We are in the middle of Dementia Awareness Week 2022, so we thought we would take this opportunity to explain a little about the work we do here at Kirrie Connections, and how it is now starting to develop all over Scotland. Kirrie Connections was the first "Meeting Centre" to open in Scotland. Meeting Centres were developed over 25 years ago in the Netherlands, but are now supporting people with dementia in many countries all over the world.
Meeting Centres provide evidence-based support which includes a safe place where both people with dementia (members) and family carers can adjust to living with dementia, take part in creative and stimulating activities and get effective advice and peer support. Those attending refer to ‘coming to the Club’ which reflects its friendly and relaxed atmosphere. All sessions are built around the interests of the people who attend who are fully involved in shaping what happens in and around the community hub.
The model was originally developed by the University of Amsterdam, and Kirrie Connections works very closely with academic partners at the University of Worcester’s Association of Dementia Studies. Through the University, we are a national demonstrator site within the framework of the UK Meeting Centre Support Programme.
Meeting Centres are ideally placed to help support people on their journey through diagnosis. As warm, welcoming hyper-local community spaces, they can engage with people pre-diagnosis and develop supporting relationships to help people adapt and cope with some of the changes that come with dementia.
There is good evidence both from Dutch research, and recent UK research, that people attending Meeting Centres experience better self-esteem, greater feelings of happiness and sense of belonging. Those who attend most regularly show fewer of the more distressing symptoms of dementia and a greater feeling of support. Family carers also experienced less sense of burden and feel better able to cope. People with dementia and carers reported high levels of satisfaction with the centre, seeing it as an important way of keeping active and feeling supported.
Kirrie Connections has been working with our local community since 2015 and supported all our members throughout the covid lockdown. During that time the families we work with repeatedly told us how vital the help they received from us was, and how important community-based support was at a time when other services were redeployed or furloughed.
With funding from the Life Changes Trust, the Scottish Government and Age Scotland's About Dementia project, Kirrie Connections is now supporting the development of local Meeting Centres across Scotland, with Meeting Centres open or opening soon in Stornoway, Montrose, Forfar, Arbroath, Dunblane, Musselburgh, Prestwick, Stirling, Falkirk and 7 centres across Fife. There are also groups and organisations in the Highland and Islands, Aberdeen (city and shire), Glasgow & Edinburgh that are seriously considering starting centres there.
Meeting Centres have a grass-roots, bottom-up approach. While they are all following the same basic model, each local Meeting Centre grows to fit the needs of its own community. A genuine person-centred approach means that each person is offered support that is tailored to their specific needs. Meeting Centres have an emphasis on regular review and development, with members continually involved in the planning process. This ensures that the Centre is always evolving to meet changing needs.
On the 6th December 2021 Kirrie Connections hosted a lived experience summit, where our members living with dementia were joined by dementia activists with lived experience from all over Scotland. The day was spent discussing how we embed lived experience in the development of Meeting Centres at both a local and a national level. A series of action points were created and will be developed over the next year, but the key point is ensuring people living with dementia and their unpaid carers are involved in the governance of Meeting Centres at every level.
A commitment to a rule of "a third; a third; a third" was made, with Meeting Centres being run by a third people living with dementia; a third family carers; and a third Meeting Centre staff. This commitment has been taken up at a UK national level, by the Meeting Centres UK consortium, at a Scottish national level by the Scottish Meeting Centre Network, and locally here at Kirrie Connections, where we have trustees on our board who are living with dementia and trustees who are caring for people with dementia.
If you are interested in finding out more about Meeting Centres, and seeing whether they are something that could work in your community, then please feel free to get in touch.