At the end of 2017 we invited social entrepreneurs to respond to a series of six briefs compiled by local communities looking for innovative product and service solutions, with the simple aim of improving the experience of later life for local people in Somerset, Torbay, Devon and Cornwall. 19 social entrepreneurs successfully responded and received funding and support to deliver lasting social impact in the region.

In the latest article in our series we caught up with Moments Cafe, which offers healthy food for the public whilst also being quiet and stimulating for people with dementia.

Kate Smith and Laura Walker had been running dementia services for elderly people in Plymouth and Cornwall for eight years when someone first said they should open a cafe.

Both women come from a family of nurses. As a child, Smith played in the garden of care homes while her mother looked after the elderly residents. She married a nurse. But when she qualified to become one herself, she was saddened to learn that not all nurses look after the elderly with the same care and respect as her mother did.

Together Smith and Walker set out to raise standards of care where they lived. But they never imagined that would involve running a cafe.

“I said, why would a nurse open a cafe!” Smith remembers. But the more she thought about it, the more it made sense.

The UnLtd-supported Moments Cafe opened in March 2017 as a retro-themed cafe offering healthy food right in the middle of Plymouth city centre. Rather than designing a dementia cafe, Smith and Walker created a place for the public that would also be quiet and stimulating for people with dementia.

Plus, Smith thought, what better way to dispel the stigma attached to dementia than to put their services on the high street for all to see. She says: “We wanted to put the stigma of dementia to bed by having somewhere in the middle of the town with dementia slapped all over it.”

The project initially benefited from social investment funding from Plymouth City Council which allowed the founders to do a feasibility study in a vacant charity shop. Smith set up a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdfunder two weeks before Christmas 2016, hoping to raise £8,000, and ended up doubling their target.

“We called it our Christmas wish for our community, and people got on board,” Smith says. “The builders would go out and find things like the servery, which someone donated, and upstairs carpet, which was donated by a care home carpeting company. We still have people bringing things in. It’s a real community.”

Above the cafe, Smith and her colleagues set up a community hub. Smith uses the hub as a base for Memory Matters South West, a community interest company she co-founded with Walker in 2010 to offer specialist services to dementia patients and their families. Memory Matters has since expanded to a team of 12 offering people with dementia personal support and activities in and around Plymouth and Cornwall.

Moments Cafe

The community hub.

The meeting rooms at the hub are available for hire by visiting services. Smith says the cafe and the hub complement one another: “The cafe works because it’s different – it’s not a Costa – and it generates an income for us which enables us to run the information centre upstairs.”

The cafe had not long been open when Smith and her colleagues applied to the Transform Ageing programme. She remembers: “We were scraping through our first few months and having project managed an intensive build programme, realisation had set in that the hard work hadn’t even started.”

A grant of £12,000 from Transform Ageing gave Smith the capacity she needed to look more creatively at expanding the service and to approach other funders for investment. But more than the money, Smith says the support and training available has changed her business. “I am a much more effective leader and person because of it,” she says. “I also have a very close working relationship with my award manager, who is always there at the end of the phone. She has supported me through challenging periods.”

Supporting innovative social entrepreneurs is key to Transform Ageing. The programme is funded by Big Lottery and run in partnership with Design Council, UnLtd, the South West Academic Health Science Network and the Centre for Ageing Better. It aims to revolutionise the approach to health, wellbeing and social care for people in later life.

Moments has become part of the daily routine for many Plymouth residents, including Derek Perry. At 60, Perry suffers from debilitating depression and panic attacks. Since the cafe opened, he comes almost every day for coffee and a couple of times a week for lunch.

Customers can choose to sit in different zones, themed around the decades, with everything from flooring to menus in each section created to be a starting point for conversation. The seventies zone is marked out by patterned wallpaper and a brown sofa, while in the electric eighties visitors can sit in a leather loveseat underneath a neon sign.

“I know I can go into that cafe at any time of day and I feel safe, because within minutes of getting there, the staff can tell if I’m on my downers and they sit me down for a chat and a latte,” Perry says. “It’s helped give me back my confidence.”

Smith wants the centre to be financially sustainable through the income from the cafe and room hire upstairs. She has recently received some funding to look at taking the model to other cities in the UK. Meanwhile the local NHS services have expressed their support for the venture because it has reduced pressure on emergency services.

“After the feasibility study, people were coming in and saying, ‘Without you I don’t know what I would have done, I would have been dropping my dad off at A&E.’” Smith says. “It makes me proud to give people time and support to deal with their problems.”

Transform Ageing is a pioneering programme taking a community and design led approach to improve people’s experience of ageing. It brings together people in later life, their friends, family and carers, social entrepreneurs and public sector leaders to define, develop and deliver new solutions that better support the needs and aspirations of our ageing communities.

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