This interview is part of our rapid review project, The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021.
Empowered Conversations deliver communication courses for family carers of people with dementia and professionals, and one-to-one support through Empowered Carers. One-to-one support was offered via Zoom already before lockdowns, the others at community groups around Greater Manchester.
Empowered Conversations are now based in Age UK Salford (you can read our interview about their Dementia Support Services during lockdown here.
We spoke to Emma Smith from Empowered Conversations in November 2020 to learn more about how they have adjusted their services during lockdown.
How lockdown changed Empowered Conversation’s services
Because Empowered Conversations had been delivering some of their services via Zoom before, they were used to working with it. This meant they were able to focus on developing services needed by the people who they work with, including online carer groups and a variety of engagement activities without having to spend time learning to use Zoom.
While organising the online service, they worked with a variety of organisations who were not used to delivering activities online, and supported them in this. These collaborations have been very positive for Empowered Conversations too:
That’s what we’ve enjoyed doing, sharing our learning with others and doing it alongside people so that they didn’t feel as exposed if things went wrong, we were there with them, and then they’ve sort of got their own confidence and they’ve gone and done more.
For Empowered Conversations delivering all activities online has meant they have been able to increase the number of activities they offer, as well as the number of people they engage with.
Carer support groups, seminars and master classes
At the beginning of the first lockdown in Spring 2020, Empowered Conversations spoke with family carers to learn how they felt about the situation. The main concerns carers had were losing peer-to-peer support, interactions, and engagement opportunities for them and the person they were caring for. To address these, Empowered Conversations started two online carer groups within two weeks of lockdown starting, one for carers supporting someone with dementia living at home, one for carers supporting someone living with dementia living in a care home.
That was sort of our initial reaction, to get that activity going, and then we were sort of very ear to the ground, listening to what people wanted and then our second wave of engagement sessions and groups came as a response to what people were telling us.
Empowered Conversations had a conference planned for March 2020. Instead of cancelling this completely, they asked the speakers to deliver online seminar instead. Since then they’ve also started running master classes with different top tips for carers, with specialist speakers on topics such as women’s hair styling, grooming of men’s hair, audiology and so on.
Compared to organising events and groups in a certain locality within Greater Manchester, delivering them online has mean that carers from any area of Greater Manchester can attend, so they can get on a course without delays. Further, for some carers it can be a challenge to attend an event in person, as it would mean organising alternative support for the cared for person for that time. Doing events online means family carers have more activities and support available:
Quite a few carers who would never access any of this, had it not been online, so for them, COVID didn’t really change life, cause they were already sort of stuck at home in their caring role, and they weren’t necessarily able to leave but now they’ve got a big raft of options to fill their day with that they never would’ve had if we’d not had COVID and they’re actually in a more positive place than they were without COVID, which sounds crazy but that’s, that’s sometimes living with dementia..
Further, with the staff being in their own homes, and connecting with carers who are in their homes, this can be beneficial too, building a stronger relationship. The online seminars have also brought these to new audiences, people who would not have attended a conference before were able to join in, from the comfort of their own home.
Online engagement activities
Empowered Conversations also started a variety of remote engagement activities for people living with dementia, utilising existing skills staff had while trying out a mix of creative approaches, and working with a variety of other organisations.
These have included:
- A weekly music therapy session that has been running each week since April 2020;
- A virtual disco with a mobile DJ, to enable family members to meet their loved ones living in a care home, but on a dance floor,
- A virtual farm visit, working with a sensory farm,
- Online drawing = Pause to Draw
- Creative writing, poetry and discussions, with Small Things Creative Solutions (you can read our interview about their creative activities provision and working with Empowered Conversations during lockdown here).
Empowered Conversations have also piloted new activities, such as Empowered Movement, a movement and stretch session that a family carer and person living with dementia can do at home, with guidance provided by a team member who is also a physiotherapist via Zoom.
Learning from these experiences
Emma described the key things that have helped Empowered Conversations to continue to support people living with dementia and their carers remotely during this time:
- Having a team of people who are courageous and have a variety of skills that could be utilised in planning new ways of delivering activities
- Not overthinking but rather starting something and then finessing it afterwards as needed
- Listening to what carers and people living with dementia wanted and needed
You can find more about Empowered Conversations on their website.
You can read more about our project “The New Normal: Delivering your services to older people in 2021” here.