A GROUP of kind-hearted volunteers have turned part of a South Tyneside park into a dementia-friendly area.
The Friends of North and South Marine Parks in South Shields have teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Society to reach out to people with the debilitating condition.
Members of the group have undertaken hour-long awareness sessions with the charity’s staff to become Dementia Friends, and increase their understanding of the disease.
And they are putting their expertise to good use at North Marine Park, where petanque sessions aimed at people with dementia and their carers are held on a monthly basis from spring to autumn.
One of the Friends of North and South Parks, Jack McCaffery, from Whitburn, whose late wife Cathy had dementia, waxed lyrical about the venture.
He said: “My wife had dementia and so this project, which is brilliant, means a lot to me. You can see what pleasure people with dementia get from playing petanque.
“A lot of people with dementia don’t get out to do anything, and even carers can be unsure about taking them out and about, but they now know they can come here without any problems.
“When my wife died, I was pretty low and I was brought out of it by Liz Williams from the Alzheimer’s Society. We started a sensory garden and that got me into being one of the Friends, and now I do my bit to help them as well.”
South Shields-based Alzheimer’s Society dementia support worker Mrs Williams has been working closely with the group, and set up their Dementia Friends session.
She said: “They set up a special petanque session for people with dementia, and their carers, to come down and have a bit of fun.
“The sessions made them more aware of the impact that dementia can have on people, so they could support them even if their cognitive skills weren’t good and they were having difficulty with the bowling. It is an enjoyable group and a huge success.
“They have created a really warm, dementia-friendly atmosphere within their community garden, and hopefully other groups in South Tyneside, such as shops and leisure facilities, will take a leaf out of their book and become dementia-friendly.
“I became a Dementia Friends Champion and I run awareness sessions, but anyone can become a champion and deliver training, and I’m hoping more get involved.
“South Tyneside is second-best for dementia diagnosis. Let’s make the area the most dementia-friendly.”
For more about the initiative, visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk or call 427 5443.