The Evolution of Meeting Centres in Wales

On a sunny Friday lunchtime our latest Meeting Centres webinar took place with attendees from across the UK. The session was introduced by Dr Shirley Evans, who gave a bit of background about how the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) first began working with Dementia Matters in Powys (DMiP) in 2015 when establishing the Leominster Meeting Centre.

The webinar was presented by Deborah Harold from DMiP, who started by setting the scene about where Powys is and the largely rural nature of the county. In fact, as Deborah highlighted, Powys is the most rural and sparsely populated county in England and Wales and covers around 2000 square miles.

Back in March 2017 the first Welsh Meeting Centre opened in Brecon, having secured a small grant from the Integrated Care Fund for a pilot phase. Further funding from the National Lottery Community Fund enabled the Meeting Centre to continue, with three more Meeting Centres also being covered by the funding. Consequently, in April 2018 two new Meeting Centres opened in Ystradgynlais and Llandrindod Wells with Newtown Meeting Centre following in October 2019. The Newtown Meeting Centre is supported by Dementia Friendly Newtown, who recognised the demand and need for a Meeting Centre and approached DMiP to ask if one could be set up. They also provide financial support by covering the venue hire costs and transport costs.

DMiP slide with maps showing the spread of Meeting Centres in Powys

The four DMiP Meeting Centres became a demonstrator site as part of the UK Meeting Centre Support Programme in late 2019. As a demo site, they share their experiences and host visits to support others looking to set up their own Meeting Centres.

Then in March 2020, just as DMiP were settling in to having their four Meeting Centres up and running, Covid hit and the Meeting Centres had to close. However, they didn’t want to abandon their members and carers, especially as they didn’t know how long they would be shut for, so they provided telephone support, newsletters etc. and also launched a Virtual Meeting Centre to maintain overall Meeting Centre ethos. In the weekly Virtual Meeting Centre sessions they used themes such as nature watch or the 60’s to engage people and provide a focus. The sessions brought together members and carers from the different Meeting Centres across the county. They also ran carer sessions for local support through each Meeting Centre, one of which is ongoing. In terms of activities, a monthly ‘Knit and natter’ group was set up with resources being sent out to people. That group is still going strong and the Newtown branch is helping to raise funds for their Meeting Centre. DMiP also offered physical exercise opportunities, with one carer setting up a YouTube to share video clips of seated exercise. Online seated sessions were also provided by linking up with the dance company Impelo, who are now coming into the Meeting Centres in person to work with members and carers. DMiP set up their ‘Winter games’ where members and carers were given the opportunity to try lots of different activities at home, and share their creations with others. Those creations were also exhibited at their ‘Summer games’ when people were able to get together in person. This event followed a suggestion from a member about wanting to meet people from the other Meeting Centres that they had only previously met online. Deborah announced that DMiP have just secured funding for a similar summer games event this year with a Jubilee theme – just don’t ask about the goat! (If you’re intrigued, you’ll have to watch the recording!)

Slide showing examples of the activities from the Winter games

DMiP secured funding to reopen their Meeting Centres in October 2021, but a condition of the funding required slightly different angle so Powys Hybrid Meeting Centres were launched. These enabled people who were unable, unwilling or less comfortable to mix with others and attend a Meeting Centre in person to still participate in activities and be part of sessions from their own homes. DMiP was able to loan out equipment with built-in internet to support this, which also allowed people to connect with families and friends.

The fifth physical Meeting Centre opened in Welshpool in March 2022 after a slight delay due to the January spike in Covid cases, but is now one of the best attended Meeting Centres. Dementia Friendly Welshpool supports the Meeting Centre, having originally approached DMiP to get it set up, by covering venue costs and helping with promotional activities.

DMiP slide with maps showing the spread of Meeting Centres in Powys plus the Virtual Meeting Centres

Recent art sessions, ‘Painting With Frannie’, have been taking place at various locations including Brecon Meeting Centre, with an exhibition at the Senedd as part of Dementia Awareness Week. The sessions are run by Frances Isaacs who has Posterior Cortical Atrophy, and she got to meet many ministers through the exhibition and demonstrate the importance of the work going on. The sessions are part of a Powys-wide project with Government funding.

Image showing people taking part in the art sessions

So to summarise where DMiP has got to, there are now five Meeting Centres up and running in some of the main towns across Powys, with further support provided via the hybrid model. In addition to Deborah there are four full time members of staff who are supported by an amazing team of over 20 volunteers. DMiP is also part of the National Consortium of Meeting Centres who met for the first time recently to consider next steps once the current ADS research project funding comes to an end.

Following the presentation from Deborah there was time for some wider discussion and questions, with a brief summary provided below:

  • There are lots of smaller towns in Powys, so satellite Meeting Centres might be an option. They are likely to be difficult to fund and sustain, but it may be possible to set up memory cafes as feeders into Meeting Centres.
  • In Scotland they are looking at a satellite model and mobile Meeting Centres, so are likely to face similar issues as in Powys. Internet connection is an issue in Powys but they have found portable devices (GrandPad) that can overcome it even in remote areas, enabling people to still join in sessions virtually.
  • DMiP does not have its own buildings, and storage can be an issue. Some venues have limited storage that they can use, otherwise staff have to make sure they’ve got the right equipment and resources each day. It can be difficult in terms of logistics, but also means that groups aren’t able to put their own stamp on a space like other Meeting Centres in Leominster and Kirriemuir. However, owning a building has its own challenges such as overheads.
  • In terms of promotion and advertising, support from Dementia Friendly Communities is key. DMiP actually formed through a strong link with Dementia Friendly Brecon, who recognised the need for a countywide approach. A longer-term goal is to achieve Dementia Friendly Powys. The local activities and support from Dementia Friendly Newtown and Welshpool have helped to put the Meeting Centres on the map, with higher member numbers being seen in both areas. DMiP do a lot on social media as it’s free, but recognise it may not reach all audiences, so it’s useful to be able to tap into local groups and organisations and what they’ve got going on.
  • Liverpool is looking at setting up a mobile Meeting Centre, but even though it is a big city there are similar problems as in rural areas. It’s parochial, so people living in some areas won’t attend groups in other areas. Liverpool Meeting Centre won’t be able to have its own venue, but being in different places will make it possible for them to try out various options and locations to see what works and where it might be best to have a focus. The important thing is seeing what works for your own area and community.
  • The intergenerational work being carried out by DMiP is also important and heart-warming, helping to breakdown stigma and create connections with the next generation.
  • Meeting Centres are able to support people who are awaiting diagnosis and support them to go through the process. This can be particularly helpful when memory assessment services are experiencing long waiting lists but don’t want to leave people without support in the interim.
  • The main concern for DMiP is the continual search for funding, when the benefits of the work being done and the support provided is so vital and obvious. Meeting Centres tick a lot of boxes as a provision that could be rolled out across the country, but often struggle because many funders prefer to fund new projects rather than support existing initiatives.

It was clear from the feelings expressed by everyone in the webinar that the work being by DMiP, and by Meeting Centres more widely across the UK, is necessary and genuinely appreciated. Thanks to everyone for taking part.

A recording of this webinar can be found here.

The next webinar will take place on 24th June and is looking at the ‘Worcestershire Meeting Centre Programme’. For more details and the link to join, please visit our website.

Keep up to date with Meeting Centres on twitter @MeetingCentres

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow



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