'It has been an absolute life saver for me. When I was diagnosed I felt depressed and distraught. I didn’t want to know at first but was persuaded to join. It has been the best thing I have done. I look forward to every meeting, it is a time to discuss with people in a similar position in a safe environment, things which they understand and about which they will have some useful comment based on their own experience. We generally have a good laugh and get some real work done too, we have achieved some amazing things together.'
Phil, the group's chairperson and Liam, the group's facilitator, talk about why the group decided to work with the Post Office to increase their understanding of dementia.
What do you think of the group?
Liam: 'Our group has become the highlight of our lives. We meet every second week as a peer support group and set about changing the world for the better for people living with dementia and for their carers. We initially looked to make a difference locally. The group has had two Chairpersons in the last two years, each with their own ideas and items for an agenda.'
'We have supported changed referral processes into hospital, re-drafted many NHS forms to be more dementia friendly. We carried out Dementia Friendly walkthroughs in GP Surgeries and Church premises and have produced a Bulletin which gives a ready reckoner to some of the key information needed by people with a diagnosis and their carers.'
'Most importantly, we have a lot of fun. We tease each other, comfort each other, listen to each other and above all, remind ourselves life is for living.'
Bridget McEvilly says of the Leadership Group: 'It has been an absolute life saver for me. When I was diagnosed I felt depressed and distraught. I didn’t want to know at first but was persuaded to join. It has been the best thing I have done. I look forward to every meeting, it is a time to discuss with people in a similar position in a safe environment, things which they understand and about which they will have some useful comment based on their own experience. We generally have a good laugh and get some real work done too, we have achieved some amazing things together.'
What made you want to start dementia awareness sessions in Post Offices?
Phil: 'I felt increasingly distressed as I tried to remember the contents, but could not,' and it resulted in him having to leave the shop with the parcel un-posted. The group decided that a more dementia aware response in retail premises would be helpful so they asked Liam to approach WHSmith and Post Office Counters and their response was fantastic. Very quickly they launched an initiative across not just our area, but across the whole country and now 103 Post offices in WH Smith branches are taking part in dementia awareness sessions.'
Ceri James, Business Development Manager, Post Office said: 'A weekly visit to the Post Office to conduct a simple transaction can become a major obstacle to customers with dementia, which before may have been an easy and straightforward task. Having a positive approach with simple interventions and understanding can have a major impact benefiting the confidence and independence of people living with dementia in our local community."
What has been most challenging?
Phil: 'I understand the process that the staff had to stick to, but it would have helped if perhaps they could have dealt with it in a more understanding way. Maybe they could have opened up a second counter to deal with other queuing customers or even offered to phone my wife to ask what the parcel contained. A little understanding goes a long way.'
What has been the highlight?
Liam: 'It’s fantastic to see that staff from these two organisations have taken on board the feedback about the problems that some people with dementia may face when trying to use the Post Office Counters service. I really hope that this helps to improve the lives of people living with dementia in other areas.'
What would you suggest to other people who want to work with local businesses to make them more dementia friendly?
Liam: 'I am sure in this changing environment of ours, all it takes is a diplomatic approach and our experience is positive. Businesses, communities of interest such as Bowling Clubs and other organisations are keen to become involved. Very recently all 95 employees in a local Solicitors firm became Dementia Friends. Many of the local Care Homes are doing the same. We have many trained Dementia Friends Champions in the area willing to help out, including most of my team who give up their own time to deliver sessions. For all of us, the main message is ‘There is life after a diagnosis, live well with dementia’.