Angela Rippon launches Somerset’s own Dementia bid

Broadcaster and journalist Angela Rippon is happy to tell the good news – Somerset schoolchildren are helping to build a dementia-friendly generation.
Angela was in the county yesterday to launch Taunton Deane’s bid to become a dementia-friendly community.

Ms Rippon’s mother developed dementia 12 years ago, and the broadcaster is a driving force behind the Prime Minister’s challenge to encourage communities across Britain to become more aware and accepting of the condition. Ms Rippon admitted she had “no idea how to react to this woman who was gradually becoming a stranger rather than the mother I had known.”

Others presumed she would be embarrassed to talk about it but she said: “why? I wouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about someone with heart disease or cancer.

“Dementia is one of the greatest social and medical challenges of the 21st century, and one which requires a whole community response. One in three people will die with dementia, whether it has been diagnosed or not”, she added. Ms Rippon is patron of Somerset-based charity Reminiscence Learning’s ‘Archie’ project, which uses the story of a scarecrow mascot named Archie to help schoolchildren understand dementia, and get to know those who have the condition.

The project uses books, a dvd, a board game and song to explain the problems to youngsters. Schools also link with care homes and sheltered housing schemes to share activities such as games, gardening and story-telling.

Children from Wellesley Park School, Wellington, their teacher, Fiona Doidge, Lee Butt, a teacher from Manor Court School, Chard, and Gemma Jones, senior activity co-ordinator at Oak Lodge nursing home told of new friends made. Mrs Doidge’s own mother was beginning to show symptoms of dementia when the project was launching at Wellesley Park. “I think we have been on a journey together. It has been very emotional,” she said.

The school’s choir sang the catchy Archie song with its message that people with dementia must not be allowed to become lonely and “invisible” and with friendship and understanding can have lives full of colour. Mr Butt said the Manor Court said pupils “absolutely dote” on the residents they meet.

Reminiscence Learning was founded by Fiona Mahoney, an occupational therapist whose mother showed signs of dementia in her 60s, and died at the age of 71. Taunton Deane Borough Council is working closely with Reminiscence Learning, The Rotary Club of Taunton Vale, Somerset County Council and other partners to make the area dementia friendly. Eight schools in Taunton Deane will take part in the Archie Project.

Ms Rippon said: “I believe creating a dementia friendly generation of young people, who will grow up recognising and understanding dementia, is the key to ensuring that people with dementia and their carers can live well with the condition. The Archie project plays a key role in getting that message across and does a brilliant job in connecting with young people”.