For the last couple of years, Stroud Fair Shares has developed work among those living with dementia and their carers. The catalyst to this work was a series of Dementia Discussion Days, organised by Fair Shares starting in December 2013. From this grew the idea of the Gentle Park Walks which has involved collaboration between Fair Shares, The Museum in the Park and the Stroud Valleys Project. In 2014 Dementia Adventure trained sixteen volunteers (8 from Fair Shares) to become walk leaders, for a pilot project that has run in the Museum’s grounds.
Since the start, between 15-35 carers and people living with dementia have attended the fortnightly walks (with breaks in August and in the Winter). In 2015 over 121 different individuals attended the walks, many on a regular basis, they came from several care homes, a day service, several memory groups and carers groups, and were referred via Community Dementia Nurses (NHS), Village Agents, Social Workers, Alzheimer’s Society dementia advisers, and Museum staff. Others attended because they heard of the walks through informal networks.
For some people it has been their first excursion for many years outside of a residential home simply for a pleasurable activity. The walks have also been a source of support for carers who can often feel isolated and exhausted, so a friendly face and chat with someone who understands their situation can make an enormous difference. For the walk volunteers it has been a rewarding and hugely enjoyable experience with a deeper understanding about the lives that can often be hidden from mainstream view. Care home practices have also been challenged and updated due to the walks with improved communication between staff and family members and a realisation of the benefit of exercise and socialising.