An alternative vision of integrated dementia care

May 20, 2013 | Filed under

New Picture (68)It’s a sunny Friday morning. Here we are on Claremont Road, in Sale Town Centre in Trafford, Greater Manchester with a fistful of leaflets advertising free dementia awareness training to local businesses ahead of Dementia Awareness Week.

The ‘we’ consists of Alan Savage, the owner of a home care franchise called Home Instead Senior Care and myself. Alan and I have been working together as residents and volunteers for about nine months on a project called Sale Square Mile (@SaleSquareMile). The premise is to know ‘what’s on your doorstep’. We encourage local (particularly small) businesses, faith groups, charities and the public sector within one square mile covering our town centre to get to know each other and work together for mutual benefit and to support local people. As well as networking, we showcase organisations within the Square Mile so that we really get to know each other and build relationships and trust. Effectively our vision is that Sale would develop a range of ‘trusted brands’. Our aim is to make resident’s wishes come true by listening and being responsive.

Now I guess our town centre is like many others: we have some fantastic independent businesses, some friendly big businesses, some really active charities, schools and faith groups. We have great relationships with public sector partners and ward councilors. But we also have vacant shops, lots of charity shops, and our share of pawnbrokers and money-lenders. We have affluence and disadvantage cheek by jowl. Yet the ‘Sale Pound’ is often spent elsewhere. It’s fair to say that local business has suffered from proximity to the Trafford Centre.

Sale Square Mile members recently voted on a priority to work on together and we chose to make Sale a ‘dementia friendly town’. Whilst we work out from talking to local carers and people with dementia themselves what their priorities are, Reverend Barbara is starting a choir welcoming the vulnerable at St Paul’s and Home Instead is offering free dementia awareness training.

Claremont Road contains a row of small businesses– Alan knows some people, I know others but with most it is cold calling – offering fishmongers, hairdressers, dentists, physios and café owners free dementia training through Alan’s company, explaining about Sale Square Mile and our plans for making Sale more dementia friendly.

I was a bit unsure how this would go down – ‘Hello I’m a resident, would you and your staff like some free dementia training?’ I needn’t have worried, for it all came tumbling out. The fishmonger Darryl told us about how he watched anxiously as one of his more vulnerable customers made her way down the street, only to find, after she had turned the corner that she had fallen and injured herself quite badly. How terrible he felt, even though it was not his fault or his responsibility. The café owner Liam told us about his regular customer whose money spilled out of her purse – and then of course she couldn’t find it and accused all around her. After her cuppa she would forget where she lived and every week he phoned the same trusted taxi driver because he knew where she lived. “And then my conscience is clear’ he smiled – he had done his best. The dental nurse smiled knowingly as I recounted my efforts to get my dad, who had vascular dementia, into a dentist’s chair, only to find he refused all treatment for his rotting teeth. Lastly my hairdresser Martin – of course he would come to Alan’s training, delighted to meet him, yes we get confused customers, we do our best, we wish we could do more…

A pattern is emerging. Firstly, these small businesses have customers not clients and want to offer the very best service. Secondly, they clearly feel part of the community and feel responsibility towards it. Claremont Road is a microcosm of our community. They know some of their fellow business owners well, they know some customers very well, but they feel disconnected from what’s happening more broadly. And that’s where Alan and I come in. Alan is what I call a ‘serial connector’ – he makes it his business to know everyone and they know him. He connects people and promotes each to the other – like no-one I have ever met before. And he has huge ambition and vision for the place he calls home.  Sale is like a tin of bright paint left in the shed. All the fantastic colours are there but have separated out a bit. Alan and I are the paint stirrers, going from place to place, listening, connecting and building on the obvious assets that we already have.

Our vision is ambitious: we’d like to create a virtual day centre in our Square Mile, built out of our assets and founded on relationships and community values. De-professionalised, personal and caring. So people can shop, have coffee, have a haircut and a bit of sing-song just like everybody else whilst feeling safe and comfortable. The marginalised will be accepted. There will be a go-slow lane in Sainsbury’s and Tesco. If people get lost we will have a help point, and Sale police will have a register of the vulnerable and will know what to do. People with dementia and their carers will know that if they come to town that we have quality-marked businesses that have met certain customer-defined standards. It is a different commissioning mind set. Find and support the energy and assets in your own community. Heroic leadership is dead. Listen and support your community but don’t try to lead. If residents want a market help them lobby for a change in the by-law. Put your wallets away – all we need we already have. Just find your Alan.

Heather Henry

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