CHARITY FOCUS: Moving forward for dementia

Netty Newell, Ceri Thomas and Jill Quinn at the Dementia Forward office.
Netty Newell, Ceri Thomas and Jill Quinn at the Dementia Forward office.

Laura shares a brew with the staff of one of Ripon’s newest charities, Dementia Forward. The year-old charity is striving to raise awareness of

dementia, boost research funds and battle the condition in one of the worst affected areas of the country – North Yorkshire.

It may only be a year old, but Dementia Forward already provides a crucial life-line for Ripon and its surrounding area’s 3,000 people suffering with the debilitating condition.

Tucked away on the first-floor of Ripon’s Community House on Allhallowgate sits an unassuming office where Jill Quinn and her charity contingent fight to ensure people with dementia do not suffer alone.

“In our first year, it has worked beautifully and continues to grow,” grins chief executive Jill as we share a cup of tea at her desk.

“We’re not only providing for the community but we also get a lot of help from the local community. We will continue to be innovative and encourage people to focus on the here and now.”

Although Jill beams with pride at how much the charity has achieved it its first year, she remains realistic about how much work still needs to be done to not only battle the illness with medical research, but raise awareness in society.

“In North Yorkshire the number of over 65s is higher than the under-65s. 25 per cent of babies born today are expected to live to 100. But old age is not the cause of dementia. It is just the main risk factor,” she says.

“But we need to remove the fear factor. We need to remove the stigma from society.”

Although Jill and her dementia team organise an abundance of actvities for local elderly people suffering from the condition – including singing groups and afternoon activity events – she says there shouldn’t have to be separate dementia groups in the city.

Instead, she believes, people with dementia should be able to integrate with the rest of society.

“There shouldn’t be a separate lunch club for people with dementia. Why should we have to run a separate singing group?” she asks.

“There is still a stigma and dementia affects everyone in society – not just the individual suffering with the condition. There is not enough awareness and understanding out there to allow people with dementia to attend more general events for other people in the community.”

Jill and her team of seven staff and nine trustees – which works with more than 40 volunteers in Ripon and Harrogate to run popular fundraising events across the district – are whole-heartedly backing Government proposals to create “dementia-friendly communities” across the UK.

In a report published by the Department of Health last year, Prime Minister David Cameron called for the “whole of society” to take action and improve the lives of those living with dementia – thereby ensuring separate groups such as Dementia Forward’s singing club do not have to be cut off from the rest of the community.

By 2015, the Government aims to have signed up 20 cities, towns and villages as dementia-friendly areas – and with the highest rates of dementia across the north, Jill wants the county of North Yorkshire to take centre stage.

“We’re the first dementia charity in the north to employ an admiral nurse,” she says. “The role will really help to strengthen the team and give us a wide range of skills and resources.”

Although Jill tells me the biggest initiative dementia charities need to push for now is greater medical research, the palliative care aspect of Dementia Forward is instrumental to improving people’s lives.

Administration and helpline worker Ceri Thomas tells me the charity’s weekly singing group and Time Together Tuesday helps to brighten people’s spirits.

“People remember songs,” she says. “Up to 70 people come to the group and have a good old sing song. They sing all sorts. It really uplifts them.”

Time Together Tuesdays gives people with dementia and their carers the opportunity to spend the afternoon eating lunch together, playing snooker and dancing – and women can even have their nails painted by volunteers.

“It’s a safe place to be yourself, ” says Ceri. “It’s something on the social calendar for people every week that gives them a sense of purpose. It’s a focal place where people know there will be a support worker to help and advise them. They know they can go there and ask anything.”

And for community liaison officer Netty Newell, fundraising events are just part of the battle to raise awareness in wider society.

“There is something about local people working together that is really encourging,” she tells me.

“We should not have to have separate services for people with dementia and we want to break down the barriers so that everyone can be included.”

Netty helps to organise a number of fundraising activities across the district to boost the charity’s profile and raise much-needed extra funds. In addition to supermarket collections and coffee mornings, the charity has just hosted its first anniversary black-tie ball at Rudding Park Hotel inHarrogate. A popular Santa Fun Run was also organised by the charity at Ripon Racecourse at Christmas – the charity’s first major fundraising event.

“The support from local people and our trustees has been tremendous,” smiles Netty. “We’ve all come into this for individual reasons and we all have personal reasons for working here and that’s where the passion comes from,” she says.

“But we are passionate about ploughing money into research, because with more research, the condition could be cured and we wouldn’t be here – which would be a preferable situation.”

l Charity Focus returns on April 11.