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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Sharing expertise on running projects that support people with dementia

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Friendship Cafe, Christ Church, Chislehurst, Kent – with Anna Friend Gill Holt (in bare feet!)

Running Church Projects to Support People with Dementia

A Zoom workshop on 30 September was offered to churches in Rochester, Canterbury and Southwark Dioceses. Organised by Anna Chaplaincy in Rochester and Canterbury Dioceses and SAGE (Southwark and Ageing), it was an opportunity to explore how churches offer groups and activities for people in their communities whose lives are affected by dementia.

The session was attended by almost 40 individuals from across Kent and South London, with several joining from further afield. A number of participants were involved already in running groups and activities, several were actively exploring establishing a project.

Julia Burton-Jones, Anna Chaplaincy lead for Rochester and Canterbury Dioceses and National Church Lead for Anna Chaplaincy at BRF, introduced the session by describing the 30+ groups for people with dementia based in churches in Rochester Diocese pre-Covid, many set up through Anna Chaplaincy. She talked about the impact of the pandemic on people with dementia and their carers, explaining that many of the groups have now restarted with significant support and encouragement from partners in local authorities, health and the voluntary sector. She talked about opportunities provided by social prescribing.

Gill Holt and Jane Milligan were then interviewed by Joanna Cox from SAGE about their experiences of running dementia cafés in their churches (Christ Church, Chislehurst and Holy Trinity, Upper Tooting). Gill’s group in Chislehurst was set up by the church; though linked closely with the Bromley Dementia Support Hub and local GP practice who refer patients, it is independent and has developed organically in response to needs in the group. Support was offered through phone contact and Zoom sessions during the pandemic. The first session back in the church was in September, and the name of the group has changed from Dementia Café to Friendship Café. The café is held in the comfortable coffee area alongside the main worshipping space, so optional short services are held to mark the seasons several times a year, and space for individuals to sit quietly, or be prayed for, is available.

Jane’s church, Holy Trinity, Upper Tooting, used a legacy to fund the Alzheimer’s Society to run their dementia café. This meant the group was firmly embedded in local services for people with dementia and able to access the professional support of the charity but gave less scope for the church to influence how it was run – criteria for referrals were tighter than church volunteers would have liked, for instance. Now that the Alzheimer’s Society no longer delivers place-based services and funds to pay for external facilitation have run out, the church is considering how it might enable the group to continue.

Zoom participants spent time in breakout rooms discussing the opportunities for churches to support people with dementia and their families. For the final section of the Zoom, Julia, Joanna, Jane and Gill responded to questions.

Feedback after the workshop was positive:

'Julia Burton-Jones was clear in her presentation and the two case studies were helpful, as they were so different. Good practical questions too.'

'Thank you for this fab mission resourcing event, the gift of Zoom, that three dioceses can come together to learn and share. Huge thanks to Southwark SAGE for bringing such expertise to the table.'

Julia is sharing her PowerPoint presentation from the workshop so do take a look. The best outcome from the session will be new church-based groups established for support and friendship for people with dementia and their carers across Kent and South London.

Meanwhile, on 3 November Julia Burton-Jones says there is to be another joint Zoom, this time on communicating with people with dementia. Do share news of this with anyone who might be interested.

Communicating with people with dementia

Wednesday 3 November, 7.30-9.00pm, Zoom, free

Connecting with people with dementia requires sensitivity and insight, as language skill diminishes and non-verbal communication assumes greater importance. This webinar looks at ways that can help to support and maintain communication, including how church members can feel more confident relating to those they encounter who may be experiencing dementia. Julia Burton-Jones will be leading the session, which will be useful for those who do not yet have much personal experience of this issue, as well as those who do.




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