is the attraction to funders for a regional approach?

Nathan Evans – In reality, funders are looking for the biggest return on their investment. Meeting Centres meet a lot of The Shaw Foundation’s priorities, and a regional approach enables Meeting Centres to adapt to their surroundings. As a funder you hope to be the spark to enable initiatives to get off the ground, but using a regional approach could also make it more appealing to larger funders in the future.

Nathan Stephens – Meeting Centres provide added value by focusing on their community. They also fill a gap in existing services, and when scaled up they can bring different parts of the system together at different levels, particularly in the context of integrated care systems. When you scale up you can also extend the impacts that have already been seen in individual Meeting Centres to more people, but also broader social impacts such as volunteering.

What do you think are the advantages of a regional approach to Meeting Centres?

Isobel Jones – Scalability makes it possible to share staff and resources within an organisation if you are running multiple Meeting Centres. It can also help with time and cost savings as you can plan an activity once but deliver it in multiple locations, and benefit from cost savings by buying ‘in bulk’. You are also able to share policies so individual Meeting Centres don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time. At the same time, there is a level of flexibility so an organisation can still make each Meeting Centre fit with the local community, so although all the Meeting Centres may have the same foundations, they will each have their own individual flavour and colour. A regional approach can also ensure that everyone can benefit, so it’s less of a postcode lottery with only small pockets of people being able to attend.

What do you think might be the disadvantages?

Nathan Stephens – It needs all parts of the system working together for a strategic, regional approach to work, so if that doesn’t happen there is a risk that Meeting Centres may be set up to fail. There is also a risk that it could become a more commercial proposition as Meeting Centres become more well-known and popular, which risks the underlying principles and model being compromised. It is also worth considering whether multiple Meeting Centres in an area will really mean that everyone who needs to or wants to can actually attend.

Isobel – Alive have been considering a roving Meeting Centre in a bus as a way of reaching more people. One of the problems they have considered is that if you have Meeting Centres in multiple locations on different days but sharing resources, there can be issues around where to keep the resources if you need to keep moving them between locations.

What do you think might be the benefits for members and family carers of a number of Meeting Centres in a region?

Tora Owen – The hybrid model being used in Powys will make it possible for everyone to join in regardless of where they are in the county. If you have multiple Meeting Centres people won’t have to travel as far so it will be easier to attend. Remote connection across multiple Meeting Centres also makes it easier to get to know people who you wouldn’t otherwise have met, which has been seen in Powys as the remote sessions brought together all four Meeting Centres. More Meeting Centres could mean that each one has smaller groups, so members and carers can forms stronger bonds with everyone and benefit from more personalised support, both within the Meeting Centre and outside of it.

Deborah – When restrictions allowed, Dementia Matters in Powys have also been able to bring people together in person for events across Meeting Centres such as their summer games. It was lovely because people already knew each other through the remote sessions, and finally got to meet in person. They have also got plans to have informal, friendly competitions or a ‘league’ between the Powys Meeting Centres in same area, which may not have worked if people in the different Meeting Centres didn’t know each other.

How can we best involve members and family carers in a regional approach?

Tora Owen – Opportunities could include helping out with technology and transport to help people to access the Meeting Centres. They could also help with promotional activities and raising awareness of Meeting Centres, as it can have more impact when you hear directly from people who attend and benefit from Meeting Centres.

Isobel – A final benefit could be that referrals may be easier with regional approach. It could be a stronger selling point with commissioners and potential referrers, and it may also be easier to raise awareness of a local network of Meeting Centres rather than an individual Meeting Centre.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and perspectives, and apologies if I’ve misrepresented any views in this blog (any mistakes are mine, not theirs). You can watch a recording of the webinar to hear from our speakers in their own words, as well as to pick up on some of their anecdotes which really brought Meeting Centres to life. The recording is available here.

The final webinar in the series will take place on Friday 26th November 2021 at 12 noon, looking at ‘Sustainability of Meeting Centres: opportunities, challenges and the way forward’. It will consider how Meeting Centres can move forward individually, as part of a regional approach, and as a UK-wide network, and what the next steps are. Details of how to register can be found on the Association for Dementia Studies website.

