Another Dementia Friendly Café Opens

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Building on the success of the pioneering dementia friendly café at the Gilaroo Nursing Home in Larne, health and social care staff and students at Northern Regional College have helped oversee the launch of another dementia friendly café, this time in Newtownabbey.

The Willow Tree dementia friendly café in Wood Green Residential Care Home has been spearheaded by Jacqui McAllister, Curriculum Area Manager for Health and Social Care at the College’s Newtownabbey campus. She explained the rationale behind the project:

“During a study visit to the Netherlands in 2019, one of my stand-out memories was how dementia had been ‘normalised’ through the creation of welcoming and safe places, such as cafés and other social spaces, to cater for people with dementia and their families.”

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Jacqui continued: “I realised that for dementia friendly cafés to work here, we would need to create greater awareness around dementia so, as a first step, the College introduced Awareness of Dementia training.”

Charlene Ferguson, Joanne Elliott, Wood Green Residential Care Home, Jacqui McAllister, NRC (centre)Charlene Ferguson, Joanne Elliott, Wood Green Residential Care Home, Jacqui McAllister, NRC (centre)
Charlene Ferguson, Joanne Elliott, Wood Green Residential Care Home, Jacqui McAllister, NRC (centre)

Adult Care students at the College who volunteer in the Willow Tree dementia café, as well as staff from the Woodgreen health care group completed Dementia Awareness training at the College. The course gives people an improved understanding of dementia; helps them recognise the signs and symptoms of the disease; and gives them with the basic skills needed to care for someone with dementia.

Jacqui said she is committed to providing a network of dementia friendly cafes across Northern Ireland:

"It is important that staff and volunteers working in the dementia friendly cafes are properly trained so that people living with dementia and their families can have confidence in the additional service provided we are providing.

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“Dementia cafés don’t just offer tea and biscuits; they offer practical and emotional support. They create a safe and secure environment for people with dementia and somewhere for their family members and carers to meet up with other people facing similar challenges. It can also be a chance to connect with health professionals.”

Jacqui added: “Caring for someone with dementia can be both emotionally and physically draining, particularly when the carer has no support and does not know where to go for help. Dementia cafés like The Willow Tree Café will help normalise dementia and in doing so, break that cycle of loneliness and stigma associated with it.”

Research carried out in the Netherlands found that as a result of the ‘normalisation’ of dementia, many people living with dementia were on less medication and there was growing evidence to suggest that their behaviour was not as challenging as it had been previously.

Wood Green Health Care Group Mark Donnelly said he was delighted to avail of the support and training delivered by Northern Regional College to help raise awareness of dementia.

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He said: “The feedback from our residents and staff has been very positive. Sometimes people just need a little extra support to go about their routine and The Willow Tree dementia café will provide a safe and comfortable space for them to meet and socialise with family and friends.”

The Department for the Economy has made upskilling and reskilling a priority in growing Northern Ireland’s economy to meet changing demands. Training provided by Northern Regional College for The Willow Tree dementia café project was fully funded under the DfE’s InnovateUs programme.

Eoin McGahon, Technical Specialist with the College who advised on the InnovateUs training, explained that the focus was to help the nursing home provide additional support to residents and their families.

“There is a growing need and focused interest in innovative thinking and cultural change. The Willow Tree dementia cafe has the potential to bring about social change in the community. By providing a safe place for people with dementia their friends and families to meet, it will help reduce social isolation.”

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In addition to the dementia awareness training for staff and volunteers, Northern Regional College also provided general business training for the set-up, promotion and management of The Willow Tree Café.

The Willow Tree Café in Wood Green Residential Home was officially opened by Andrea Begley, who sang ‘Will You Go Lassie Go’ to win The Voice in America. Andrea is a niece of Irish country singer Philomena Begley.