Sharon Forbes is the Service Manager for Adults with a Learning Disability & Older People at Catholic Care Leeds. 

All the groups and activities we run at Catholic Care Leeds are inclusive of all denominations and welcome people who live with dementia. People whose lives are touched by dementia attend the Harrogate luncheon club (with support from a family member and carer), two ladies attend the exercise class in Normanton with their husbands who then leave to do other things – one gentleman said he goes home to catch up on the housework and in his words,  “enjoy a cup of coffee on my own”. This respite time for carers is incredibly important.

We are aware that people with dementia can have difficulty with: remembering what they are doing, finding the right word for something, recollecting names and faces, understanding instructions, getting around in new and confusing environments.

With these things in mind, we welcome people when they arrive and wear badges that remind people who we are and will make it easy for people to know who can help them. Everyone is greeted warmly and with a smile, ensuring we make eye contact; we use a friendly tone of voice, speaking clearly and slowly so allowing people time to understand what is being said. We listen carefully to what people say and give plenty of encouragement, we have the room set out in a welcoming way, make it easy to get around and where possible we try to keep things the same because we are aware that change can be confusing. We also have somewhere people can sit that is quieter if they need a break, we support people in a non intrusive way, encouraging ability whilst it is still present, but ensuring that any support given is not overtly obvious.

We have experienced great acceptance from other groups members who have become, for want of a better word, quite ‘protective’ of the person.

All our activities are supported by the Domiciliary Care Team who are on hand to support either the person living with dementia or their carers. We also work closely with professional agencies who can offer additional advise and support where necessary.

Edward De Quay is a Development Worker for Caritas Westminster.

As a society, it is important that we are confident to respond to the needs of those with dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, “how others respond to the person, and how supportive or enabling the persons surroundings are … greatly affect how well someone can live with dementia.”

Dementia commonly affects people over the age of 65. Pope Francis has been uncompromising about the need to cherish the elderly in our society. He has stressed the need to care for and respect older people, saying that a society without this commitment has no future.  In 2012, Pope Benedict stated that “the quality of a society, of a civilisation, may also be judged by how it treats its elderly and by the place reserved for them in communal life. To give space to the elderly is to give space to life!”

Dementia can also affect younger people, with over 40,000 in the UK under 65 affected. Regardless of age, Catholic Social Teaching clearly states that we have a duty of care. “Every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God (Pope John Paul II).”

Building awareness and understanding are the first steps to an effective response. We would like to encourage you to engage in this Dementia Awareness Week, and to reflect on how your parish community can reach out to families and individuals facing the challenges of living with dementia. In your family and beyond, for those with dementia and for those who are engaged in their care, your support is precious.

Ben Bano is Director of a Community Interest Company – ‘Welcome Me as I Am’ – which is a member agency of CSAN and provides training and support for staff and volunteers in person centred approaches to dementia care 

CSAN’s campaign in Dementia Awareness week is right to focus on the importance of working conditions and training for those working with people whose lives are touched by dementia. It’s only through providing the best possible care and support that we can focus on two of the most important aspects to caring for the ‘whole person’ – promoting personhood and dignity.

The term ‘personhood’ has been developed to counter the stereotype of the person with dementia gradually losing their physical and mental functioning and their personality as dementia advances. The concept of personhood reinforces the image of the person with dementia as someone who is able to experience emotions, both positive and negative, as well as the ability to share these emotions to those who are able and willing to be present in what might be a bewildering and confusing situation. It is at the root of all the work with people whose lives are touched by dementia and is a core value for my own organisation – ‘Welcome Me as I Am’ – as well as for CSAN’s member agencies working in the field of dementia care.

The promotion of dignity and empowerment has a natural place in dementia care as well as a special place for CSAN’s member agencies whose work is underpinned by Catholic Social Teaching. This is because dignity and empowerment are linked inextricably linked with our view of a person with dementia as a person who can and should lead a full life in spite of their diminishments.

 The well known author and columnist Daniel O’Leary speaks movingly of the ‘power of presence’ in promoting dignity as dementia advances:

‘The role of your body in revealing presence is central; the graciousness of your eyes – windows out and windows in; the touch of your hands – extensions of your heart; your body – the dignity of composure; your body betrays the inner state of your soul; the dignity of your voice, a radiance from your physical presence, a reverence for the Presence of the other.  Then you release a healing Presence in the other.’ 

For those close to a person in the advancing stages of dementia, diminishments need to be put in the context of a person whose life story needs to be seen in the context of lifetime of achievement and fulfilment. As a person with dementia loses their sense of reality, visual and other memories are needed to remind them – and even more importantly, their loved ones, of the person that they have been and will continue to be. The promotion of spiritual needs, which is a focus for the CSAN member agencies working with dementia, becomes particularly important.

