Trevor has shared the story of the Memory Café, the congregation at Drighlington Methodist Church have been running for their local community.
Five years ago when we witnessed one of our families being devastated by dementia, we realised we had to do something to help with their isolation, stigma and loneliness, particularly for the caregivers who often felt alone, neglected and forgotten. After much thought and planning we embarked on a scary new venture and launched our Coffee Pot Memory Café.
At the first meeting we had about six couples for coffee and cake, which was amazing. This grew week on week, mainly spread by word of mouth. Within a year we had over twenty couples, mostly living with dementia, but including Parkinson’s and stroke victims. Surprisingly, we had lots of volunteers, mostly from older, single people and we realised that there was an additional problem: many people who are physically well still suffer from loneliness and isolation. We welcomed them to come along and join in the chat which added to the happy, relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
We soon realised that too much cake was not always good for our figures so we decided to provide a well-balanced, nourishing lunch which proved a great success. We regularly had guest speakers, including our MP Andrea Jenkyns, talks about help available like Winter Friends and Admiral Nurses, and our local GP visited.
We have our own PAT Dog, offer hand massage, games, music, bingo and a lot of fun and laughter. We have a Christmas Elf party, barbecues and even held a ‘Black Tie’ Valentine’s dinner!
Our guests told us about how important the cafe is to them:
“We really look forward to coming, they are friendly, helpful and give us advice.”
“We enjoy the lovely lunch and able to partake in games if we wish, it’s just nice to have a chat with everyone.”
“All the staff/helpers/organisers are so cheerful and welcoming, it’s a joy to be here!”
We had reached the point of seeking ways to expand and help more people when Covid struck, and we had to change the way we did things. We started visiting our guests every month on café day, supplying them with books, jigsaws, quizzes, scam alerts, news and special treats like flowers, chocolates and afternoon teas. At Christmas we took out 105 afternoon teas! They were well received:
“A huge thank you to you both and all your wonderful helpers for making yesterday so special for so many including ourselves. The Tea for Two was just delightful, so enjoyable. We felt like royalty! Our love to you all.”
The volunteers are desperate to restart the café but know the safety of the guests and volunteers is always the number one priority. When asked “what was good about yesterday?” after the doorstep visits, one of the volunteers said:
“EVERYBODY SMILED WHEN THEY OPENED THEIR DOOR!! They had looked forward to us going and then enjoyed the food and fun bag. We made the whole day different for us all, and it was so good. Thank you for your brilliant ideas and challenges. You keep us alive and ticking over until we get back together.”
We also conducted a short survey about how people would feel coming back to the café, if they had to sit alone, wear face covering, just had coffee without any chat. The overriding feeling was that although they were desperate to come back for the company they were very fearful of returning until the pandemic was over. Many were about to get vaccinations so felt that things were progressing. There were some concerns that some of the guests could not conform to the strict safety restrictions imposed upon us.
We have missed the café and the users so much, but we know that getting back to ‘normal’ is a long way off and normal will be different. We have plans for a relaunch party and expect an even bigger uptake. We hope to hold a time of remembrance and tribute to those we have ‘lost’.
Dementia Friendly Leeds offers help to any community groups who want to get their group started again. They asked us what would help:
Obviously funding is an issue as the church income has been severely hit but we have never focused on money, we tend to just decide what is needed and go for it, even if we have to dip into our own pockets to cover the cost. It is the church policy to be inclusive so we do not charge, but donations are accepted.
We would like professional help to be on hand to help and advise the volunteers but more importantly the guests who will be facing many new problems and worsening situations moving forward. We had a call from one guest recently who had reached the end of her limits and needed support. We were able to contact our memory support worker who started the ball rolling, and we received a reply:
“Thank for your email. Peter phoned this morning and said you had asked him to get in touch with me. I have on a very few occasions found myself unable to get through to them and got upset. Peter said when the lockdown is over there will be more support for us, such as someone to take him for a walk, and a day centre for him to go to, just to talk now and again with someone I know is good for me. It will be so lovely when the Coffee Pot opens again and we can all meet up again.”
Drighlington Methodist Church has become the community hub offering space, advice and a listening ear to all. We provide a drop-in café, youth activities, IT help centre, keep fit and a games afternoon for the older ones alongside a foodbank and the memory café. We realise there is much more to be done post-Covid. We are determined to achieve this by making our village ‘dementia friendly’ and altering our building to enable easier access to everyone!
Secretary, Drighlington Methodist Church