by Leanne Gauchwin
When I started my degree back In March 2018, I started with an open mind. As a 33-year old mum of three children, I had no idea what path I would take at the end of my Nursing degree.
I admit my first few weeks at University felt daunting, I asked myself “Am I doing the right thing?” Soon enough I started to feel relaxed and the lecturers, who took our first few modules, made me feel so at ease.
One particular session was of a real interest to me. It was the dementia training session that Dean McShane, Mental Health Lecturer, presented. It was a real eye opener and as I listened and engaged with the presentation, all I could think about was my Nan, Florence, who lives with dementia – an 88-year-old widowed lady, who lives alone. Dean explained situations and I grew more and more concerned, not only for my Nan, but for the hundreds of people who live with dementia.
I have always been a very giving person. I will always take timeout to help others and that has always been my nature. So, when I saw an advertisement on a social media page, I knew exactly what I was going to do. Mark Hayes lives to help the community and placed an advertisement to form a community group within his pub The Gerard Arms in St Helens. I contacted Mark and agreed to meet. A few other volunteers also met up and we all discussed our ideas and I came up with our new group’s name ‘The Loving Arms Dementia Group’.
It was decided that we would open the doors every Friday morning to those who live with dementia and their carers. We initially opened our doors on Friday, August 10, 2018. That morning I will never forget. We had 30+ people walk through our doors. It was truly breath-taking and the reality really did hit home of how much this is needed in the community. From then on, we have grown from strength to strength and I have never looked back!
We now have a committee to help run the group smoothly, I was amazed when our volunteers voted for me to become Chairwoman. I was overwhelmed that people thought I was capable of this role. Currently we have between 90 -100 people visit every Friday and we still see fresh new faces every week. No-one ever pays a penny and that is how we want it to stay. Myself and the 18 other volunteers run our group solely from fundraising. We supply afternoon tea/ refreshments and entertainment including bingo and karaoke every week. It gives me a warm glow knowing how happy I am making them feel every Friday. We have even been on coach trips out, a few trips to The Hope Sensory Farm and one to Briars Hall for a three-course meal and an afternoon of cabaret. With the feedback we received from our group we have gone on to book a day trip to Blackpool. One particular gentleman, who lives with dementia, said to me “I am having the time of my life!”
I have gone on to complete my Dementia Champion training and have taken quite a few dementia friend sessions. All of our volunteers are all trained up as dementia friends and I have gone on to train the local coach and bus drivers in our area.
Over the past 12 months we have had visitors from The Star newspaper, Liverpool Echo, Wigan Observer and even BBC Radio Merseyside recommended people to come to visit. Lauren, the Dementia Nurse from Warrington Hospital also paid us a visit and she was ‘taken back’ and ‘amazed’ at the atmosphere we provide. Lauren was able to take twiddle muffs (designed for restless hands), and dolls back to the dementia ward as we have so many generous people in the community who donate week after week. We also had visits from the local Mayoress and MP, who have all gone on to express and congratulate ‘Loving Arms Dementia Group’ for how successful we have become.
Loving Arms Dementia group not only provides a safe and fun filled environment for those living with dementia and their carers every week, but also for all the volunteers who “Absolutely love what we do!”
To find out more visit https://www.facebook.com/lovingarmsthegerard/