And so another ‘Dementia Awareness Week’ comes and goes. It is hard to believe that it is three years since I first started to collect and publish ‘in my shoes’ blogs as part of Dementia Awareness Week, 2012.
But to emphasise the message that awareness is something that needs to go on all year round and not just for seven days, I like to post blogs after the ‘official’ week has finished.
I was invited to run some workshops for staff at Midland Heart at their impressive HQ in Birmingham. I was delighted that Ken Howard, my friend and colleague who lives with younger onset dementia and Anna Geyer, my fab graphic facilitator pal, were able to join me. I am always particularly pleased when we get an opportunity to engage with people who don’t always get the chance to think about dementia, and this was a particularly receptive and welcoming group of people.
Rachel Choudhury, part of Midland Heart’s Dementia Strategy Group and Senior Bid Writer, tells the story…
When we first formed the Dementia Strategy group at Midland Heart in 2012, I don’t think any of us knew quite where it would take us. We knew how important it was that we did something, we’d all heard about the ageing population and how people were living longer, and knew that this would inevitably impact on us as a business which, at its core, is about supporting people from all walks of life and at different times within their lives.
For my part, I became interested in dementia several years ago when my grandmother, although never formally diagnosed with dementia, began to forget things. From being the family’s matriarch she became reticent and unsure of what was happening around her, I felt helpless and unsure what to do for the best. Being part of the dementia strategy group has enabled me to support us as an organisation and as individuals to work towards increasing understanding of what there is that we can do to help people live well.
For the past 3 years we’ve used Dementia Awareness Week as a way to raise awareness with our staff, customers and the communities we work in. This year, we wanted to go a step further and not just ask people to attend an event, we wanted people to get involved, and to have meaningful conversations about dementia and also to challenge preconceptions. A few months ago, our operations manager for mental health, Rosemary Doherty, attended a conference and came back telling us about Gill and Ken and how inspiring they had been. We knew that we wanted to work with Gill and Ken, but how?
That’s when we found out about Whose Shoes? It just fitted with everything we’d been trying to do through our Dementia Strategy and Alliance Action Plan. At previous events, we knew that the same few faces would turn up, we wanted this year to be different, so we decided to be just a little bit disruptive and not hide the events away in corporate meeting rooms but to hold them out on the open plan office floors. That way we could benefit not only those taking part but also get the message across to the people who carried on working around us.
We’d arranged the Whose Shoes? sessions for the Tuesday of Dementia Awareness week and planned to hold one session in the morning and one in the afternoon on different floors of our head office in Birmingham. Gill, Ken and Anna from New Possibilities (who was to create some incredible graphic recordings which we could keep after the event) arrived and we set up the space where the first session would take place.
Anna Geyer (@New_Possibiliti) May 19, 2015
We waited anxiously hoping that people would get involved (I had already had considerable interest from staff so in my sensible head I knew that people were coming but another part of me was worried in case for some reason they didn’t!).
I needn’t have worried – staff from across our departments, from our housing management team to our legal department, arrived ready and willing to take part.
The next hour flew by, filled with anecdotes and reflections from everyone involved. Ken spoke to us about his experience and was happy to answer our questions.
By the time of the second session, word had got around the building of how fantastic the first had been!
We duly dragged in extra chairs to accommodate our swelled numbers and began the second session.
Anna Geyer (@New_Possibiliti) May 19, 2015
As someone lucky enough to have taken part in both sessions it was really interesting to see the different thoughts and emotions which the sessions brought out for people.
No two discussions were the same but for me there was one overriding message which carried across the two: