Red noses and sporting memories at library

Red Nose Day came early to Northallerton library when Downton Abbey star Dame Penelope Wilton visited.

Red Nose Day came early to Northallerton library in North Yorkshire.

The television star was seeing how the library supports the Sporting Memories charitable foundation's work.

Sporting Memories supports people living with dementia, depression and loneliness by helping them to recall memories of watching or playing sport. The North Yorkshire County Council library hosts a weekly session, which is attended mainly by men with a diagnosis of dementia and their carers, usually their wives or partners.

Library staff and Sporting Memories volunteers present the sessions, which include using the charity's collection of sporting memorabilia to prompt reminiscences, followed by games, including table tennis, indoor bowls, new age kurling, darts and even walking football. The sessions, attended by between 20 and 30 people, take place in the reference library on Thursday mornings before the library opens to the public.

"The group at Northallerton library is one of our flagships," said Tony Jameson-Allen, co-founder and director of Sporting Memories. "It is open to anyone over 50 who wants support. The sporting activities show that even a diagnosis of dementia does not stop you doing new things."

The Northallerton group was set up with initial funding from NHS Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group. It has also been supported by Comic Relief, which is why BBC Look North took Comic Relief supporter Dame Penelope to see the group in action earlier in the year in preparation for Red Nose Day, which is on Friday, 24 March.

Tony said: "Sharing memories of sporting moments and tapping into a passion for sport helps people to connect with others and with their past, reawakening thoughts and feelings that otherwise remain hidden. When people see a group like this, where there is so much fun and camaraderie, new friendships being made, people enjoying sports, playing sports and being active, they understand what we are trying to do.

"Wives also get to see their husbands having fun and playing games again. They get to see the men they fell in love with."

North Yorkshire has an ageing population and more than 9,000 residents live with dementia. This is an important issue for the County Council, which, in partnership with NHS clinical commissioning groups, provides a dementia support service that aims to improve people's quality of life.

Laura Dinning, service development officer at Northallerton library, said: "We were very keen to be involved with Sporting Memories, because it fits perfectly with the library as a community hub, as well as tying in with the work we have done to make the library dementia friendly and the role libraries have in supporting health and wellbeing.

"It is a brilliant use of our space. We have an ideal community space and we are always open to ideas about how that space can be used for community-based activities."

Carer Beryl Larder, who attends Sporting Memories with her husband, told Look North: "When I came here I found that everyone else is in the same situation and I realised that it's all right to say that your husband has Alzheimer's. It's no different from saying they have heart disease or diabetes, it's just an illness. As carers, mainly wives, we can share thoughts about the challenges we meet."

Dame Penelope added: "It's a wonderful idea, because it's such a simple idea, to bring people together, husbands and wives and partners or children and their parents, to talk about something they are interested in, which is sport, which allows them to remember things they enjoyed."

Sporting Memories began in North Yorkshire in 2011, but now works across the UK. In North Yorkshire, its work includes partnerships with sporting organisations in Harrogate, Malton and Scarborough.

The charity welcomes more volunteers to help to run groups and to research and record sporting history. More information, and the Look North film, can be found at www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com

This story was published 22 March 2017