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A ground-breaking project in rural Devon is improving the lives of people with dementia and their loved ones. Project co-ordinator Maxine Kennedy explains

When Graham Bunt was diagnosed with dementia, he was shocked. ‘I couldn’t believe it, I’ve lead such an adventurous life, I couldn’t believe I’d been classified as such,’ he recalls. ‘I was rather frightened by the whole thing.’

But for Graham, and other residents of five small Devon villages, the dementia journey has been made easier thanks to a forward-thinking community project which proves that it’s not only towns and cities that can become dementia friendly.

The villages of Wembury, Brixton, Yealmpton, Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo and Holbeton came together back in 2011 and committed to improving life for people with dementia and their loved ones. Dementia Friendly Parishes Around Yealm (DFPY) enables residents to remain active and involved in community life by providing a wide range of stimulating activities and support, whilst also raising awareness of dementia amongst many local businesses.

‘We want people to be able to access things they’ve always done, and for life to continue being an adventure,’ says project co-ordinator Maxine Kennedy. ‘We can’t change the fact that a person has dementia, but we can change their experience of their community.’

With this in mind, DFPY offers a range of social groups, including reading, singing and walking groups, gentle exercise, arts and crafts, and even a £2.50 afternoon tea once a month, at a local country house hotel. ‘People really enjoy it, and respond in a very positive, creative way,’ says Maxine.

Most importantly however, these activities are open to all members of the community, not only those with dementia, which makes them truly inclusive. Graham likes the fact that the groups he’s involved with include a wide section of his community.We are less aware we are affected by being around people who don’t have dementia,’ he says.

The groups are certainly well attended, particularly the walking group. ‘We found that a lot of people loved walking but had stopped because their fear of getting lost was so great,’ explains Maxine. ‘So our walking group brings people together and allows them to carry on doing something they enjoy. It gives them their confidence back.’

The reading group was only launched six months ago but is already ‘full of fun and friendship,’ says Maxine. As for Graham, he really enjoys the singing group. ‘The strongest influence is a feeling that I’m not alone,’ he explains. ‘What’s happening here should be happening all over the country, that’s what I think.’

You can watch a short film about Dementia Friendly Parishes Around Yealm here

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