Meeting Centres webinar – New Kids on the Block

Those of us of a certain vintage may have secretly been hoping for a surprise performance by the 80’s/90’s boy band, but the ‘New Kids on the Block’ webinar that took place on 24th September was a hit in its own right.

Professor Dawn Brooker MBE welcomed everyone to the sixth webinar in the Meeting Centres webinar series, which focused on hearing from a range of individuals who have just opened a Meeting Centre or are in the process of getting one up and running, looking at what inspired them to get going and some of the opportunities and challenges along the way.

The style of the webinar was ‘A conversation with…’, hosted by Graham Galloway who is Chief Officer of Kirrie Connections Meeting Centre. He was speaking with:

Graham started off the conversation by giving a bit of background about how the existing Kirrie Connections evolved into a Meeting Centre. When he heard about Meeting Centres he described it as a lightbulb moment which showed him how he could take the organisation forward. Kirrie Connections was already doing or offering a lot of the elements described in the Meeting Centre model, so it felt like a perfect match. It’s been a fantastic journey since then, and Graham is currently chairing a working group in Scotland with around a dozen organisations looking to open Meeting Centres.

What inspired you to get involved with Meeting Centres?

Isobel reflected that Alive! Had been doing a lot of work with care homes, but wanted to look at doing more work with the community and supporting people to live in their own homes. The organisation was Introduced to the Meeting Centre model and, as with Kirrie Connections, felt like it was a good fit for their future plans. They wanted to bring something new and innovative to Bristol, but recognised the importance of having the existing evidence base around the impact of Meeting Centres to support discussions with other organisations and potential funders.

For Julie it was a bit more personal, with the academic/research aspect of Meeting Centres not really being a factor for her. One of her colleagues saw a discussion about Meeting Centres on social media and inspired Julie to find out more about them. As with her Dementia Friendly Prestwick work, the starting point for Julie is always ‘Would my mum enjoy this?’. With Meeting Centres, the quality of support provided, the links with community, the duration and ongoing nature of the sessions (rather than just being an hour session), and the fact that they support the whole family were all important factors that spoke to her. She thought that Meeting Centres would have worked for her and her family.

Barbara spoke about a conversation she had had with Dawn back in 2014 about wanting to develop local, community provision as she felt it was the way forward. This coincided with the start of the Association for Dementia Studies’ involvement in the research around Meeting Centres, and Dawn recommended that Barbara keep an eye on Meeting Centres. When the evidence became available, Barbara found that it fitted well with other work that they had going on, and they have now been awarded funding to start two new Meeting Centres in Sandwell.

Pre-Covid, Breda had been running a memory café within her dementia friendly community. Her interest in Meeting Centres was sparked after hearing about them through the Life Changes Trust. The pandemic actually provided an opportunity by giving her thinking space and the opportunity to explore and discuss the potential of Meeting Centres, as well as getting her team through the online Meeting Centres Training Course. When the time came to consider plans for reopening, Breda and her team had to make the decision of whether to continue as a memory café or take the leap and open as a Meeting Centre. They decided to go for it, and have received funding from the Life Changes Trust to support them.

How did you go about the community engagement process?

Alive! are looking to set up two Meeting Centres in different locations, one in the city of Bristol which is big city, and one in North Somerset. They created a Steering Group in Bristol as they wanted to get people on board and engaged from the start, but it has been tricky during lockdown and the pandemic more generally. There has been a lot of support and interest as there is nothing like a Meeting Centre currently available in Bristol. Their Steering Group in North Somerset has linked together multiple Dementia Action Alliances in the area to decide on the best approach, but they were quite lucky to get a funder on board quite early on. The engagement process has been quite organic and flexible in some respects, but the overarching goal was to make sure that what’s being done is right for the area, with people living with dementia and their carers being involved throughout the process.

In Sandwell there is already a culture of partnership working, a thirst for training, and an enthusiasm and appetite to develop new ideas. They are part of a collaborative partnership of nine organisations commissioned to develop a wider support service which would ideally be aligned to the dementia pathway, and have been demonstrating how Meeting Centres can fill the gap in post-diagnostic support for people with dementia. They have also been working with Innovations in Dementia to establish a DEEP group to ensure the voices of people with dementia are included in those conversations.

