Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Bluebells is back

Bluebells is back

A DAY centre for people with dementia from in and around Henley has officially re-opened.

Outgoing Mayor Glen Lambert cut a ribbon during a ceremony at Bluebells at the Christ Church Centre in Reading Road on Thursday last week, having raised money to revive the service during his year in office.

He was joined by trustees, staff, volunteers and nine guests who enjoyed tea, biscuits and a cake decorated with images of bluebells, which he cut and helped to serve.

The elderly visitors sat in the charity’s new leather armchairs, which are blue, violet and turquoise to remind them of bluebells, while chatting to their relatives, friends and carers.

Bluebells currently meets once a week and organises activities such as board and card games, musical bingo, karaoke and games that stimulate memory.

It hopes to add a second weekly session and might eventually go back up to four days, which was the number the service offered when it was run by Age UK Oxfordshire.

Bluebells had been run by the charity for about 20 years but was among six out of eight clubs earmarked for closure in 2017 following budget cuts by Oxfordshire County Council and eventually closed in April last year.

Councillor Lambert, whose late father Terry suffered from dementia before he died in March, aged 71, was determined to keep it going so raised funds through civic events.

He also put together a new board of trustees, including himself, David Skinner, of Henley Lions Club, which made a £1,500 donation towards furniture, Rev Glyn Millington, minister of Christ Church, Rob Lazzaro, treasurer of the neighbouring Christ Church Centre, accountant Hannah Leamy and lawyer Kim Wedderburn. The service is managed by Suri Poulos, a care worker from Remenham Hill, with help from carers Julia Yeo and Julia Hayes, who used to work for the old Bluebells, and a small number of volunteers.

Users who are more severely affected by dementia can be brought to the centre using the Henley HandyBus. The service can accommodate up to 12 people at a time.

Beryl Flynn, from Henley, who has just started attending regularly, said: “This room is lovely and it’s nice that we can all be together.

“I live near the centre of town and see a lot of people when I’m out shopping but this is a chance to get to know them better.”

Sherry Habasinski, who took a relative, Beryl Brooks, 86, for the first time last month, said: “She thoroughly enjoyed it as she loves meeting other people. It is really important for people with dementia to have that contact with the outside world.”

Cllr Lambert, who so far has secured donations, pledges and grants totalling about £40,000, said: “We’re fortunate that there’s quite a lot of cash in the bank to have it running nice and stably for the next year or two.

“Some of that money is contingent on us adding another weekly session but judging by the demand we’ve seen so far we don’t anticipate any problems expanding our provision. This single session is almost at capacity in its first month.

“We’re very lucky to have some experienced staff. The two Julias couldn’t wait to get it started and had a tremendous amount of knowledge about the practicalities of running it — what activities to organise, what materials to buy and so on. We had to start from scratch as Age UK took everything when it left.

“The campaign went better than I could ever have hoped. It has been the biggest and most difficult project of my mayoral year so it’s fitting that this should be my final engagement. I’m very proud to see it all up and running again.”

Mrs Poulous said: “My real mission is to combat loneliness because that is the biggest killer for elderly people. If they feel isolated or cut off then they will just give up so this is absolutely where my heart is.

“You only have to look at the amount of support and goodwill we’ve received to see how important Bluebells is. So many people have come to us saying they would like our help or they know someone who could benefit.”

Mr Skinner said: “I’m absolutely delighted and think the club’s revival is a tribute to Glen’s vision and leadership as well as the wonderful support of the community.

“We had always supported the old Bluebells and were disappointed when it wasn’t able to continue so when Glen mentioned it, the whole club was keen to get behind it.”

Ms Leamy, from Henley, said: “I had an aunt with dementia who came here 10 or 15 years ago and it really adds something to people’s lives, which can otherwise become quite restricted as social opportunities decrease.

“It’s a double-win for the guests because they get the personal interaction, which is vitally needed while their carers get a respite break.

“You’re helping two people or even a whole family because that person has something to talk about when they get home.”

Mrs Hayes, of Vicarage Road, Henley, who had worked for the old Bluebells for 14 years, said: “It’s absolutely brilliant that it has returned. I’m so pleased because there are so many families that need us so they can have a break while their relative is in a safe and welcoming place.

“I just love the job because I’m a real people person and it makes such a difference to know that people will come here to see some friendly faces and have a great day.”

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