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Queen’s Award winner in Wymondham – centre of the universe

According to Dianne Fernee, organiser of the Wymondham Dementia Support Group, the South Norfolk town is the centre of the universe as far as dementia support is concerned.

The group, which centres on a weekly Pabulum café based at Fairland Church Centre in Fairland Hill, has certainly been a Norfolk success story. And, in recognition of that, the group has just received The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service 2017, for its work in promoting the wellbeing and quality of life for people with disabilities in Norfolk – with Dianne Fernee and Trevor Brown receiving the award at Buckingham Palace on behalf of the group.

From 8 to 84

Dianne takes up the story behind it all: ‘The support group started eight years ago by four very enlightened people. They started with four couples and, would you believe it, they now have 84. It shows there’s a need for a dementia café.’ It’s called Pabulum – a Latin word meaning nourishment for the mind – as Dianne makes the point: ‘Eight years nobody talked about dementia – if we’d have put a dementia café sign outside people wouldn’t have come along.’ She adds: ‘The stigma is still there but it’s not as great as it used to be.’

Pabulum Café – the beating heart

Pabulum aims to be a fun and friendly place for people living with dementia. Plus friends, carers and family are always welcome.  As Dianne points out: ‘Pabulum is for the carers. They are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days of the year. Our job is to make them feel they are special. Because if they have to look after someone 24 hours a day they are special.’

Safe space for carers

Suffice to say, there’s a Carers’ Group, confidential group for carers to meet and discuss their concerns with each other during the Friday Cafés. Dianne comments: ‘If you want to say ‘I could’ve killed him last week’ you can say that.’ Friendships have been forged between the carers, with Dianne saying: ‘We recently lost two of our members. But the lovely thing is that the two women are now really close friends and are going on holiday together. For me Pabulum is for the carers more than anything else.’

A life saver

So would do the carers think of the group? For Pat Kilroy, Pabulum is a life saver. And the carers’ meeting on a Friday is a real boost as she gets the opportunity to talk to other carers and share experiences with those who really understand.  It’s also changed the life of Jean Eaglen, as it’s enabled her to make new friends and have a social life. Plus the pleasure her husband get from the tea dances and the singing bring some very special memories for her.

Finally, for Margaret Heal, Pabulum has enabled her to keep her sanity. She says the advice and support she gets every week have made the difference between coping and not coping. And she admits that at first she wasn’t sure about joining the group but now she is one of its greatest fans.

Just a normal day in the life of the Pabulum cafe

Dianne explains what happens at the cafe: ‘When they arrive the first thing they want is coffee and cake (the cake is wonderful). We have about 14 tables of six and people tend to stay in their friendship groups. And one or two volunteers will help two couples (who might come together). At about 11 o’clock we usually divide people into those who want to go into carers’ group meeting and those who want to go into the activities.’

And there are plenty of activities. For example, the Pabulum Dementia Friendly Garden was created on land adjoining Fairland United Reform Church a couple of years ago.  There’s arts and crafts activities on offer, with Dianne saying: ‘If you look at some of the paintings of people at Pabulum – they are amazing. Just because someone has got dementia doesn’t mean they haven’t got any skills – and this is an opportunity to shine their light. Last year our Christmas card designed by a gentleman who comes to Pabulum.’

Variety as the spice of life

There’s a poetry and literature group, with Dianne recalling how three widowers recently gave a poetry reading which was incredibly moving as it was as if they had brought their loved ones back to life through their words.  And there’s the Pabulum Sports and Leisure Club, open on the 2nd, 4th and 5th (if applicable) Friday of each month, offering a wide variety of active and seated games. The Pabulum Picture Palace shows a full length feature films in the dementia friendly cinema each month – My Fair Lady, for example, was shown recently. Plus, computer studies and memory mornings are also on offer.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the Singing Café, as Dianne explains: ‘Once a month we sing – everybody loves to sing so that’s a very popular Friday activity.’  And a relatively new event is the Monday-Monday Club. ‘It’s a much quieter affair on a Monday when we ask newer couples to come,’ says Dianne. ‘The thing with Wymondham we keep wanting to expand and to provide more and more services.’

Its about Love

Dianne concludes: ‘It’s not a café as such – although there’s quantities of tea and cake like I’ve never seen. Cake is a big ingredient to why Pabulum succeeds.’ But she adds: ‘If I didn’t have 60 volunteers we wouldn’t do all these activities.’  Plans for the future include monthly afternoon tea dances, gentle yoga, and University of the Third Age style short courses for carers or people living with dementia.  What’s the magic ingredient is that makes the Wymondham Pabulum café so special? ‘I think it is love,’ says Dianne. ‘We are one big family. I think that’s why we succeed. If I could bottle what makes a good café, I would.’

And she says of The Queen’s Award: ‘It’s just lovely for the whole group that we’ve got this recognition – it’s wonderful.’

Pabulum Café – Dianne’s blueprint for success:

One – I think it’s the building – the building needs to be light and airy’

‘Two – When you come to Pabulum everybody smiles’

‘Three – We don’t talk about dementia – it’s a café where you come to enjoy yourself’

What’s on offer at Wymondham Dementia Support Group:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Computer advice
  • Games and puzzles
  • Poetry and literature group
  • Singing café
  • Sporting activities
  • The carers group
  • The happiness garden
  • The Pabulum Picture Palace
  • The reminiscence and memory table
  • The weekly Pabulum Café meets at the Fairland Church Centre in Wymondham from 10am to 1pm on the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th (if applicable) Friday of each month – and on the 3rd Friday it’s the turn of the ‘The Singing Café’. ‘The Monday-Monday Club’ opens every Monday between 10am and 12noon.
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