Oakwood Church Leeds

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Exploring becoming Dementia Friendly

Exploring becoming a Dementia Friendly Church

is one of our Mission Priorities, agreed in June 2017


In THE BROADCAST May 2018 Mary Slemeck wrote

A little while ago, making a pot of tea, I poured the boiling water from the kettle into the metal tea caddy full of tea bags instead of the teapot and then, in a panic, grasped the caddy and rushed to the sink with it, burning my hands! I was in pain, felt stupid and angry at myself for the waste. Had I been a person diagnosed with dementia it would have been perceived as part of my ‘condition’ and I might have been kept out of the kitchen for my own safety. Similarly if you saw me in church with porridge down my trousers or in my hair, you might rush to judgement perhaps and not see the unnoticed result of a sticky hug from my toddler grandson.

Once a person is diagnosed with dementia we view all the wonder and complexity that is that unique person, their knowledge, skills, experiences, through the very negative lens of the disease. This has devastating consequences for the wellbeing of that person.

People with dementia then become no more than the sum of their mental incapacities and in a society that values intellect highly and also needs us to be producers and consumers, the person is judged as having no further value to society; simply a burden to carers and a drain on scarce resources.

Yet as a Christian community where our God is love and compassion, we have a very different set of values to offer to the prevailing culture in our society, don’t we?

We can offer in our church community a sanctuary of hope and love by valuing the person still vitally there amidst the cruel disabling wrought by the dementia, by our seeking to understand, accept and to truly see them.

So much of the journey of dementia is about loss of abilities, yet it is the loss of relationships that is the most devastating; loss of the relationships with family, friends, possibly church community; the relationships that are the key to their wellbeing.

Our feelings of helplessness can make us uncomfortable, fearful of getting it wrong, so we might avoid  encounters, unsure how to communicate, further contributing to feelings of isolation and loneliness for them and their carers.

Feelings of fear, terror even, can be ever present in a person struggling to cope with living with dementia; if we can only see it, it can explain some of the person’s puzzling (to us) behaviour. The phrase; ‘Do not be afraid’ occurs 365 times in the Bible; fear is a feeling we are all familiar with. Once we understand that, we can make a huge difference.

We can offer to people with dementia our friendship, simple undemanding sitting- alongside, accompanying them, abiding (lovely word) with them. And in that we can find a bit of undefined hope that maybe we can share with them: a mustard seed that grows and gives shade from the ‘fierce heat of all our distress’.

As well as trying to transform the way we perceive people with dementia, we in Oakwood church are seeking creative ways to make them feel genuinely welcome on a practical level within the building and at all events and groups.

Communication is key; it can be challenging. Three practical tips (commandments) for communicating with people with dementia:

We are exploring the idea of having a Memory Café, perhaps within our current Monday Café, along the lines of the Teapot Café run by St Edmund’s. It will provide a welcoming and supportive meeting place for people with any memory problems. and their carers. Activities like singing, dancing and reminiscence have been proposed.

[See below]

Dementia Friends - Free Event Poster

On Saturday 30 June 2018 from 10.00 to 13.00

we held a Dementia Friends event at church to which all were invited. It was a key learning experience, informative and enjoyable, starting us along the path to becoming a Dementia Friendly Church

Among many other things, we learned just how challenging the making of a cup of tea can be!

Memory Café

First Thursday of each month at 13.30

We have been actively developing this idea [see above] meeting each month with a small group of people living with dementia and their carers

We decided that running a Memory Café within our busy Monday Café was not the best environment

If you are interested in joining us please call first on 0730 517 0979

How to become a recognised

dementia-friendly community

Alzheimer’s Society

Exploring becoming Dementia Friendly


Kathryn Fitzsimons


0113 225 6702



Living well with Dementia in Leeds


A short film by Leeds Involving People featuring June from Rothwell talking about her life with dementia, with illustrations of how groups in Leeds are working to become dementia friendly