By Simon Hacker; first published in February 2019.
Imagine walking into a shop and thinking the black mat across the doorway is a hole you could fall into? Or looking across a room at the match-coloured wall and floor and not being able to distinguish where one ends and the other begins?
These confusing and often scary situations are what life is like for some people living with dementia. An initiative to create a dementia-friendly Wotton is gathering momentum to help spread awareness across the community of just how overwhelming some situations can be for those living with the condition, and the challenges faced by carers.
A new cross-community committee is behind the drive to join the growing number of dementia-friendly communities across the UK, backed by the Alzheimer’s Society charity. The eight-strong committee – including Rev Morag Langley, Chris Sweet, Tessa McLusky, a full-time carer for her husband Macrae who has dementia, together with Martin Clarke and Martin Tucker from the Chamber of Trade – organised a dementia awareness training session early in the new year.
Hosted by UTEA at the Chipping Hall, the event involved a talk by Dementia Education Nurse Rachel Peak, exploring the ways the town can become a better place for people living with the condition.
“This boosts the work we already do to highlight dementia within the local community,” said Chris Sweet who set up Dementia Connections with Amanda Pearson. “To be dementia-friendly everybody needs a greater awareness of the impact on those affected and how best to support them.
“Often people with dementia and carers feel isolated, and this is about ensuring everybody who lives in Wotton can be included and play an active part in their community.”
Chris and Amanda already run activities after working alongside those with the condition and carers for the last three years.
These include memory groups in Wotton and Charfield and most recently Kingswood too, plus holding dementia awareness sessions for several community organisations.
A good turnout at the training session to help create Dementia-Friendly Wotton has spurred the setting up of future initiatives.
“The training for the volunteers has been offered to business people from across the town, too,” said Chris.
“Forthcoming plans include a pop-up information shop at the end of March and a leaflet with basic details of where to get support.
“We will also hold a survey to find out how people can get more involved and suggest further improvements to help people with dementia play a greater part in the community.”
Another idea is to involve youngsters with creating memory boxes as a chance for them to learn about the condition and how they can become Dementia Friends too.
“We have lots of guidance to share so if anyone would like to know how they can get involved or adapt premises please get in touch,” said Chris.
“It does not have to mean great expense, but it can make a huge difference to a customer with dementia.”
The Wotton Group meets at the Chipping Club Room, while the Charfield Group gathers for three hours twice-monthly in Charfield Village Hall.
A third and different group meets each Thursday, between 12:30 and 2pm for a pub lunch and social at Dinneywicks, Kingswood.
“New faces are always welcome,” said Chris. “We provide a friendly and safe environment for people living with dementia and carers to get support.
“Everyone enjoys the activities which include quizzes, seated exercise, baking, crafts and gardening plus singing with piano accompaniment and visits from professionals like David Baird from our Heritage Centre with old photos of Wotton.”