It is now almost 8 years since the public meeting took place which was pivotal in the way that Debenham and its surrounding villages are addressing the challenges of their ageing population. That meeting led to a unique project in which our community has taken responsibility for the welfare and support of those who are family carers looking after someone with dementia, and of meeting the health and social needs of those that they care for.
The Debenham Project has, over the ensuing years, developed a comprehensive range of local volunteer-based services which “draw in” the best professional support. The breadth and quality of the facilities are now “second to none” in the County of Suffolk (and perhaps the UK) and will continue to be expanded and developed in the future.
The project continues to be recognised as an example of innovation and best practice across Suffolk and beyond. It challenges the public sector to respond by initiating, encouraging and supporting its “roll out” to all rural and semi-urban communities. The Debenham Project is established and will continue to evolve and develop its caring approach (Caring in the Community, Caring for the Community, and Caring by the Community) throughout the coming years. Our plans are ambitious, and our aspirations are governed only by:
“If it is not good enough for my mother, it is not good enough”
A great measure of the success of the project is that we all just “get on and do our bit” and thereby it has evolved with the minimum of bureaucracy and the maximum of goodwill and motivation. So it has become accepted as part of our regular pattern of life. Perhaps though, we need an occasional reminder of how special each and everyone’s contributions are – volunteers, participants, professionals, support workers, etc. I am often asked to give presentations about The Debenham Project and sometimes amazed to realize the full extent of everything that goes on.
Since our very early days the Project has continued to evolve so that now we have provided or arranged a very wide range of help and support within the community:
This has all been achieved due entirely to the tremendous goodwill and freely given support of not only our volunteers, but also of all those professional organisations – the local authorities, the NHS, the charities, and the support agencies – together with local groups, donors, and the community at large.
Early in 2016 the Welsh Government launched an initiative to explore the future for dementia care and support in the community. Lynden was asked to give an extended interview explaining how The Debenham Project came into existence, its philosophies, benefits, and achievements, and also to share a vision for the future of care for our elderly and frail relatives, friends and neighbours.
Part 1: The start - its development into the early project - the evolution of "what it does" - working with and collaboration with the "professionals" - after 6 years - "living better with dementia". Video 1
Part 2: The relationship with the Local Authorities and the NHS - the value of well-being - the measurable benefits (statistical and anectodal) and what it means to the community. Video 2
Part 3: A vision for the future: A Comprehensive Community Trust - bottom up person focused not top down service provision - a business model for cost effectiveness - local people caring for local people - reducing demand on hospitals, critical care, and crisis intervention - the problem facing the NHS in meeting the needs of the elderly frail - a new model of care for older persons. Video 3
Part 4: One of our earliest volunteers, Jan McIntyre, talks about her thoughts and experiences of giving her time to The Debenham Project. Apologies for the very poor sound quality in "several" places, but we hope that you can cope with itb. Video 4
Highlights of the Year 2015 / 2016 and for the Future
In the briefest of summaries, 2015/16 proved to be another successful year for the project. It continues to be an innovator and leader in community-based dementia care. It provided over 200 person sessions of support to family carers and those with the illness through a wide variety of groups, activities and services. It has a sound financial base with reserves within the Charity Commission’s guidelines but we must not be complacent. Along with almost all care charities in Suffolk, the project is finding formal funding for day-to-day running costs very hard to come by. If it were not for the tremendous generosity of so many local individuals and organisations we might be in a very different position.
Register of local professional support and domestic help was initiated.
Monthly “Way Back When” reminiscence therapy group started.
Sponsored a weekly “New Age Kurling” sessions initiated and run by ActiveLives.
“Confidential Telephone Helpline” closed in favour of Suffolk-wide service.
Project meets its target of an “afternoon a fortnight” level of support (i.e. 200 person sessions per month, c.f. Suffolk provision is circa an “afternoon per year”).
Dementia Friendly Communities:
Debenham continues to be one of the UK’s leading dementia friendly communities.
Publication of the third edition of “This is: The Debenham Project”.
All High Street businesses display “Working to become Dementia Friendly” window stickers.
Dementia awareness presentations to years 10 and 11 Debenham High School students.
Student involvement/work placement in Carers Club and Info Café.
Finances are still sound in terms of local contributions and donations.
Private donations and those made in memoriam were very important and gratefully received.
Financial engagement by the statutory authorities is a concern.
Working with Others:
Healthwatch – Representation on the Mental Health Focus Group.
Publicity and presentations across Suffolk and throughout the region.
Organised a major conference on the future for dementia support in Suffolk.
7 service users involved in CCG engagements to plan future services. Collaboration with CCGs to audit the nature and availability of dementia services across Suffolk.
Volunteer and Service Statistics:
Volunteers continue to offer their time – 113 and still counting.
44 people give 2 or 3 hours on a regular basis, 24 on an occasional basis, and 45 who can be called on if required.
Cameo, Carers Club and info Café (fortnightly), Fit Club (weekly), and 3 individual Lunch Clubs (monthly).
Overall, near to full capacity of over 200 person sessions per month.
Support to over 60% of families coping with dementia, plus others who are frail and elderly.
Research and Evaluation:
Proposal submitted to The Health Foundation for a pilot project to encourage other communities to set up volunteer-based dementia support.
Numerical evaluation of participation in our activities, services and groups.
Following a presentation to an audience in South Wales in March 2016, we realised that although what we actually do in The Debenham Project is relatively well known and recognised locally, regionally, and even nationally, we haven't tried to capture the philosophies, the way it works, the key elements of its success, etc. So we have provided a “narrative” to each of the slides in that presentation. We hope that it proves helpful in understanding not only the what, but also some of the why, when, who and how, and that it will help in encouraging other rural communities in supporting those affected by the impact of dementia on their lives. Click here for "The Four Mile Rule" PowerPoint presentation or here to download it as as a pdf document
Click on the image to download the booklet