Ground-breaking dementia support service celebrates ten years

This story was published 28 March 2022

A service that delivers innovative care and support for those affected by dementia in North Yorkshire is celebrating a decade of successful work in April.

Lady sat in house

Dementia Forward is commissioned by ourselves and North Yorkshire Clinical Commissioning Group to provide the care and services that help those directly affected by the disease as well as supporting their family carers.

Over the years, Dementia Forward has expanded the scope of its work to provide smart new options that have not been available elsewhere, putting the region’s services at the forefront of dementia support.

It was originally responsible for providing services across half the county’s communities, from a Harrogate base, but the Dementia Forward model and the quality of its work meant that this quickly expanded to cover the whole county.

Now Dementia Forward offers to help other organisations wanting to set up similar services elsewhere in the UK.

This month, Dementia Forward was given an early ‘gift’ – success in the prestigious King’s Fund awards, which recognised the quality, breadth and impact of the work, the organisation and its staff.

Dementia Forward emerged when several colleagues working for a national charity found themselves with a mutual desire to provide services sculpted more precisely to local need.

Their objectives met with approval and they were awarded a contract for part of the county, which was expanded to take in the whole of North Yorkshire in 2019, with the service operating from headquarters at Burton Leonard, Harrogate.

In addition to the contract funding Dementia Forward receives, it also generates its own income, allowing for a range of innovative services that would otherwise not be financially viable.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought challenges for the organisation, like many others, but the solutions they found to continuing support proved so successful some have continued as restrictions have been withdrawn.

Other innovations include the use of robotic cats, lifelike models that respond to affection, which are used successfully to provide comfort and companionship for those with dementia.

Services including wellbeing cafes, singing groups and assistance for carers are also part of Dementia Forward’s work.

“We have around 6,000 families on our books and we are determined no-one should go through this experience without support,” said Jill Quinn, one of the charity’s founders.

They have been successful in creating a young onset service to help with the specific needs of those diagnosed while younger than 65.

“For every penny commissioned for, we set our stall out to be 50/50, matching it ourselves, because that is where the innovation can come from,” she said.

Despite the success, there is no desire to expand geographically: “We don’t want to turn into the national charity we left,” said Jill.

“Our success is in our ‘local for local’ approach and rather than spread wider we are now adding more depth to our services – there is still a lot to do in North Yorkshire.”

However, they are delighted to share details of their model in the hope that it can benefit other areas of the country.

The workforce has now grown to 47 staff and more than 200 volunteers: “The volunteers are fabulous and we could not do it without them,” said Jill.

Volunteers support at cafes and groups as well as ‘hub clubs’, which offer meaningful activity for the person diagnosed while providing a day of respite for carers. There are currently six ‘hub clubs’ operating and the intention is to expand into more communities: “We want them in every nook and cranny of North Yorkshire,” said Jill.

Other innovations include Dementia Care coordinators in primary care and plans for a pilot project to support people with Parkinson’s dementia.

North Yorkshire’s Corporate Director of Health and Adult Services, Richard Webb, said: “Dementia Forward has made an enormous contribution to the services available in the county and what they have achieved in ten years is quite remarkable.

“They have every right to celebrate this anniversary, but we know they have more ideas and expect increasingly good services in the future.”