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West Norfolk villagers to attend Fun & Forgetfulness sessions thanks to Freebridge Community Fund grant


Residents of some rural West Norfolk villages can get easier transport to dementia-friendly social sessions thanks to a grant from the Freebridge Community Fund.

Wells Community Hospital Trust is a charity based in the north Norfolk town and runs regular Fun & Forgetfulness sessions to support those living with dementia and cognitive impairment, as well as their carers and families.

They’re using the money from the fund to make sure that people living in areas like Burnham Market, Docking and Hunstanton are able to get to the sessions. They use local community transport to get visitors to the site on Mill Road but it does come at a cost.

Samantha Taylor is the general manager of the hospital: “We are in a coastal and exceptionally rural area, and with that comes all of the additional problems around transport links and isolated communities. We always offer free transport for these sessions so we are able to get people to us and stop transport becoming a barrier.

“We are a charity and receive no core funding from the NHS – we get our revenue through providing services, fundraising and grants. We always struggle to cover the cost of the transport and we often have to hold an additional fundraising event. By applying for the Freebridge grant it allows us to bring people who are in that west Norfolk area back to us for services and we are really really pleased we’ve been successful.”

The Fun & Forgetfulness sessions are weekly drop in events and include things like music for memory, reminiscence, activities, arts and crafts and exercise.

It’s not just those with dementia who take part, it’s also important to the teams running the sessions that those who support the patients are supported themselves. This will be particularly important for those who’ve not had respite options during the pandemic.

Samantha continues: “We offer our services for carers, friends and family as well, so they can either join in or they can step away for a period of time – and have a break. We have breakout rooms where they can have a cup of tea, or a walk in the gardens to just have that time away. Our staff are really supportive, they’re all trained so that we can ensure there’s a continuation of the care that happens for the person.”

Some of the sessions have already re-started and the others will hopefully return in October – with some obvious adaptations. The exercise based sessions have been done outside as the hospital has extensive gardens and they can sanitise the chairs between groups and so on. For the indoor events they will make sure there is social distancing, masks and sanitising.

Samantha tells us what the music-based sessions will now look like:“Instead of people singing in an enclosed space, which isn’t currently allowed, we’re doing music quizzes or recording and then playing music. ‘Music for Memory’ is very much about reminiscence – it’s all about triggering that point in someone’s memory so they remember where they were. Even if they’ve been non-verbal, there’s something about the music that triggers foot tapping and interaction between others.

“In the exercise sessions, it’s been proven that doing repeated exercise set to music can help with cognitive ability and retaining levels of cognition. This all encourages the dementia to stay at a stable level rather than go up and down.”

One of the other important aspects of these sessions is the impact they have on reducing isolation and loneliness in the area. It’s something that has hit many of us over the past few months and it’s hit the elderly and vulnerable even more so. The hospital has been keeping in touch via telephone and letter but given the digital poverty across parts of the area and for some of their visitors it’s been tough. 

Samantha says that seeing those who’ve returned for the exercise classes has been wonderful: “People are reconnecting again and the warmth that you feel when you see Mrs Smith chatting to Mrs Bloggs from down the road, who they haven’t connected with for months now, it is so impactful. The mood just raises. Seeing someone face to face rather than on a virtual platform or over the telephone has been incredible.

“This period has been hugely impactful for everybody and the challenges that we have to overcome are difficult. The issues that we’ve all been feeling are hugely exaggerated for someone that actually has cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimers type symptoms. There comes with it that confusion around ‘why can’t I touch’ and ‘why can’t I go out’.”

It’s not just the Fun & Forgetfulness sessions that have had to adapt, the charitable trust’s funding has been massively hit too. Like many other recipients of the Freebridge Fund grant they’ve had to look at alternative ways to raise money.

Samantha explains more: “Our income is down by 75% from March onwards and we generate around a third of our income through fundraising. One of our larger events, which we hold at Holkham, is our dog show and family fun day. We normally have around 3500 people through the doors and we generate revenue of around £15,000. That’s just one event and we aim to hold one event each month – although not always to that scale! So we’ve been substantially impacted by coronavirus not only through our normal revenue streams but also through fundraising.

“We are experimenting with things like our virtual bingo night and we’ve made a lot of changes with our fundraising – we are going to do an online auction for example. We have got some events still happening, later on in the year we’ve got some Christmas markets – all socially distanced of course which will impact on the revenue. It all depends on government guidelines but the future is different, very different.”

The funding from Freebridge’s Community Fund is part of a number of grants provided to West Norfolk charities and community groups by the housing association. Thirteen projects across the area have benefitted this year, with each being awarded amounts up to £1000. This year Freebridge raised the amount available to the fund to £10,000, double the £5000 that is normally offered, to mark the fact that they've been providing this money to groups for a decade.

We'll be taking a closer look at each of the grant recipients as part of #FreebridgeFundFriday each week.