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Leanne with Margaret, who has visited the group since the start.

Leanne Gauchwin, from South Windle in St Helens was inspired to start The Loving Arms Dementia Group after taking part in a dementia training session as part of her course.

Leanne, who is studying for a degree in Adult Nursing at the Warrington Campus of the University of Chester, found an advert from Mark Hayes, the landlord of The Gerard Arms in St Helens, and contacted him to help those living with dementia to have a place to meet and socialise.

Leanne said: “A 33-year old mum of three children, I had no idea what path I would take at the end of my Nursing degree. The first few weeks at University felt daunting, but soon enough I started to feel relaxed and the lecturers who took our first few modules made me feel such at ease. The dementia training session led by Dean McShane took my interest. It was a real eye opener and as I listened and engaged with the presentation all I could think about was my Nan, Florence, who lives with dementia – an 88-year old widowed lady who lives alone. Dean explained situations and I grew more and more concerned, not only for my Nan but for the hundreds of people who live with dementia.”

Leanne met with Mark, who she describes as “living to help the community,” and with the help of other volunteers they developed the idea of The Loving Arms Dementia Group.

They decided that we would open the pub’s doors every Friday morning to those who live with dementia and their carers.

She added: “We initially opened our doors on Friday, August 10 and I will never forget that morning. We had over 30 people walk through our doors. It was truly breath-taking, and reality really did hit home of how much this is needed in the community. From then on, we have grown from strength-to-strength and I have never looked back.”

A committee was formed to help the group run smoothly with Leanne taking the role of Chairwoman. Around 100 people visit, with new faces every week. The group has been visited by the local Dementia Nurse, MP and Mayoress. Leanne said: “I was overwhelmed that people thought I was capable of the role of Chairwoman.

“No one ever pays a penny and that is how we want it to stay. Myself and the 18 other volunteers run our group solely from fundraising. We supply afternoon tea/refreshments and entertainment including bingo and karaoke. It gives me a warm glow knowing how happy I am making them feel every Friday. We have even been on coach trips to The Hope Sensory Farm and for a three-course meal and an afternoon of cabaret. With the feedback we received from our group we have gone on to book a day trip to Blackpool. One particular gentleman, who lives with dementia, said ‘I am having the time of my life!’

“I have gone on to complete my Dementia Champion training and have taken quite a few Dementia Friend sessions. All of our volunteers are trained as Dementia Friends and I have gone on to train the local coach and bus drivers in our area.

“The group, not only provides a safe and fun filled environment for those living with dementia and their carers every week but also for all the volunteers, who absolutely love what we do!”

Mark Hayes added: “I have been absolutely overwhelmed of how the local community have reacted to my idea of a Dementia Cafe, and Leanne absolutely epitomizes the concept, and is a key player within the volunteer team.

“The idea came from my own personal experience with my Gran. I was the sole driver within the family and so it was my job to try and entertain and there was literally nowhere to go where I felt safe with her. My vision was to open my pub early just for a Dementia Cafe so that they would feel confident within their environment, but also be welcome to stay later when open to the public. It would also be absolutely free, so as not to price anyone out.

“A year later and the cafe is thriving. We have an amazing team of volunteers and the locals have really helped to financially back it to ensure its longevity. I really couldn't be prouder.”

Dean McShane, Lecturer in Mental Health and Learning Disability Nursing, said: “We are currently doing some fantastic work with creating a Dementia Friendly University and Leanne is a perfect example of taking that passion for dementia care into the local community. Having been to visit the “Loving Arms” project I got to see the positive impact it was making on the lives of those who live with dementia and their carers.” 

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