I’m an Islander, born in Cowes, right next to the shipyard and educated in Cowes and Carisbrooke. I am so proud of our Island community and the strength that comes from our feelings of neighbourhood, connection and simply ‘knowing everyone’.
In 1979, I moved to the mainland, working in various jobs which were mainly sales and administrative based. In 1987 I began work for a new company providing administration support for a new start-up residential care home business that was based on the Northampton/Oxfordshire border.
My interest in supporting older people and their families was growing day by day. I read everything I could and took every training course available and became the Registered Manager of the home under the Residential Care Homes Act (1984) in 1988. The company grew and in 1992, my employer purchased a care home on the Isle of Wight, so I returned ‘home’ with my husband Nigel and young family to develop and manage the new home.
Nigel and I started our own care home business in 2003 and in 2008 I was approached by a local training provider offering matched funding for education. We were being asked to provide more and more services for people with dementia and I realised that my knowledge and understanding of the condition was poor. I had been working with people with dementia for 20 years by now, but my practise was based on instinct and kindness rather than by knowledge. I sourced a 5-day course in the New Forest lead by a Dr Gemma Jones who had an interesting biography and an impressive string of letters after her name. That’s when everything changed. Each day, returning back to the Island on the ferry, I could think of nothing else but how services needed to develop and change to ensure the best support possible was available for the growing number of people touched by dementia.
Dr Gemma mentioned that she was running an Alzheimer Café – a place to meet with friendly volunteer faces and learn more about the disease and the psychological and emotional factors affecting people with dementia and their carers. Furthermore, professionals such as doctors, nurses and social workers were invited from across the health and social care spectrum to meet with people in a safe and sociable environment.
I decided that people needed a café on the Island, so I started a campaign to fund raise for a café in early 2009. I met with the Alzheimer Society who enabled us to start up under their banner. We opened in Newport on the 30th April 2009 under its motto of ‘All in the same boat’
The café grew – sometimes more than 60 people turned up and we were struggling for chairs. Colleagues from the NHS Memory Service, IW Council social workers and care managers, and many others who had experience of working with people with dementia came to the café to share their knowledge. The gathering momentum was quite scary – so many needed the café and appreciated the opportunity to meet up. To quote Shalamov, “Tragedy is never as deep and sharp if it can be shared with friends.”
In 2012 we were offered one off funding to develop three more cafes across the Island in different locations, enabling us to grow from one a month to one a week across the Island. We were now based now in Ryde, West Wight and Sandown as well as Newport. We continued by local fund raising and support from an army of volunteers.
Today we have 50+ amazing volunteers and 6 weekly cafés across the Island including in East and West Cowes. Our mission to do more, help more, educate more, and support more people touched by dementia continues, and I am incredibly excited about our next big project which includes…