Creating a Dementia Friendly City – Gina’s Story

As part of my Health and Social Care degree I signed up for the Dementia Care module and through my research discovered the Government Dementia Strategy which included Dementia Friends.

What interested me was the opportunity to take the FREE training as a Volunteer Dementia Champion and the potential to share this in the community. At that point I had no fixed idea how I would use this but felt even if I could share the information with family and friends that would be useful. It’s important for me to share too that I held a morbid fear of public speaking which I have always been determined to conquer and felt this role may help work towards overcoming this deep held fear.

Fast forward 6 months and 20 Dementia Friends Sessions later in the community I began to discover a pattern occurring. My delivered sessions in Exeter included GP surgeries for staff, libraries, public sessions in Costa Coffee in Marsh Barton and Sainsburys. Attendees varied and included some who had a family member living with dementia, some who felt their loved one had dementia but at the time had not received a diagnosis and others were generally interested.

Above all the response was the same which illustrated the need to learn more about how to navigate the system and how were local services working together. This sent me on a mission of research deciding to spend my weekends and evenings exploring the area. I met The Lord Mayor, professionals in the Health and Social Care sector including Healthwatch, Devon County Council, Exeter City Council, Devon Partnership Trust, Central Library, RAMM museum and Ben Bradshaw our local MP and many more. In addition I discovered the Dementia Action Alliance website.

When I read their website I felt inspired to explore more so I looked at our South West Region to discover what local alliances existed in the area. I saw Plymouth had been running for a couple of years, Tavistock, Crediton, Falmouth but nothing for Exeter.

I made contact with the National Dementia Action Alliance assuming that Exeter was working on a local alliance but just hadn’t made it to the site yet but no this wasn’t the case. At this point I was asked “you could set it up”! I didn’t think for a second what it would involve but I began to consider this proposition.

I organised a Call to action in November 2014 inviting the Chairs of Tavistock and Falmouth to talk and illustrate their journey and expressed my vision of creating a local dementia action alliance with a view to working towards becoming a Dementia Friendly Exeter. This was received positively and I felt both supported and inspired.

I continued with my Dementia Friends sessions and to date have run over 70 equating to 1000 dementia friends in the city. What I have discovered is through delivery of the sessions, businesses and organisations have felt encouraged to learn more, make commitments and take action to support my vision for Exeter resulting in a collaborative venture. We all know Dementia requires a community response and this is beginning to take shape.

It’s now March 2016 and The Exeter Dementia Action alliance has launched.

We have committed support from 40 organisational members (with others in the pipeline) from across the city who have written 3 point action plans that illustrate their aspiration and commitment to change including; Schools, the College, Exeter University, RD&E Hospital, libraries, lawyers, care homes and retailers. I have also created a simple GP Model for GP Practices across the city which has gained county interest.

I have a website and host a local radio show airs every quarter called ‘Living better with dementia’ which includes 3 guests on each show sharing their work and resources; and we have county Media support and out of county interest.

Above all we are trailblazing in Exeter – in a little over a year what was an idea and vision has become a reality. It just shows that determination, persistence and drive can achieve tremendous results. If anyone had told me 18 months ago I would have paved the way for this initiative I simply wouldn’t have believed them.

This is my story and I would like to thank everyone who has supported my vision and contributed. For everyone else I hope it inspires you.

Gina Awad – Exeter Dementia Action Alliance

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