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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Lessons learned in Kendal help the national picture on dementia-friendly communities

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Kendal, Cumbria

Kendal Anna Chaplain Beverley Moore in the Lake District reports from a national conference on dementia to which she contributed:

I was privileged to be invited to deliver a 20-minute presentation on ‘The Kendal Tea Service’ on Wednesday 14 June 2023 at the Dementia Friendly Heritage Network Conference, following a successful proposal to them.

The Dementia Friendly Heritage Network (DFHN) was set up in 2016 as a way of supporting peers to share knowledge and skills to develop and deliver initiatives at heritage sites for the growing number of people affected by dementia.

In 2018, the DFHN published a best practice guide: Rethinking Heritage: A guide to help make your site more dementia friendly. The network has largely been ‘paused’ due to the pandemic and subsequent return to work. The conference was the first in-person event since 2019.

The conference was held in the Community and Learning Hub, ZSL (London Zoo). Following registration and refreshments, the day began with talks from the Dementia Friendly Heritage Network and London Zoo.

Elizabeth-Ann from Age UK Camden, who is living with dementia, spoke to us about why dementia-friendly heritage matters, and that we should consider:

  • Helping people live well with dementia

  • Helping people stay independent

  • Improving accessibility for the whole community

  • Reducing social isolation

Key attributes for a day out for people living with dementia (PLWD) are:

  • An attractive day out, parks gardens, historic buildings

  • A relaxed and uncrowded environment

  • Being looked after in a secure environment with clear boundaries and manned entrance/exit points

  • Provision of a café and accessible toilets

  • Places which prompt memories of the past

The second presentation of the day was from the Royal Air Force Museum, London and Rhiannon Watkinson and Toni Donston shared the RAF Museum’s journey to becoming an accredited dementia-friendly venue.

Presentation number three was by Professor Stephen Page, sharing how the Enliven project is pushing forward the dementia-friendly agenda in relation to nature and outdoor spaces.

Anna Chaplain Beverley Moore
It was then my turn to share my experience in providing and adapting dementia-friendly services within a specific heritage setting: the church.

I began by introducing myself and set the scene of Kendal as a vibrant market town in South Cumbria with a rich heritage but also distinct challenges such as an ageing population, accompanied by limited healthcare infrastructure (and dementia forms part of this). The wider network of churches also serves a predominantly rural area.

Our church is an important heritage and civic space within the town with a thriving church community and a key tourist site for visitors and an important space for weddings, baptisms, and funerals.

I then spoke about the Kendal Tea Service and explained its content and what we have learned since we began:

  • A short church service designed specifically for PLWD (but is inclusive for all) which I’ve been developing since 2016.

  • The idea began when I became a dementia enabler through the Churches Together in Cumbria project, which aimed to make all churches in Cumbria Dementia Friendly by 2020. Each church was to appoint a Dementia Enabler. As I mentioned, I have a background in nursing and experience of working with PLWD in hospital and nursing and care home settings and so took up the mantle! Thanks to Bishop Rob Saner-Haigh and David Richardson for all their help and inspiration.

  • I then conducted a health check of our church with one of our churchwardens, David Donnison, looking at trip hazards, the loop system, accessible toilets, ramps, the nature and use of pews and wheelchair spaces. Unfortunately, we soon discovered many difficulties not just for PLWD but elderly people too.

  • There are also other challenges to engaging those PLWD in church services e.g.:

    1. Service is too long

    2. Too hard to follow

    3. Too noisy

    4. Not loud enough

    5. Low concentration span

    6. Short-term memory loss

    7. Difficulty in processing verbal communication

    8. Service being too long or wordy

The service has adapted and evolved over the last seven years and a wealth of experience has led to many changes along the way. However, broadly speaking, the service is monthly, lasts no more than 25 minutes, and typically includes three older-type hymns, a Bible reading, a poem, prayers and we end with the blessing. There is no sermon, but a very short reflection. We then enjoy refreshments, and fellowship, and have recently introduced simple craft activities such as colouring and planting seeds. The services are each themed, such as Christmas, Advent etc. and are mainly held in the Bellingham Chapel where chairs can be moved to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

Rather than hurriedly rifling through a hymnbook to find the next hymn – we’ve all been there! – the whole service is supported through service printouts and visual aids through the form of large TV screens. This supports those with less supple hands and people with dexterity issues to be involved.

We close the service with much jollity with an action song which everyone can join in with, such as ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’. At a typical service, we see around 35 people, and up to 100 at Christmas.

Key Learning

In the beginning, we were required to build a team of volunteers and to learn about safeguarding procedures and ‘safer recruitment’ (which involves DBS checks and confidentiality agreements as we are working with vulnerable people).

We are a team of volunteers which comes with obvious opportunities and challenges.

The Tea Service required lots of networking and publicity to first set up, including radio interviews, production of leaflets and banners, working with other churches, people who work with PLWD and their carers, care homes and other partners (such as Age UK, Dignity in Dementia, South Lakes Carers).

We have learned more about the pre-existing barriers to inclusion within the church, and this has made us take stock of equality, diversity, and inclusion issues.

We learned about the power and potential for intergenerational activities which involves older members of our congregation interacting with pupils of local schools. Some examples are Messy Vintage and the Christmas Tea Service (Sedbergh Songsters, Kids from School).

We are learning about the opportunities for better partnership-working with local and regional organisations and networks such as South Lakes Dementia Hub, as well as the NHS (through the Integrated Care Community and social prescribers). We are also busy sharing learning, such as feeding into the Archbishops’ Reimagining Care Commission and, through this, taking part in broader conversations about the future of health and social care. We see that there are also opportunities and further scope to engage with the education, housing, and heritage sectors as well as the local authority (e.g. guided tours, connecting with museums) and to join up activities.

What next for the Kendal Tea Service?

We are continuing to adapt as required, in the face of these challenges.

Looking to develop our intergenerational activities with schools and nurseries.

Work with networks of rural churches – our ‘Mission Communities’ – to promote the Tea Service, encourage new members and volunteers and to foster the growth of new Tea Services across the region

Ultimately, continuing to ensure that PLWD, their friends and family members are spiritually and pastorally supported and nurtured so that they can enjoy being a part of a worshipping community in every sense, and that there is much to learn from PLWD (rather than simply doing things for them in a paternalistic way). PLWD should be encouraged to participate in the community that is the body of Christ.

For further information about the tea service, volunteering with us or Anna Chaplaincy contact: Beverley Moore.




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