A group of volunteers from Wendover run a hugely successful cafe every Monday, supporting people with dementia and their carers.
After setting up Wendover Dementia Support in 2019, an award-winning charity founded by local GP Dr Philippa Moreton, a small team of volunteers launched the Monday Club Cafe. Each week, people with dementia and their carers are welcomed to Wendover Christian Centre for refreshments, activities and live music. Visitors are offered entertainment ranging from flower arranging to an interactive projection table and, most importantly, warm conversations with the volunteers in a comfortable setting .
Run by Sylvia Oram and a team drawn from the local community and St Mary's Church, the cafe started by supporting five families. Now they support up to 50 and run two separate cafe sessions each week.
Advice and coaching
Before each session, the team sit down to discuss each attendee, exploring what went well and what could be improved upon from their last visit. The volunteers all underwent specialist training before embarking on the project, to ensure they are fully equipped to offer support tailored to each individual's needs. From how guests should be greeted to reflecting on feedback from carers, the sessions are planned with the utmost care to ensure support is delivered confidently and safely.
A second room at the cafe allows space for confidential one-to-one meetings between visitors or carers and a senior volunteer, who can provide a listening ear and help explore appropriate strategies in difficult times. Where necessary, the volunteers can help those in need access relevant services, and the team also offer home visits or Zoom meetings if the wider family needs consulting on a matter.
It's a part of their service that's being taken up with increasing frequency. One visitor said;
“My mother had had a very difficult week with my father... We spent nearly an hour with one of the senior volunteers, who was so helpful and supportive. She suggested things we would never have thought of and even sent us a follow-up email as a summary of our discussion. Things did improve and now we know there is always that support and advice there – such a comfort.”
"Walking into a huge hug"
The care of the volunteers is rewarded with a clear joy from cafe visitors, and it's apparent that the sessions provide huge value to both guests with dementia and their carers. One regular visitor describes the cafe as "walking into a huge hug."
Jane, who attends the cafe with her husband, who has Alzheimer's, says;
"This place has saved us. It's amazing. We look forward every week to Mondays and love coming here."
"Everyone is so kind, and he's happy when he knows he's coming here. So can I just say thank you to everyone here."
The highlight of each cafe session comes at the end with live music and a singalong - sometimes with spontaneous dancing too. Music can be transformative to people with dementia, often evoking strong memories and emotions. Visitors are provided with song sheets and encouraged to sing, play instruments and dance along to tunes they know and love. In one session, a visitor sang a moving solo verse of Edelweiss, and a group joyfully danced together as they sang When You're Smiling.
Volunteers of the Year
During lockdowns, though the cafe had to pause, the team were committed to continuing their services. Founder Dr Philippa Moreton describes how many people found all their usual avenues of support vanished overnight when Covid struck.
"What I'm really proud of is that instead of just saying 'well we can't do anything,' we transformed our service and made sure all our families were supported. We phoned them every week, we provided newsletters, we did doorstop visits, we did Zoom meetings with the family. We did an awful lot during the pandemic because they were in such trouble."
Wendover Parish Council recognised the dedication of the charity, and they were awarded a Volunteer of the Year award for 2020.
The pandemic hasn't curtailed Wendover Dementia Support's plans for the future. This month, in partnership with the Arts Society Chiltern, a memory-friendly trail is being launched around St Mary's Church.
Small groups of people with dementia and their carers can follow the trail with support from cafe volunteers, and the trail is enhanced with music throughout. Sylvia says;
"The reason for choosing the church as a memory trail is that many people with failing memories are of an age that would have involved them with churches from early childhood and on through later years. It is designed to encourage tactile and sensory activity.”
Interested in setting up your own Dementia Cafe?
In a special How to... video, see the cafe in action and hear from Sylvia as she shares the first steps to starting a cafe in your own area.