Dementia Friendly Prestwick has been running activities such as relaxed cinema sessions and health walks for a few years with the aim of raising awareness of dementia. They have not necessarily been activities exclusively for people with dementia as it was felt they should be accessible to everyone and enable people with dementia to be part of the wider community. Dementia Friendly Prestwick also has a good social media presence to share what they are doing, aiming to be an open door for anyone who may have concerns about dementia. Their focus is on providing a friendly face and the opportunity to have fun, first and foremost. Regular events have helped to raise their profile, together with work around design to make Prestwick seafront more dementia friendly. The support they have been providing during the pandemic has also given them a good opportunity to start conversations with individuals about how they can provide support in a more formal way. They are taking it step by step, but making sure the community is engaged at every point.

How are you approaching funding?

Isobel said that they are planning to charge member fees as they have found from previous work that people tend to be more invested and engaged if they have to pay. However, fees need to be kept affordable, manageable and accessible. Although different funding models are being followed in Bristol (funding from two funders for two years) and North Somerset (Local Authority), it was recognised that charging is still required to help with sustainability.

In Dunblane, they have initial funding from the Life Changes Trust, so they are currently only charging a small attendance fee as it didn’t feel right to charge too much to start with. They are still applying for further funding from different sources. While Breda realises that funding is an important issue, particularly in terms of paying for a Meeting Centre Manager and Support Worker, she feels people shouldn’t let it put them off. When exploring what people are paying to access other forms of support from independent companies locally, sometimes through personal budgets, Breda felt that there must be a way to show what support Meeting Centres offer for a better rate.

While Barbara and her team have got a 3-year Lottery grant to cover their staff costs, they are still planning to charge people to attend their Meeting Centres. This is likely to be a challenge as Sandwell is not an affluent area by any means, so they are looking to get Meeting Centres included in care packages for people as part of what they should automatically receive when they need care. They are also exploring a voucher scheme where people could buy vouchers themselves or be bought them by an organisation, provider or charity, or maybe even by family.

Are there any particular current challenges for you? (other than the pandemic)

For Julie, finding a venue is an issue as there is shortage of empty properties in Prestwick. It’s also difficult to identify a suitable building, but she realises that they may have to find one that is ‘good enough’ rather than holding out for the perfect venue with the right stuff, which may not actually exist.

A venue is also an issue in Bristol because the Meeting Centre would want to use it for three days a week and ideally have parking. Opting for a roving Meeting Centre in multiple locations in North Somerset was partly to overcome the difficulty of finding a single venue. While they would ideally like to have their own venue(s) at some point, they want to actually get the Meeting Centre going and see how things go.

Barbara recognised that there is still a lot of anxiety and uncertainty around at the moment, with some people not wanting to attend groups. It can also be difficult for people delivering support to work out what they can and should be doing to keep people safe. As Graham acknowledged, building relationships with people can help with this as they have trust in you which could encourage them and make them feel more comfortable to get back out and about, or at least give things a go.

Top tips for people thinking about opening a Meeting Centre:

  • Be prepared to compromise, particularly in terms of a venue, and make sure you talk to everyone right from the start
  • Get people on board by helping them to understand what Meeting Centres are and what difference they can make to people
  • Feel the fear and just do it. You have to start somewhere so just give it a go
  • Be bold and believe in the Meeting Centre model. Be positive and tell people why it’s good, rather than asking them what they think

Graham closed the conversation by recognising that everyone involved in Meeting Centres is so passionate and believes in them and their impact.

Dawn summed up the session by saying how great it was to hear how much is going on and seeing the level of commitment from everyone. Even when things don’t go to plan it’s about hanging tough and finding an alternative solution. She also reiterated that the Meeting Centres group are available to help each other, so make use of us all.

Thanks to Graham for facilitating the conversation and to everyone for taking part and sharing their experiences. If you would like to watch a recording of the session it is available here.

The next webinar will take place on 29th October looking at ‘Scaling up Meeting Centres in a locality’. Please see our website for details on how to register to attend.

(For those of you might be wondering, yes, I did amuse myself by managing to get a few NKOTB song references into this blog, and yes, I do know the band members’ names without having to look them up)

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