Memory Café at Home gathers pace to combat loneliness
The Memory Café that has run from a Brent church for five years, has sought to help relieve the loneliness of suburban life for many older people, easing the symptoms of poor memory that results from social separation. But they had to dramatically change their practices when Covid-19 came along.
In 2015, the Diocese were able to create a short film highlighting this amazing project at St Cuthbert’s North Wembley. The café organiser, the Revd Steve Morris showed us how it really did make an impact by relieving the solitude of many. In-person they had about 100 elderly guests and their carers each week, who came to do quizzes, seated exercise and group singing. The parish team organising this said they were always proud to be a hub of the community and place of respite, excitement and friendship.
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown struck, it forced millions of people to experience how distressing seclusion can be. With the effects of not being able to see family, illness, and the compounding poor mental health, a person’s memory can deteriorate at a faster rate. For many older people who have suffered from loneliness, the lockdown compounded their isolation, especially if they were shielding alone.
In response, earlier this year the Memory Café quickly moved to social distancing interactions, while keeping the café spirit going. All content is now available by phone or internet (with free technical support offered to get online). Each week they run a quiz, and every two weeks they send out an entertainment pack, with poems, cartoons, stories, and quizzes.
Additionally, Steve’s daughter Emily creates a radio show on a CD, so those without internet can access something that feels like a ‘live’ programme. Every week they have about 60 guests attend. Emily, who graduated from drama school this year, got acting friends to create original content to give them an outlet for their creativity and help the café.
Commenting on the project, Steve Morris said:
“I really love that it is intergenerational. Emily prompted me that ‘we have to do something’, and I was despairing about what we could do, but a lot of Emily’s friends in their 20s have been producing material for the older people. Young and old are getting through this together.”
“But lockdown has been terrible. People who are caring for others with dementia say that their condition has got worse, and I can see it. They are not engaging with the online quiz as they did previously. Lockdown has been disastrous for the whole community.”
Adding to her father’s comments, Emily stated:
“Loneliness and being bored don’t go well together, and when you can’t see other people it is worse. But many I speak to on the phone say they are grateful that this is happening. Our guests say the packs fill in the days, and many share with neighbours down the phone, and do them again together, or simply pass them on. Age UK sends us suggestions and there is a website goldencarers.com that creates meaningful activities for seniors.”
“A key aspect of our service is that we want to make it as personalised as possible. We didn’t want to give people things that they didn’t want or need! We’ve also been very lucky. Through word of mouth, someone got in contact who ran an orchestra and has sent us all their recordings that we can use free of charge. Another person has sent us a lot of art that we use in our information packs.”
All this has been possible with some additional funding from the London Community Response and the National Lottery.
Steve noted the most popular activity is the online quiz.
“It’s hilarious with 30 people who don’t know anything about technology all talking at once, saying things you should not say out loud. The hello at the beginning goes on as long as the quiz!”
Commenting on how it has strengthened his faith, Steve said:
“If you pray ‘Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven’, my part is the ‘On Earth’. Whatever I can do to make sure people are less lonely – that there is a community of joy and hope around them – is all I’m trying to do. That’s God’s work, whoever does it, and I’ll be doing it for the rest of my time.”
The Memory Café team at St Cuthbert’s Church are keen to help other churches, with two other local parishes already taking part in the weekly quiz. If you want to find out more information, please email the team at Memory Café at Home or see their website.