Q: What is the Healthy Living Club at Lingham Court?
A: We like to call ourselves a dementia-centred community
Q: What do you mean by dementia-centred community?
A: It is a community of people with and without dementia who meet to spend time with each other, and enjoy themselves together, as equals. However, the majority of people have dementia, and we place their needs at the centre of all we do.
Q:So you do not need to have dementia to join the community?
A: Membership is open to people with dementia who live anywhere in Lambeth, their carers, and the residents of Lingham Court. Lingham Court is an extra-care residential unit, and we meet in the communal area of the home. The residents of Lingham Court are older adults with long term conditions, and disabilities (but not necessarily dementia). The other members who don’t have dementia are people who would be defined as volunteers in other contexts. Places are limited by the capacity of the venue, and new members are welcome whenever space becomes available.
Q:What do you mean when you say that some of your members are people who would be defined as volunteers in other contexts? A: The difference between our Club and other settings is, precisely, that we are a community rather than a service. Thus we do not think of our members as either the “users” or the “providers” of a service. So, whilst there are jobs that need doing during our meetings, everybody contributes to getting these jobs done to whatever extent they can. Whilst this means that those of us who don’t have dementia/other long term conditions will get more jobs done more quickly, it does not mean that they contribute any more effort than those who have. We are all equal, and we all participate in relationships of mutual exchange, with people with dementia doing what they do best: they contribute insight into their condition, information on the past, emotional congruence, and much warmth. In addition, they provide the rest of us with a pretext to meet.
Q: But you did say that you place the needs of people with dementia at the centre of all you do. So you operate with the intent of meeting their needs… of providing them with a service… A: Yes, the Club intends to meet the needs of people with dementia to participate in community life. But, no, we do not intend to provide people with dementia with a “service”. We understand that dementia does not, in itself, isolate people within their own homes. It is stigma and physical barriers that keep people at home. In fact, people with dementia can take care of their needs to socialise and interact with the wider community themselves, and very simply: by meeting with each other somewhere safe and where dementia is normalised. All the Club does is to provide them with that space and some support.
Q: So you provide a service in that you provide the venue?
A: The venue is the communal space of the residents of Lingham Court and, as it’s they who pay the rent, that’s part of their contribution. They provide the space, and in exchange they get the chance to participate in weekly activities and socialise: the Club’s meetings provide many of the residents with their only source of social contact all week and bring people in from outside the care home
Q: You say you are not service providers, but then you provide all these activities…
A: Activities are chosen by members and the services of third parties (eg. workshop leaders) are purchased. Members are not the passive users of a service designed by others, and this helps ensure that the services we decide to purchase meet their requirement. This has the added benefit of being cost efficient because demand precedes supply, and not vice-versa as it is the case with traditional services which often get funded and set up, but then struggle to attract “users”.
Q: So… if you don’t see yourselves as activity providers, what is it that you do?
A: What we do is to provide people with dementia and others with a sense of belonging to a community within which ownership is shared. Lack of sense of belonging is even a greater predictor of depression than social isolation. So ours is a community-building exercise, with activities also being used as a means to create community, rather than just being perceived as diversions or even meaningful or therapeutic occupations. As a result our output is greater than that of charities that provide just activities: our output is greater than the sum of its parts (i.e. it is greater than the benefits our members derive from participating in the activities).
Q: You say that “sense of ownership is shared” but, really, who is in charge? A: The members of our committee (our trustees) are members of the Club who were elected by the other members to represent their interests. Here is a chart of our organisation.