Tea cosy cafe binds a community

The 7th March 2020 saw the 100th Tea Cosy Memory Cafe, which was attended by a staggering 160 people from all over Rothwell and the extended local area and beyond! It was a great time for LS26 Local to find out more about the cafe and the people who help make it happen.

We were lucky enough to spend a couple of hours with Peter Smith and his wife Liz.

The first question has to be, how did it all begin?

‘In 2002 my dad fell poorly and needed some time in hospital, so mum came to live with us  while he was in hospital. During the time mum was with us we noticed a few problems and eventually she was diagnosed with dementia which had changed from Alzheimer’s to vascular. Sadly Dad died in 2002 and this coincided with a deterioration of mums health that lead to her going into a care home.

I contacted the Alzheimer’s society for advice and was in contact with them alot, learning about the disease and its affects. Mum died in 2004 and shortly afterwards I was offered a job with the society, so in 2005 I took early retirement and walked into a new occupation as a support worker.

I found this role, not only challenging but also fulfilling, it was a job where you wanted to learn more and more about the condition and help those affected. Aged 61 I studied for my NVQ in dementia.

It was around 2011 I realised that in Leeds there was various dementia friendly cafe’s setup but not one in Rothwell.

A packed cafe!

So how did you go about setting this up?

The hard bit was finding a suitable venue, these were hard to find but eventually the new priest in Rothwell at that time, Jeremy, spoke to us and suggested using the parish centre on a Saturday morning, which was the only available time.

It was not an ideal time as Saturday’s are a time for families to be together but nevertheless we went with it and hoped for the best! It was a slow start with just 8 people attending but after the first Christmas, word got out and steadily the cafe started to grow and more people joined us.
We now have around 120 people attending regularly, some of which have dementia, special needs or learning difficulties and of course carers, family and our volunteers.

Where did it go from there?

In 2012 Leeds City Council wanted Leeds to be a dementia friendly city and contacted me to go see them at the Civic Hall as they had chose Rothwell to be the first dementia friendly community on the back of the success of the Tea Cosy Cafe.

We had invitations printed which we hand delivered to local business and other community groups. The first two to offer support were the COOP Funeral Care and the West Yorkshire Police.

It was at this stage that we started to see some real progress, firstly the Coop funeral Care extended the invite to other coop branches. However, the Police inspector wanted her team to learn more about dementia. 

We had a meeting to learn what they needed to understand and in turn we understood what information we could pass onto them and this spread to other Leeds stations. We were then invited to Carr Gate to speak to other officers, which actually turned out to be a group of  approximately 200 officers, which was quite daunting! Again this escalated quickly, they asked to produce stickers for all Police vehicles to acknowledge the training and initiative, making the West Yorkshire Police force the only force in the United Kingdom to do this as part of their standard training. 

Suddenly more businesses got involved, although some of them wanted to know what it would cost to be involved, but what I said was, its not about money its about awareness and getting people to understand dementia and making those affected feel accepted in the community. 

How does this help?

The cafe and the dementia meetings we now have, see people attending that had once become isolated at home, but now feel confident enough to not only attend the groups there but to visit the same locations at other times on their own because they feel at ease with the location and the staff and other patrons.

In the early stages of dementia people can still get out and about but as the disease progresses they tend to stay close to home and become isolated.  So attending the regular meetings not only helps those affected but also gives the carers an outlet as it can be a lonely job.

People are now coming from all over to attend the meetings, places such as Featherstone, Guiseley etc, not just from Rothwell and local area.

Do you receive any funding?

Funding is generated from donations at the raffles we hold and from money left in wills. In our first year we received a donation from a lady who had passed away, which helped greatly as we buy all our own stuff from food to serviettes to
catering equipment.

This year the Stone Brigg Iluminations donated over £3000 to us, which has helped us to book days out for the members. We have already booked and almost filled four free day trips.We have a trip to Pickering via coach then onto Whitby by steam train. Then we have a trip to the  Lakes District, plus one to Llandudno and Bury Market. We will be taking approximately 50 people on each visit. 

What this highlights is that the community likes helping local causes and more will help when they see their donations being used locally in the community. 

A good example is the dementia friendly garden in Springhead Park, which out of interest is the only dementia friendly garden in the UK in a public park. I was once stopped by a lady in the street who gave me a donation as her husband likes to go down to the garden and see the avery.

It’s not about making headlines, its about what we do as volunteers. It’s all about making people aware of the cause and playing our part in the community to help others. We are just part of it, without those who volunteer and people at the cafes there wouldn’t have been a medal or the TV, Radio or Newspapers coverage. Rothwell is a great community and this has highlighted the fact.

Has the message spread further than just our own area?

We are now getting people from other parts of not just the UK, but the rest of the world asking how to start up their own memory cafes. The latest one was the Hummingbird Cafe in New Mexico who got in touch recently to see how to start one up! 

So regardless of where you live, it’s all about bringing the community together …

All groups rely on support from the community. The police, councillors and local MPs attend the cafes, this makes them more approachable. Someone with dementia may not remember a name, but they will a face.

Karen Bruce has given us lots of support and helped throughout, both when she was a councillor and continues to do so to the present day. Alec Shelbrooke, our MP, has also attended the cafes right from the very start and has continued to support us, setting up the ‘dementia friendly directory’ as he wants our constituency to be the first that is dementia friendly.

We also have students doing the Duke of Edinburgh awards at the cafe and we have some great volunteers. Sometimes we have too many, sometimes not enough, but people are always welcome to join us and see what its all about, and even if there isn’t a job they can do, they are very welcome to stay and just talk to the members.

People with dementia can live better with the right support, and when communities and businesses understand they can help vulnerable people better.

If you need any help or advice on Dementia or further information, please contact Peter Smith on 07845 935233 or emailpeter.smith011@btinternet.com

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