In a year that seems in some ways to have lasted much longer, and in others seems to have flown by, we wanted to take a moment on this National Day of Reflection to look back on the last twelve months.

Our Services

Before the first lockdown was announced, we'd already made the reluctant decision to close our Day Centre and restrict visitors to our Respite and Residential service. These were by no means easy decisions to make; we love nothing more than welcoming our service users to the day service and seeing them take part in activities that bring a smile to their faces, and we enjoy greeting their loved ones after they've had a day of respite during which they've managed to get those necessary tasks done while knowing that their family member has been safe and cared for. The decision to restrict visitors to those who live with us was difficult, too; no one wants to be responsible for keeping families apart, but during these difficult times, we and their family members recognised that this was necessary to keep everyone safe.

It was around this time we made the decision to restrict the number of staff in our head office; sharing the building with our Respite and Residential unit meant that every staff member who used the same doors, same routes through the building, was a potential risk. A schedule of office cover was drawn up and working from home commenced.

Our Day Services were able to resume over summer, which was a source of great pride and accomplishment among our teams. Not only did we reopen the doors of our Newcastle Day Centre, we were able to launch our new Cramlington Day Support Services after months of delays, both covid and otherwise! We hit a low when the new centre flooded but were up and running again within a few months so count that as a double success!

Though our Day Services were able to remain open during the second lockdown, we took the decision before Christmas and the third lockdown was announced to close our doors again. With cases being on the rise and uncertainly over just how many could meet and mingle over the festive period, we didn't feel it was safe to continue to operate and put so many lives at unnecessary risk. We look forward to reopening Cramlington this month, and hope Newcastle will soon follow suit – fingers, toes and everything else crossed!

During the whole of the pandemic, our Home Support and Dementia Advice Centre services have continued as normal. We're pleased and proud to have been able to continue to support our service users living in their own homes, safely and securely. Though these are always much-needed services, they have become more so due to the lockdowns and the restrictions in place. Many of our service users are in the vulnerable category and were required to shield, even from their family members, which meant more than ever that sometimes our staff were the only person they got to see or talk to.

Pride and Sorrow

It's been an incredibly strange year; not being able to see our colleagues or service users, not being able to see our loved ones outside of work. It has been hard, there's no two ways about it. There have been losses and sacrifices on both the professional and personal front and working for a charity, and one that offers care services, during a worldwide pandemic has meant we've been hit on two fronts and it has been a real struggle at times.

We've lost members of our Dementia Matters family; though none of the residents we care for passed from covid-19, it doesn't make their losses any less felt. We miss them as we know their families miss them, and we hope we were able to make their passing as peaceful as possible. We lost a member of staff, also not due to covid-19, and this had a big impact on so many of us. She was, and continues to be, missed by all who knew and worked with her.

But we've adapted; we’ve had to. We've developed and grown and changed in ways that 12 months ago, we would never have been able to comprehend.

And we've had so much to be proud of, too.

Our Care & Support Workers are amazing; this isn't news to us, but they have shone for all to see over the last twelve months. Those who've continued to work during this time have gone above and beyond, risking their lives on the frontlines, making sure that their service users get the best, safest care and support. As one of our staff members said recently, it's all about the client. 'It's all about keeping them safe, making them comfortable. We've risked our lives for them and would do it again.'

We are so proud that we've had no fatalities due to covid-19. Our staff have been fantastic in working so hard to protect our service users and their colleagues; they've been a vital support to each other, too, which has been crucial in getting through the last twelve months.

We've successfully implemented two welfare contact schemes over the last year; one for our service users and their families, the other for our Care & Support Workers. Keeping the lines of communication open has been more important than ever in a time where feelings of isolation and loneliness have reached peak levels.

Looking Forward

What does 2021 and beyond look like for Dementia Matters?

There are three key words for us as we continue to navigate the new climate we find ourselves living and working in:

Reset – Recover – Refocus

Our service users and their families will remain at the heart of everything we do going forward, and at the centre of every decision. Our staff will continue to be the soul of Dementia Matters, our Care & Support Workers the backbone that makes what we do possible.

We'll continue to learn, and grow, and adapt. We will reach out to others in our sector and in our local areas, building on existing partnerships and nurturing new relationships so we can, together, continue to support those living with dementia and their families and be the loudest voice we can be for those too often unheard.