The more responsibility we give our students, the more they exceed our expectations

When we first began our student outreach with the elderly locally, we did not know what to expect.  Would our young people have the confidence to speak and engage with our guests?  Would they have the patience and commitment to make our events a success?  In turn, would our local community enjoy themselves, and would they ever come back?

Looking back, those concerns about Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey’s Dementia Café seem ridiculous.  Now fully established, the Café is a roaring success – I have new student volunteers every month and we have so many positive comments from those who come along.

“I enjoy helping people who come to the café.  I want a career helping others so this is great experience,” says Darcey West, one of our sixth form students.  “I have no experience of dementia in my family but what I have come to realise from the people who come to our café is that the person is still there.  Nothing has changed and you have to see past the dementia.”

The idea is simple – our students prepare refreshments and entertainment for the elderly in our local community, especially focused on those with dementia.  But without the dedication of our students, and their care and compassion for others, it simply would not be possible.

It is such a team event. While the students lead on the day, and invest so much time in the weeks before preparing, the Café depends on support from a huge range of others.  Our site maintenance staff host us, our receptionists help organise transport and our kitchen staff give their time after school.  Not to mention our dance, music, hair and beauty, drama and PE teachers who go above and beyond to support their students to put on events for our guests.  

And the exciting thing is that, once news spreads, it is easy to expand - we have recently welcomed pupils and staff from one of our neighbouring primary schools, St Edwards Roman Catholic, while we receive support from Barclays bank, Swale, Kent and Minister on Sea councils, and Tesco’s.  It really is a huge amount of people from across our community, brought together by Oasis Isle of Sheppey, pulling together to make it work.

“I think it’s fantastic the students here have got such an awareness of dementia,” says Jeanette Spooner of one of our partners, Sittingbourne’s Willow Day Centre.  “They are courteous and have an understanding of the difficulties they have and our folk love being with the younger people.”

One of the brilliant things about the scheme is that without realising it our students are developing a number of fantastic skills that will prove invaluable when they leave us.  They pick up the ability to organise a big event, the confidence to speak with our guests, how to make decisions, as well as garnering terrific introductory experience for working in either a care environment or in hospitality.

Bill Ronan, our Community Liaison Officer at Kent County Council says, “Can I convey my sincere thanks to all the young people who are exemplary in their engagement, participation and understanding of the issues facing attendees.”

“It is always a joy for me to attend the dementia café - all students are enthusiastic and remind and reinforce for me the excellent values and ethos you instil in them as they support this sensitive issue.  I am always impressed how understanding and professional your students are a valuable example of excellence in terms of this intergenerational project.”

In the last couple of weeks, the dementia work we do has had a lot of publicity. We are featured in the Kent Community Health Autumn 2017 magazine, we are in the Intergenerational Section of The Kent Dementia Awards Final later this month and in November, we are in the National Dementia Friendly Organisation of the Year – Small and Medium Size Final.  While of course we are flattered and honoured to be in this position, ultimately it is the work we do that is the important thing. 

Have you considered what your students might be capable of, given the chance?