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“Why not me?" - Pam's Memory Cafe Journey

We asked Pam Hall, who co-ordinates the Newark Memory Cafe, to share how she opened and runs a café that helps people with dementia or memory loss, and those caring for them, to socialise together.

Almost two years ago I was asked if I would consider setting up a Dementia Café as a way of our church, St Mary Magdalene, helping the local community here in Newark.

My initial reaction was “Why me? What did I know about running a café?”

I had reached a crossroads in my life. I was retired, bored and frustrated with no real purpose. I wasn’t ready for slippers by the fireside.

For the past 30 years I have worked in Health Care within Lincs and Notts CCs, the NHS and some private Community work. I have studied Dementia and have practical experience. My mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease a few years previously and now lives in a Care Home at Peterborough, so I have personal experience too. I know how to make a cup of tea. The idea began to grow on me, “Why not me?

I found a venue and gathered a group of volunteers together. We pooled ideas and planned how we would manage our sessions. We wanted to keep things simple. Our ‘guests’ and their carers would be invited to sit down and the volunteers would serve tea/coffee, biscuits and cake and would then sit with them to lead the conversation, allowing the carer to move to a different area if they wished to do so, to seek advice from experienced support or visiting advisory bodies such as the Alzheimer’s Society, NHS, Dementia Research from Notts University, NDC Support Services, etc or just to chat to other carers in similar circumstances to themselves.

We had gathered together a small CD player and collection of suitable discs for background music, colouring pencils and paper and a few tabletop games.

At our first session we had two guests, plus their carer, together with eight volunteers. Sadly, both these ‘guests’ have since died. The feedback from their families has been amazing. None of us realised how much our Tuesday afternoons would come to mean to everyone. We offered a safe and warm environment where people could be themselves, or at least the people that they have become, without fear of recrimination or embarrassment for inappropriate behaviour or language. The carers, usually a husband, wife or other family member, have all said how much they enjoy coming. For most of them it is their only opportunity to socialise in a relaxed atmosphere.


Another important issue that we cover is the opportunity to go to church. Three times a year we ask the vicar of St Mary Magdalene to officiate at Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival Services. We are a non-denominational group so I was a bit worried that a few people may object but my fears were unfounded and in fact the feedback has been very positive from everybody. The services and hymns invariably jog memories long forgotten and stimulate conversation. Everyone takes part except for a couple of volunteers who remain near the door to welcome latecomers (there are always a few). I am hoping that we will be able to fit in a few more services this year. I have made ourselves known to the Methodist and Roman Catholic churches who promote our café and hopefully will visit us over the following twelve months.

We discovered that some people like to play dominoes so we have a table set aside for this and a couple of the volunteers will lead the game and help our guests to play. This has proved to be very popular. The last thirty minutes of every session is spent having a group ‘sing song’. We have a selection of printed songs so that we can all join in and sing along to the music. We also help to develop craft activities for those who are interested.

We don’t charge a fee for attendance but quite a few people asked to pay for whatever refreshment they were given so I eventually came up with a Teapot donation point. Monies raised in this way go towards a visiting entertainer or buy activities specifically suitable for people with Dementia.

When I first started this venture, the volunteers offered to cover one or two afternoons a month (we meet on a weekly basis). However, since the very first session, all the volunteers attend every week, unless they are ill, have an appointment or are away on holiday, which speaks volumes for its success. We all benefit from the group.

I believe that I have been Spiritually guided to organise this venture. I am proud to be part of something that means so much to the community. It hasn’t all been easy. There will always be things to check and double check, like insurance, suitability of venue, volunteers, access etc. But, there is always someone ready to help with advice and ideas.

Written by Pam Hall, Newark Memory Cafe Coordinator for Transforming Notts Together.

Newark Memory Cafe meets Tuesday afternoons, 2pm – 4pm, at Bridge Community Centre on Lincoln Road, Newark, NG24 2DP.