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University internship leads to more dementia friendly screenings at the Filmhouse

Date 20.06.2019

A personal drive to inform people about dementia led a local woman to become the first University intern helping an organisation become more dementia friendly.

Alison Stewart successfully applied for the post following the University’s Dementia Friendly Organisations Award launched last year.

Having won the inaugural award, Northampton Filmhouse was granted Alison’s services helping them develop how they and their staff better recognise and support the needs of customer with dementia and their guests.

The internship was co-funded by the University of Northampton’s Changemaker initiative and sponsor Santander Bank. Changemaker focuses on supporting University students, staff or members of the community find solutions to environmental or social problems.

Alison’s time with the Filmhouse involved her researching about dementia friendly provision and best practice in Northamptonshire, outlining projects that are working and why.

She concentrated on young-onset dementia but also investigated how using or not using certain words can positively impact how we treat people with dementia, what support exists for people with dementia and their carers and how people access it.

Alison also travelled extensively around Northamptonshire and visited organisations outside of the county – such as the Royal Albert Hall – to see their dementia friendly services.

Her findings led to a report about changes the Filmhouse could implement to build on what they had already achieved and further improve the experience of visitors who have dementia or those who care for them.

Northampton Filmhouse has been offering Dementia Friendly film screenings since May 2016. At these screenings technical changes are made to help people feel more comfortable in a cinema, such as keeping the lights on and turning the sound down slightly. Adverts are not featured and screenings have intervals to give people a chance to move about and to talk about the film.

Changes which Alison has helped to implement to further improve the offering include:

  • Staff have had further training to better recognise the needs of people with a diagnosis of dementia or those who accompany them to screenings
  • More of these staff members and volunteers are on-hand for dementia friendly screenings
  • Free tea or coffee and biscuits are offered to cinema-goers at these screenings
  • The movies screened fit a broader audience age-range (dementia can affect younger people, so the focus is not entirely on archive cinema) and user groups have been consulted about the best timings for the screenings.

Northampton Filmhouse currently schedules a dementia friendly screening every other Tuesday afternoon. Alison used the 13 screenings that took place during her tenure to meet and gather feedback from the people who took advantage of these screenings. The network and contacts that she built up from her wider research will also help the Filmhouse to reach out further and continue to grow its audience for these screenings which continue to take place on a fortnightly basis.

Of her time supporting the Royal & Derngate, Alison said: “The dementia rhetoric is changing from fear to hope and isolation to welcome. I’m very keen to share that message – my mother has dementia, so this is very personal to me.

“People living with dementia have a great deal to teach the rest of us about slowing down in a fast world, showing compassion, properly connecting and honing our communication skills.

“With that in mind, it would be wonderful to see people who don’t have a connection with dementia attend the screenings and enjoy the atmosphere as well.”

Jo Gordon, Chief Executive Officer of Royal & Derngate, added: “This has been a fruitful experience and we thank Alison for her thorough work that has helped us become more dementia friendly. It’s fair to say we’ll see the positive effects of this well into in the long-term.

“We hold dementia friendly film screenings regularly and at a recent one it was heart-warming that a woman who brought her mother to see a movie praised the measures we had taken. Creating moments like this that mean something to families is what we are all about at Royal & Derngate and why we bid for this award.

“Life doesn’t end because you have dementia but many businesses might not realise how relatively painless and inexpensive it is to become more dementia friendly and better support their customers. From our experience, we’d encourage them to start on this road and take part in the University’s dementia friendly businesses survey.”

Alison also spent time at the University’s UnityDEM centre in Northampton which provides support, guidance and activities for people with dementia and – crucially, at the same time – their family or carers.

Delivered by the Northampton Dementia Research Innovation Centre and the University’s occupational therapy team, Alison now works there as a Project Assistant.

Find out more about dementia friendly screenings at the Northampton Filmhouse.

Find out more about University of Northampton’s Dementia Research and Innovation Centre.