This is the challenge before us and it is why we need to support, train and nurture those involved in providing care and support in person centred care.  This work is an act of compassion, sensitivity and humanity.



You haven’t heard from me in this blog yet. I am visiting CSAN for two weeks with an EU project in order to get to know Caritas in UK. I work for Caritas in Germany, namely for the Caritas Association for the Diocese of Aachen – Aachen is in the very west of Germany close to the Belgium and Dutch boarder. We do political lobbying, communications and campaigns, networking and we offer services and advice for our member organisations… so pretty much the same as CSAN.

Caritas Germany is often referred to as the biggest employer (after the state). And indeed there are organisations in the Caritas network which run big services and residential, as for example nursing care homes for older people, hospitals, children’s residential homes, counselling services, supported housing for disabled people and so on. However, all the different member organisations are legally and economically independent.

During my time in London I had the chance to visit some members of CSAN to get an insight in their work, so for example the Cardinal Hume Centre in Westminster. They are doing amazing work by providing housing and support for young people. In Germany homelessness is an issue, too, in some German cities there is a high rent for flats and houses, but obviously nothing compared to London! It is a good thing that CSAN tackles the topic ahead of the general election in Many 2015!

A second visit brought me to the Catholic Children’s Society Westminster. The charity runs the St. Francis Family Centre, which offers services like nursing activities for children and families – surrounded by social housing and a view on the skyline of Canary Warf I knew from the sightseeing I did the days before I started work at CSAN – what a contrast! We spoke with Rosemary who told us about the challenges facing families in the area, and then it was time for a very noisy lunch with the school kids. As our visit fell on a Friday, fish and chips were on the menu – my favourite British meal!

I also spent a day in the Cornerstone Day Centre in Manchester, which provides help and support for homeless people and people experiencing hardship. We were shown around the Centre, met the receptionist, the cooks, the barber and many more volunteers and staff and I was impressed by how passionate they all were about their work. A dinner together with staff and guests was a valuable experience and in talking to some of the people I could feel how thankful they are for the warmth they experience there.

These moments make it clear for me again: no matter in which country you are – Caritas makes a difference.

Welcomed by David Singleton, the National Executive Director of Faith Action, Clare (our Communications and Media Officer) and I, slightly awestruck by the beautiful conference room in Church House, Westminster, began a day of asking and answering the question ‘Is faith too significant to ignore?’

Faith Action is a network of faith based and community organizations serving their communities by delivering services such as childcare, health and social care, housing and welfare to work. Faith action is an organization which supports, and is supported and run by, people of many different faiths – there were delegates at the conference from the Bangladeshi Women’s Association, Jewish Care, The Salvation Army and many others, including CSAN member organization Irish Chaplaincy.

One of the first to speak was the Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Shadow Minister of State Employment and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society. Stephen Timms argued that it is faith groups have the capacity and the resources to really make a difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged in the UK. However, Timms explained that there are many people who feel uncomfortable with faith groups as they expect evangelization and exclusivity, whereas in reality faith is one of the greatest motivators for social action, not evangelization, and therefore faith groups provide need where it is greatest. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society has developed a covenant for faith groups and local authorities to sign; the covenant is a joint commitment between faith communities and local authorities to a set of principles meaning that local authorities are confident in using faith groups as providers and advocates. The idea is that is covenant can be adopted by local authorities and faith based organization across the country so to unlock the potential of faith groups, aiming to remove some of the mistrust that exists and to promote open, practical working.

Laura Marks, founder and chair of Mitzvah Day gave an interesting talk explaining the significance of Mitzvah day, a Jewish festival devoted to giving a day in the service of others. However, Laura emphasized that it is not simply about the one day a year, but that the initiative is to do something in that day which can then continue throughout the year. Mitzvah day is a day to celebrate social action and to bring people, of all faiths, together in their fight against poverty and oppression.

In the afternoon, after a number of seminars including those on whether faith is good for mental health and how to take faith into the public square, the theme of the discussion turned to that between faith and politics. A particularly encouraging and dynamic talk came from Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, Jon Cruddas. Mr Cruddas’s speech focused on the sense of common good and a shared life and duty to others that is central to all faiths and, what he believes, should now become the centre ground for politics and all social action. The climax of his speech was the assertion that to be truly radical in the current climate is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing, painting the future for our national story a picture of shared humanity.

The day ended with a panel discussion – the panel was asked exactly why, for them, faith was too significant to ignore. The members of the panel described the power of faith to give personal, community and national resilience, the ability of faith organizations to identify and respond to need fastest, the motivation that faith gives people in their very core, the influence of faith beyond its own members and the truth that it is faith that people turn to in times of the most desperate need.

Through the day it was emphasized that faith groups have resources, they have volunteers and they have skills to tackle poverty and injustice. However, it is motivation and resilience that faith truly gives people to promote human dignity and create a world of shared humanity and a sense of common good that means it is, most definitely, far too significant to ignore.

Author: Amy Pether, Network Researcher

Network Researcher, Amy Pether, accompanied CSAN’s Chair of Trustees Bishop Drainey on a recent visit to CSAN members – read on to hear about their day and the great work of the charities they visited…

Wandering through the luxurious St James’s Park and Westminster area of London on Wednesday 8th October, overrun with professionals in suits, stylish offices and trendy coffee shops, I came to the Cardinal Hume Centre, a historic convent which is now a thirty-two bed hostel enabling people to gain the skills they need to overcome poverty and homelessness. Westminster council writes that services in Westminster met more than 1,500 new rough sleepers last year, meaning that amongst the wealth and success of this area of London is real need and absolute poverty.

I, a new addition to the CSAN team, was to accompany Bishop Terry Drainey as he spent a day visiting a few members of our network to mark the beginning of his time as the Chair of the CSAN Board of Trustees.

On arrival at the centre, after the obligatory tea and chat, Bishop Terry and I were given a full and enlightening description of the wonderful work that the centre embarks on. As well as being a hostel, the centre provides advice and support on many aspects of life, for example, income – we saw a job club in action in the centre’s computer rooms, where the focus we were told was on ‘quality of job applications, not quantity’, though this is made extremely difficult by harsh benefit sanctions. The centre also gives housing advice in order to prevent homelessness from happening in the first instance, and learning services for those for whom English is not their first language. Many of the people who the centre sees are immigrants and therefore advice on legal status is an important part of their work. The centre also emphasises the importance of the family and provides family support – an example of this is the nursery which was a very joyous and heart warming final visit of the tour.

The Bishop and I then headed to the underground, travelling to the depths of north London, to visit St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre, which seeks to enable people with learning disabilities to participate fully in society through the church and their community. The centre provides a whole host of activities and courses – from pottery classes to an internet cafe, from horticulture to a drum studio. Touring the centre, and joining staff and students for lunch, was an extremely uplifting experience; though busy and reasonably hectic, there was an ultimately relaxed and familiar appeal to the centre – everyone knew each other by name and the staff responded to individual students with touching compassion and understanding, even when having to be rather stern! It was explained to us that without the centre the only option for the people who attended would be to stay at home and watch the TV, becoming less able to interact, without ever realising their own gifts and talents, and therefore becoming increasingly frustrated and withdrawn. The centre, it seems, provides an extremely necessary service and, in their own words, gives ‘lifelong learning and celebrates the gifts of all people’.

As the day came to a close, Bishop Terry had his final meeting where he was told about the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service, while I returned to my desk both uplifted and encouraged by the wonderful work of the members of the CSAN network for the most vulnerable, marginalised and needy in our society.

A bright morning in Birmingham, plenty of expectation in the air ahead of key speeches on the economy, work, civil service reform, communities and local government.

Patrick and Helen attended The Centre for Social Justice fringe with John Glen MP, PPS to Eric Pickles and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis, on long-term investment in the housing market in order to support social mobility.

It was a busy morning for John Glen MP as he was in a lunchtime fringe held at the Birmingham Christian Centre on malnutrition and the impact of food poverty in the UK, where Clare represented CSAN. Alongside Mr Glen on the panel was chair Julia Manning, CEO of 2020health, Guy Mason of Morrisons, Adrian Curtis of The Trussell Trust and Patrick Butler, Social Policy Editor at The Guardian. During questions, CSAN stressed the importance of careful and considered language when talking about people receiving food aid and asked about the next steps from the APPG on hunger and food poverty following their summertime inquiry to which CSAN provided a response. Adrian Curtis thanked CSAN, for its “amazing work” saying that Caritas is an “amazing organisation”. Mr Glen then said that the APPG hopes to produce its response by the end of the calendar year.

The afternoon then saw the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Minister for Cabinet Office and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government take to the stage in the Symphony Hall. CSAN was particularly interested to hear Iain Duncan-Smith, who talked about the Government’s continued reforms to the welfare state which “will now mean it pays to work”. He declared that “no social justice can be about leaving people trapped in dependency”. Read CSAN’s response to the lowering of the benefit cap


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