I have been fortunate enough to support Together Dementia Support both through a six-month placement as part of my masters programme and also to continue as a volunteer for the Together at Home service after the completion of my placement.
I have been lucky enough to attend most of the groups, but for me, a real highlight was attending Simply Cycling, an inclusive bike hire and track, in Wythenshawe Park with the Wythenshawe group. When the TDS minibus pulled into the rainy car park, it is safe to say the members didn’t look overly enthused about the change of location. Despite this, every single member was able to get on a bike and do a few laps, either with a volunteer or on their own and even the most hesitant were able to do a few laps and seem much happier for it. Alongside dementia and aging, there are a lot of barriers that people living with dementia face when trying to access activities they previously enjoyed, whether that is the anxiety around unfamiliar settings or the inaccessibility of a lot of sports. However, this trip allowed everyone, regardless of their physical ability, an opportunity to feel really accomplished and enjoy the benefits of physical activity that can be dismissed for people with dementia. Some members had a wider smile every time they waved at the volunteers as they keenly went for another lap and one member had every member of staff smiling as we heard their joyous singing fade in and out as they circled the track. By the end of the trip as everyone enjoyed some very well-deserved tea and biscuits, every member, volunteer, and staff member seemed that bit brighter, smilier, and chattier than they did, something that isn’t always easy to achieve on a slightly rainy Tuesday afternoon.
I think the most valuable part of volunteering with TDS is the capacity that you as a volunteer have to open up the world to someone who feels it has been closed to them. There are undeniably many barriers people living with dementia face, however being able to support people to socialise, go on trips, partake in adjusted sports, and do activities that they used to enjoy is such a privilege and one that I hope encourages more people to volunteer. TDS places significant emphasis on empowering people to live well with dementia and I think when you hear the singing, see the smiles, and become part of the valued groups TDS provides, it is easy to see that people with dementia are so often denied the right to live well, despite being able to live such meaningful and positive lives.