Buckinghamshire Mind’s Older Adults’ Service has offered community support to older adults with dementia and/or mental health issues since 1974, in Chesham and Prestwood. During this time, the service has provided support, fun, companionship and stimulating activities in a friendly environment.
The group began by supporting people from local residential care homes but changed over the years to provide support for those living in the community, linking up with social services, Alzheimer’s Society and Carers Bucks to help get referrals into the groups.
The passionate and committed team were able to support service users with mild decline through to moderately severe dementia. They developed relationships with carers and, through good communication with them, were able to meet the needs of the people we supported and to sign post carers for additional support for their needs.
Since 2022, the service has focused on wellbeing and supported people aged 65+ who have been experiencing loneliness and isolation and those living with mental health conditions.
Julia Thornton, who began working for the service over 17 years ago, shares their memories of the groups:
“People who visited the service always remarked on the warmth and happiness it generated. This must be attributed to the team, who organised fun and creative activities tailored to the needs and abilities of the people we supported.
“One themed event that comes to mind is when the seaside came to the Sun House lounge, which was adorned with deckchairs, wind breakers, sand, buckets and spades as well as a fish and chip lunch rounded off with an ice cream cone.”
In 2018, Lynne Remick began working as the Coordinator of the group and in Julia Thornton’s words, “took the service to a new level”. Lynne reflects on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hard work from the team to continue to support service users and carers:
“In March 2020 we all experienced the first lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the Older Adults’ Service we went from providing face-to-face groups to trying to find ways to support people remotely. This was a challenge given not everyone was familiar with modern technology. We had to be really creative to find ways to keep in touch with everyone.
“We started by providing everyone and/or their carer with a weekly phone call. This call was a way to keep in touch, provide a social conversation and help signpost people to any local resources that were being set-up to support people during the pandemic. Many of the first conversations I had involved making sure everyone was able to get food and medication. Many people were, not surprisingly, worried about going out to public places, such as supermarkets and shops.
“Our next step was the creation of monthly reminiscence packs, which we posted out to everyone. These included a number of different topics and were based on how we would deliver a themed activity previously in a face-to-face group. Although this could not replace the interaction of a group it was a way to provide some stimulation to those who were now spending all their time at home.
“We also created a sheet with all the staff’s names and photographs so that people knew who they were talking to when we phoned. For some, they found it difficult to speak on the phone, either due to the fact they were living with dementia or hearing impairment, so we would email a letter to their carer who printed it off for them to read. We were also able to link with the Children and Young People’s team who collected pictures/poems/letters from local children to share with everyone. These were posted out to everyone to enjoy.
“During the summer of 2020 we decided to invite those on the waiting list for Park or Pippin Club to join the service we were providing. This was a really positive step and it allowed us to get to know people who would hopefully join the groups when they re-opened, and also allowed us to offer support with the challenges the pandemic caused.
“In November 2020 we started the first of many weekly Zoom activities. This wasn’t suited to everyone, but 6 or 7 people joined the meetings when they were able to, supported by their carer. Many of the people who joined were those who were on the waiting list and we hadn’t actually met them face to face. Through the Zoom activities, we were able to get to know each other. The activities were really varied, including topical talks or discussions, demonstrations, quizzes and basic craft activities.
“As vaccinations were developed (another interesting conversation during the phone calls we made), we were able to consider re-opening the service in the summer of 2021. This was a difficult decision to make given many of those being supported by the service were classed as at risk. The initial groups, which we referred to as ‘bubble groups’, opened with small groups of 4 people for a period of one and a half hours. We had two groups running per day to ensure we could support all those who wanted to join. There were lots of rules to follow, lots of cleaning and lots of ventilation in the building! These initial groups were very successful and we were able to provide the much-missed social contact with each other.
“In January 2022 the groups returned back to their original structure with 10 people, between 9.30-2pm and we were able to all have lunch together again! We weren’t sadly able to re-open Pippin Club in Prestwood as the building which had previously been used was a retirement complex and the communal spaces remained closed.”
Kat Frei, Prevention Services Manager, said:
“During the COVID- 19 lockdowns, I worked as the Team Lead for the Children and Young People’s team. Lynne and I came up with the idea of asking children and their families to create pictures, poems and letters for us to send to our Older Adults’ Service users. We were sent huge amounts of art work, which were hugely appreciated by our Older Adults’ Service users and carers. In my role as Prevention Services Manager, I have spent more time with Lynne, Jean and Pru, who have always welcomed me into activities (singing being my favourite) and I have been fortunate enough to see the fantastic work they have done to support older adults in our community.”
In the last year, the team has invited community groups into Sun House to deliver sessions such as; Burns Night bagpipes and Scottish dancing and intergenerational singing with toddlers and their parents. The team also held a fun-filled King’s Coronation Party, which was open to all service users, their carers and Older Adults’ Service volunteers. The team put on a quiz with prizes, set up a royal photo booth and served a huge selection of cakes and quiches for all.
Julia Hall, Head of Services, added:
“Over the past year, the Older Adults’ Service has been through a period of change to transition to the Older Adults’ Wellbeing Groups. As ever, the people we support remained at the heart of the team’s motivation and commitment to continue to provide an exceptional service, with their dedication and passion shining through. The happy memories will continue to shine in the hearts and minds of the people we support and their families for many years.”
“The success of the service over the years has been due to the dedication, energy, commitment, and compassion of the people who have worked within it.”
“Impressed with the care of the staff and grateful for the opportunity for my husband to attend the Wednesday meeting.”
“I feel very supported by the staff at the Park Club, their advice was particularly helpful when arranging respite care for my husband.”