Research Project to Explore How Meeting Centres Can Keep Going

The University of Worcester has been given £350,000 by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to lead a new study, which aims to gather evidence from dementia Meeting Centres in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Powys. Meeting Centres are local social clubs for people whose lives have been touched by dementia – whether that’s living with it or supporting someone who is – which are run by community groups.

The research, led by Professor Dawn Brooker MBE at the University of Worcester’s Association for Dementia Studies, will ask what these community-based centres have done to keep going, in a climate where such grass-roots dementia support initiatives are often forced to fold after only a short period. By learning more about the particular challenges facing such community support groups, the research team hopes to develop better strategies to overcome them – and make recommendations to others across the UK.

The project is called Get Real with Meeting Centres, referring to the ‘Realist Evaluation’ approach the team will be using, which aims to uncover the real cause-and-effect factors at play. The team includes collaborators from the London School of Economics, University of Oxford, The 3 Nations Dementia Working Group, Dementia Matters in Powys and Worcestershire County Council. The two-year research project will also take into account the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19 restrictions, which have meant people have often not been able to meet physically (maintaining support and social connection in other ways via the Meeting Centre network) or have had to meet in reduced numbers under restricted conditions.

The three centres taking part in the study have successfully stayed open for more than two years so far, despite multiple challenges, and this project will help develop guidance and materials to help other Meeting Centres to also succeed.

Professor Dawn Brooker, project lead and director of the Association for Dementia Studies, said: “There are thousands of people across the country who feel overwhelmed and isolated in their own homes because of the impact of dementia. This number is set to grow year on year and the impact is felt not just by the person living with dementia but also their nearest and dearest. Meeting Centres have been proven to make a significant difference to the quality of life for people and their families. The lack of funding for integrated health and care mean that many communities are starting up Meeting Centres. Getting started is not easy but keeping going is the really hard part. This research will unpick what it takes to keep a Meeting Centre going. Our vision is that every family in the UK affected by dementia should have access to a local Meeting Centre. This research takes us a step closer to this goal.” 

Hannah Perrott, assistant director for communities with Worcestershire County Council, said: “It’s a real privilege to be part of this project. Worcestershire County Council has partnered with the University of Worcester to develop nine Meeting Centres across the County providing invaluable support to those living with or caring for people with dementia.   It’s our ambition for these centres to be sustainable long term and this research will provide crucial evidence on how we achieve this.”