As you may know, Dementia Awareness week will be coming soon - from the 15th-21st May, people will be doing their bit across the country to raise both funds and awareness for dementia. It is a personal priority for the Prime Minister, who has set targets for England to achieve by 2020, including being:
- the best country in the world for dementia care and support and for people with dementia, their carers and families to live; and
- the best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
In anticipation of Dementia Awareness week, this article explores the work of 14 Fast Streamers interested in raising the profile of dementia and what they have been doing over the last 7 months to help improve the situation for those living with dementia.
The Fund: Raising Money and Awareness for Dementia
My name is James Lua - I am a Digital and Technology Fast Streamer at BIS Digital Group. With over 850 000 people currently living with dementia in the UK, most of us will know somebody that is affected by dementia - either living with the condition themselves or caring for somebody that does.
It is an issue quite close to my heart, and when I first joined the Fast Stream last year, I heard Una O'Brien, the former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, giving an eye-opening speech about the impact of the growing aging population. Currently, there are around 11.4 million people in the UK aged 65 or over. This is expected to rise to 16 million by 2030, and by 2040, 1 in 4 of us are expected to be 65 or over. As many as 1 in 14 of those aged 65 or over will be living with dementia.
As of 2nd October 2015, a team of 13 Fast Streamers and I decided we would do something about it. Being part of the Fast Stream, we are able to take part in 'The Fund', a great opportunity that allows us to dedicate time not only to work on developing our corporate skills as part of a team, but also to fundraise for the charity of our choice. We saw this as the perfect chance to raise funds and awareness for dementia, a cause we all felt strongly about.
We sat down to devise creative ways to both raise funds and awareness on behalf of people affected by dementia. We decided we would donate all our proceeds to Alzheimer's Society and partner charity Alzheimer Scotland, which together fund dementia research as well as activities to help those affected by dementia. Running fortnightly meetings to help structure our activities, we have managed to organise a wide range of charitable events, including group bake sales across numerous departments (we estimate we have sold more than 250 pieces of confectionery!), 80 hours of volunteering, participating in half-marathons and also running a charity raffle. We recently hosted two large and successful quiz events at the Civil Service Club, with celebrity quizmasters such as Markus Berkmann, writer of hit BBC Three comedy show Monkey Dust and columnist for Dumb Britain in the Private Eye magazine, and David 'The Sinnerman' Sinha from epic ITV quiz show The Chase.
One of our largest projects involved the creation and publication of the ‘Whitehall Canteen’ charity cooking book, which includes 16 recipes from a wide host of Permanent Secretaries across the Civil Service as well as Secretaries and Shadow Secretaries of State - it even features a recipe from Sir Jeremy Heywood himself. It was really inspiring to see how forthcoming they all were - we never envisaged we'd have so many high profile stakeholder willing to take part, never mind send us a copy of their most treasured childhood favourite! We have sold many such publications in numerous departments across the civil service, with many a satisfied (and bemused) customer, all eager to know what their Perm Sec cooked when they got back from a late night in the office. To date, with this fantastic range of events, we have been able to raise £6411.70!
Raising enough funds to support dementia research and to support people living with dementia is a huge challenge. However, it is definitely not the only one. In order to enable people to truly live well with dementia, it is extremely important that as many people as possible in our society are aware both of what dementia is as well as what it means for the person and the people around them. There are also lots of small simple actions that people can commit to carrying out that will drastically improve the lives of those affected by dementia. One example is referring to people as 'living with' rather than 'suffering from' dementia, the implication of the latter being that it is not possible to live well with dementia. One of our major programmes looks at addressing such misconceptions through running short informational sessions, as well as providing insight into what it is like for someone affected by dementia - we will be sharing interviews we carried out with carers and leading researchers of dementia later this month during Dementia Awareness Week.
I really hope you will be willing to join us on this journey to lead the way and make the world a better place for all the friends and relatives we know affected by dementia - one easy yet effective way that you can get involved is by becoming a Dementia Friend. It simply requires attending a short, informational session that will give you the knowledge to help yourself and others better understand dementia. Dementia Friends is a social movement that aims to increase understanding of dementia and inspire people to take action to support people affected by dementia in their community. To find out more about dementia and what you can do to help improve the lives of people affected by dementia in the UK, please visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk.