The Debenham Project

| Helen Sharp

Eight years ago a public meeting took place which changed the way people in Debenham and its surrounding villages were addressing the challenges of their ageing population. It resulted in a community owned and led project in which Debenham said “we must get on and do something”. The community has taken responsibility for the welfare and support of those who are family carers looking after someone with dementia, and of meeting the health and social needs of those that they care for.

We must get on and do something.

The inception and journey of the Debenham Project is a remarkable story and one that continues to evolve as the community changes. Local volunteers have developed a range of dementia support services second to none in the UK. The project has been recognised locally and nationally for innovation and leadership.

For this case study, I wanted to draw your attention to some of the guiding principles they have created to frame their work:

  • “Pay no attention” to national and other strategies – This is our contribution to supporting our friends and neighbours and we probably know better what will help.
  • “Get on and do something” – You will quickly know what is working and what is not. You won’t have wasted time trying to decide what might be best when you could already be delivering the support you set up the project for.
  • “Avoid, at all costs, bureaucracy, both ours and theirs” – Meetings and paperwork are no substitute for confidence and usually result in high overheads and delays.
  • “Tell us what you would like us to do” – There is a huge amount of goodwill. Almost everyone has been touched by the illness and many, many are willing to help, but follow the maxim that “it is better to have a lot of volunteers each doing a little than a few trying to do everything”.
  • “It is our project” – Ownership must rest with the community. Pride in the achievements of the project binds us together and encourages us to do more.

The Debenham Project now has well over 100 volunteers providing over 200 person sessions of support each month. Because this is almost entirely voluntary, the costs are very low.

The Dementia Friends and Dementia Friendly Communities initiatives have shown how much goodwill there is. Our challenge is how we convert all this awareness, understanding and goodwill into action. The tremendous goodwill of the people of Debenham and its surrounding villages has defined what it means to be dementia friendly. It is about much more than awareness and understanding. It is truly about actively caring.

Photo by Kristopher Roller

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