Raising Dementia Awareness in Asian Communities

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On 10 November, over four hundred local people from Asian communities came together to watch a play about dementia and learn more about the condition. The event was brought together by Sabina Jaulim of RedbridgeCVS, who describes here the nerve-wracking job of organising it all.

I work as a Community Development Worker for Psychological Health for RedbridgeCVS. My role is to promote awareness in BAME communities in Redbridge about different mental health and wellbeing issues, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, psychosis and mental health crisis. The project is commissioned by Redbridge CCG, and as part of my work I visit different community and faith groups around Redbridge to deliver information sessions on these topics.

I try hard to find ways to engage and inform people, with the aim of reducing the stigma that can surround mental illness and encouraging people to access relevant NHS services, as well as giving people advice on staying healthy and looking out for each other. I use films, PowerPoint slides, leaflets and themed discussions to deliver awareness and information sessions in community settings (including some sessions in languages other than English).

This year I decided to bring some of the South Asian communities that I work with together so that they could learn more about dementia, and share each other’s experiences. I collaborated with the Ekta Project, an Asian community project for older people based in Newham, who had been recognised in the International Dementia Awards in 2015, and who have developed a play about the impact of dementia on an Asian family. Together we organised a performance of “Dementia’s Journey”, a play about “one family’s struggle to overcome the stigma, shame and misunderstanding surrounding dementia.”

The event took place at the popular Cineworld Cinema, situated in in the heart of Ilford, which was convenient for most people. With a capacity of 450 seats, spacious and well known for showcasing Bollywood movies, the familiar venue ensured that the audience felt at home.

It took three months to organize the play, with various tasks delegated to my volunteering team and shared with Ekta project coordinator Mrs Ramesh Varma. We arranged matters from the tiniest details regarding seating, the expert panel and details of the rehearsals for the actors.

Two weeks before the performance, the Ekta team informed me that their sound system would not work for such a big audience, so I would have to hire a professional one. I started to search frantically for the best quality and quote in town, but most of them would not meet our requirements. A week before the event, the sound system was still an issue. I was trying to get the problem sorted, and every day I was going home exhausted. At last, two days before the play, we received a good offer from a reputable company and decided to go ahead with them. It was agreed that the sound system engineer would be at Cineworld at 8am. Although I was still apprehensive and continued to fear that something might go wrong on that day, I couldn’t let myself to be overcome by anxiety. 

At 7:15 am on 10 November I was already in front of Cineworld. The adrenaline was flowing already as I waited for the sound system team to arrive – but to my pleasant surprise they were already inside setting up. 

At half past nine guests started to arrive. They were welcomed at the main door, asked to register themselves and guided into Screen 1. Volunteers were there to help them get seated. After the actors, Ekta team, panellists and the Mayor of Redbridge arrived, everybody settled down to watch the play which started around 10.25am.

By turns funny and emotional, the play told the story of a family struggling to come to terms with the onset of dementia in one of its members – and many in the audience said they recognised the scenarios from their own lives. After the play, the audience put questions to panellists from Barking & Dagenham CCG and the Alzheimer’s Society. The questions, and openness with which audience members shared their own stories, showed how useful the play had been in expanding people’s understanding of dementia.

The actors, the Mayor, the panellists and the Ekta team were then photographed. The guests started to leave, and by 12:30pm Screen 1 was once more silent, except for the sound of the sound-system being dismantled.

The event was a great success, attended by 432 people from around 35 different voluntary organisations. 

According to the evaluation forms and feedback given to us on the day, everyone had a great time, enjoying the play, interacting with others and most of all increasing their understanding of dementia, helping them make more informed decisions.

As for me, I was knackered, but I was also pleased and relieved that everything had gone well. I think I can sum up the whole thing in these words: “What matters is… knowledge and commitment… it is a learning process”

London Borough of RedbridgeNHS Redbridge Clinical Commissioing GroupCity of LondonLondon CouncilsMayor of LondonSkills Funding Agency  Big Lottery