The following is a transcript of a recent talk given by Joan. It sums up what the cafés are about, both for the café users and the volunteers.
“Thank you for inviting me along to speak to you today. Normally I would have looked for an excuse to say “No, thank you” or “I’m sure you can find someone better than me to do it” but I am so enthusiastic about the Living Well Cafés that I accepted without hesitation. I am just delighted to tell folks how great they are.
I must warn you, I am no public speaker – although anyone who knows me will tell you that I do love to speak! In fact, many years ago, when I was our pram pushing with a friend, she told her wee boy not to interrupt when grown-ups are talking, wait until they stop. The poor child said ‘But mummy, Mrs Prockter never stops!’
So you won’t get a polished professional performance this morning – but I will remember to stop and let you get back to the important business of drinking coffee and blethering.
For a number of years the Living Well Project has been running a Befriending Service offering a one-to-one contact to older people who are lonely and isolated. About a year ago, they decided to reach out to another group of people who can also experience a sense of loneliness and isolation – those with some form of dementia and their carers – and so the Living Well Cafés came into being. Our own family refer to them, irreverently but gratefully as ‘Dad’s Demented Cafés’! They clearly see how much we enjoy going to them and how they have opened up a whole new social life for us.
At the present time there is a café at Newhills Church in Bucksburn from 1pm to 3pm on alternate Tuesdays; on the other Tuesday we meet at Oldmachar Church in Bridge of Don. Already Ferryhill Church has visited with a view to setting up another café in the south of the city. Some of us go to both cafes, as café users (or café friends as we now call them) or volunteers, others only attend one. Everyone is welcome, we are a mixed bag, different ages, different stages, different sexes, different situations and different denominations. Some come as old friends, and some begin as total strangers, some come in a group from a care home. No one cares where you come from, we just know we are among others who share a common bond.
Every week has roughly the same format, familiar routine is very reassuring if you are a bit confused. There is always a warm welcome, familiar faces, a steady flow of tea and coffee and fine pieces, lots of blethering, a bit of a sing song – how everyone loves that – even those who don’t have much to say still love to sing!
Every week we incorporate something different. We made Christmas cards at Christmas, and Easter cards at Easter and decorated shopping bags. We play Boccia, it is like to bowls, but you can play is sitting down or even from a wheelchair. Someone said ‘I don’t want to play, but I love watching other people’s faces when they play’. We’ve laughed at the ‘Drama Wifies’ performances; we’ve reminisced with the boys from Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust about the ‘Glory Days’ gone by at Pittodrie. We’ve had a fitness MOT, exercise and diet advice, we’ve even contributed to a Creative Writing Session by recalling our childhood and school days, our working lives, our families and our first romances….long, long ago.
And always we share music, we’ve been sung to and joined in Karaoke. Hugh, our minister, gets out his guitar and Kevin, one of the wonderful volunteers, gets into his black and white minstrel outfit and leads us through old favourites – Country & Western, The Northern Lights of Aberdeen, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean…until it’s time for ‘Show me the Way to go Home’.
One of the good things about dementia is that folks actually enjoy doing the same things again and again, it is familiar and it is safe!
This sense of safety is important. At the Cafés, no one ever feels that they must do things, no one needs to worry about forgetting things. The cafés are low key and undemanding and totally accepting and supportive.
When we first told folks that we were planning to attend the cafes we got an interesting reaction! A bit like ‘Oh no, do you think that’s a good idea!’ People obviously visualised a rather sad and sombre gathering of ‘puir auld souls, struggling to communicate and feeling a bit sorry for themselves’. Let me tell you, they couldn’t be more wrong! The cafés are the most up-beat, cheery get-togethers I’ve ever been to. There is so much laughter and banter, so much warmth and friendship. No one ever seems to mention aches and pains or problems. If you do arrive feeling a bit ‘down’, it soon vanishes! We all agree, we really look forward to our time together and go home uplifted and re-charged, and I mean all of us; the carers and the volunteers get just as much out of the afternoon as those with dementia. In fact, I know those of us who are carers cannot begin to explain the feeling of freedom that the Cafés provide. It is lovely to see a husband, wife, parent or friend smiling and interacting happily with others so that you yourself can also relax and circulate and chat with different people. We go home refreshed and very grateful. The things we hear all the time are
- It gets you out of the house
- It makes a fine change
- You get a right laugh
- Isn’t it friendly – and it really is!
I know that I say ‘Thank you’ every night in my prayers for our wonderful ‘Demented Cafés’!”
The Cafés are run by our daughter charity, The Living Well Project. If you would like to more information about the cafés or the charity, you can visit their website by clicking here.