Can You Help Save Shaftesbury’s Memory Café?

Shaftesbury’s Memory Café will close in the spring unless more locals use the service.

The Alzheimer’s Society currently holds these regular sessions for people with dementia at the Royal British Legion Hall.

Sarah Rampton from the society is hoping to boost attendance numbers because attendees do appreciate the group activities. “They find new things that they really enjoy doing. People have told me that they have found it very uplifting, as well as keeping their brains active and keeping them stay engaged,” said Sarah.

Sarah says the term ‘memory café’ can be confusing though. Sometimes the Alzheimer’s Society refers to these meetings as ‘activity groups’. It’s a get together, rather than a tearoom. “It’s a place where people who have dementia can go to. Or someone looking after someone with dementia and their friends and family can come along for support and socialising,” said Sarah.

Sarah Rampton

Memory cafés arrange activities to stimulate mental activity and Sarah hosts a number of these sessions around Dorset. “We tend to tailor all of our activities to the people who are there, so if people like doing arts and crafts, then we’ll provide that,” said Sarah. “I’ve written musicals with some of my groups. I’ve got an allotments group, too. We’re there for people to have a nice time and we’re keeping their brains active and engaged.”

Sarah says that regulars at her Shaftesbury meetings enjoy quizzes and sing-alongs. Group singing is thought to stimulate cognitive response and, because dementia affects a wide age range of older people, the songs chosen reflect this. “We do have to have quite an eclectic mix because some people like the wartime songs, but they go right the way through the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s as well. We always start with a song that is very uplifting.”

Unfortunately, too few people are attending the meetings and the Alzheimer’s Society is considering ending the Shaftesbury sessions. “We only have very few people who attend at the moment. We think that’s because not many people know about it. It happens every other week, on Tuesdays, from 10am until 12noon. People just call in. They don’t have to book,” said Sarah.

The Shaftesbury group needs a core membership of around twelve people in order to continue. Sarah understands that attending the group for the first time could be intimidating so she advises new recruits to bring a friend. “It’s really difficult to walk through the door for the first time. I would advise people to come with a friend or a member of your family. If that’s not possible, please phone me. I will talk to you and have a chat before you come. I will be there to welcome you,” Sarah said.

It would be a shame if the local Memory Café did close because Shaftesbury is currently trying to achieve ‘Dementia Friendly Town’ status. A steering group of six people, including a resident who has dementia, is driving this process. Shaftesbury Town Councillor John Lewer chairs the group. John wants everyone who works with the public to understand what they can do to help residents with dementia.

“Dementia Friendly is the official recognition that you have gone far enough to make people aware in shops, banks, public places, buses and transport – wherever people with dementia might feel awkward. We want as many people as possible to be aware of that. We have an action plan coming together to coordinate all the providers of services in Shaftesbury, to make sure that they are aware of the needs and that they are committed to doing something to meet it,” said John.

But he accepts that this will take time. “It will probably take a couple of years to get all of the people on board. A lot of them are already. It’s important to stress that I’m not starting something new. I’m just putting together a lot of disconnected pieces that were there before,” said John.

Sarah says it’s vital that Shaftesbury businesses are on board. “I remember when my mother-in-law had dementia, many years ago. She received no understanding in shops and banks. She was treated really badly. It was absolutely heart-breaking,” said Sarah. “We need to make that move so people are more patient and understand that someone may be struggling to find their coins in their purse because they have dementia. Just help this person, rather than being angry with them.”

Sarah says there are many positive initiatives that can be adopted in Shaftesbury as part of this Dementia Friendly status. “There’s the ‘Use Our Loos’ scheme, where people can go into a café or a shop and use the toilet without having to buy anything there. The ‘Safe Havens’ scheme is happening in some towns, too,” explained Sarah. “If people get lost and they’re disorientated, instead of being taken to the police station, which you can imagine would be horrific for someone with dementia, they actually go to a care home where it’s warm and safe. They are with kind people until their next of kin can be called. So it’s really important that people are educated and understand a little bit about dementia.”

If you want to contact Sarah to help with the Memory Café or to come along, she can be reached at sarah.rampton@alzheimers.org.uk. The next Shaftesbury Memory Café meeting is on Tuesday 8th January, then Tuesday 22nd January, between 10am and 12noon. They are held at The Royal British Legion on Coppice Street.