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  • 18th June 2018 | By David Jolley

    It was the realisation of a modest dream to take a train to Chester. We stopped at every station between Altrincham and Chester and enjoyed their platforms and the pattern of people getting on and off. It was time for students to be travelling to schools in neighbouring towns – beautiful uniforms – cheerful, peaceful behaviour and some intense concentration on mobile devices.

    Chester is a small city – I had found maps amongst our collection at home and was pretty sure I could walk across to the town hall via the city centre, though which roads or streets might be the ones for me was not clear until I was walking them. Even here there are empty shops – even in the fabulous double-decker main street. Chinese or Japanese tourists were out as a group this early hour, commenting on the architecture and the floral displays. These latter are well worth the investment.

    The town hall is modest in size compared with Manchester’s but still impressive. It is across the way from the cathedral, which I have visited in the past for a wedding of one dear friend and the inauguration of another to become a lay reader in the Church of England. His further progress in the church was frustrated by rules prohibiting inclusion of divorcees – How strange it is that the organisations which would claim most closeness with Jesus, have such difficulty with the flexibility and open love which he taught.

    I was attending a study day on parks organised by APSE – Association for Public Sector Excellence – my second such study day with them in a few months. The challenge is to maintain standards or improve them despite the draconian reduction of funding for parks within the austerity measures imposed and prolonged by government. APSE has monitored the financial and workforce implications throughout: http://www.apse.org.uk/apse/assets/File/Paul%20O'Brien%20-%20presentation%20%5BCompatibility%20Mode%5D.pdf

    We heard a presentation from Wigan, which is said to be the 85th most deprived authority in the country and the 3rd most affected by austerity measures. Turning disadvantage on its head, the council has included the community in its response and established ‘The Deal’ to change and improve practices https://www.wigan.gov.uk/Docs/PDF/Council/Strategies-Plans-and-Policies/Corporate/Deal-for-future/The-plan.pdf

    Though previous streams of funding have been choked off, spending has been maintained by income generation. There has been a massive buy-in from ordinary people. Green Flag awards have increased, there were 33 North West in Bloom awards last year. NB services are all ‘in-house’.

    We heard next from Leeds – The earlier (Mere) seminar had told us about their impressive high-profile income generation projects. The Chester presentation covered the wider perspective of all parks and green spaces. Again income has been maintained despite austerity cuts to the traditional funding streams. There is a ‘Parks and Green Space’ forum and a strategy which aims to bring all parks up to Green Flag ‘field-based’ standards – that is the parks are assessed against the Green Flag standards by an in-house system – only a few are entered for the national standard which requires considerable desk-based work and costs. Leeds University have been engaged to survey activities and opinions – the findings are being used to inform future plans and activities. NB services are all ‘in-house’.

    Finally Blackpool told us about their work and particularly the encouragement and collaboration with Friends groups. There was much to recognise here in our own experiences in Trafford. Friends groups vary in who they include, skills and motivation and what people want to do. One of the Blackpool parks organises massive entertainments which bring in many thousands of pounds. Most are concerned with keeping order and decent horticulture in local parks. There are links with health, education and other arms of the council. Much of the horticulture now falls onto Friends – most work from employed staff seems to be limited to cutting grass. Never-the-less, there is reference to ‘gardeners, arboriculturalists and rangers’: respectful and preferable to the label ‘operatives’ which pervades the Trafford scene. Blackpool’s services are also delivered ‘in house’

    There is a shared and welcome message, that opening parks to the involvement of volunteers has much to commend it, in terms of finance and quality for the parks and satisfaction and health for the people.

    This is a lesson which is surely transferable to other settings, including support of older people and people with dementia. But these advantages can only be sustained if we set aside sufficient funds and provide a suitable career structure for professionals to be educated and assured that they can use and develop their skills over a lifetime. Dumbing down to use volunteer commitment and generosity, without allowing for the spice which comes from knowledge and understanding in depth, will yield bland and sterile crop.

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    11th June 2018 | By David Jolley

    June has come to mean Big Lunch in the life of John Leigh Park – we began the habit in 2014 as we started a more active group again in response to Trafford’s decision to close the aviary because of austerity funding cuts. That first Lunch launched a Friends group which now has over 230 members.

    Last year was the centenary of the park, which we celebrated with a march and other re-livings of activities which occurred when the land was first made available to the people of Altrincham. Our visitors last year included two grandchildren of Sir John Leigh. This year was 101 – a more modest but wonderfully successful day. This is the tenth year that the Eden Project has supported Big Lunch. Its ambition is to encourage people to make time and find a space just to be together, with food, to appreciate each other and their local community. It works so well – people of all ages and backgrounds having fun in an old fashioned way. Our event was scheduled 11am – 4pm but some stayed on until 9pm. It confirms a solid base which is as old as history, and we must keep doing it.

    The very next day we were visited by assessors of the Green Flag Scheme – national standards for parks and green spaces. Setting standards and receiving visitors who have depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for what parks are about and their potential, is a brilliant model – transferable, of course and transferred, to other settings including services of all sorts.

    Austerity has weakened us in many ways and I am keen to see the damage it has done reversed by a return to more responsible and equitable funding and use of wealth. But necessity has encouraged different developments and the growth and flourishing of Friends of Parks is one good example – working as complements to what is done by councils – and sometimes private sector agencies which have taken on major responsibilities for services. The essence of Friends is that they are local – they have sound roots and care. I hope we can use this model and the learning which comes from it, to strengthen and enrich services for older people, including those with dementia and other mental health problems.

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    29th May 2018 | By David Jolley

    This weekend has been made special by a visit from our daughter and son in law with their young son, our grandson. His presence and play amongst our household furnishing, around the garden and into the park, have brought joy and new life and memories to familiar places.

    A member of our Dementia Conversations group brought to my attention a recent programme from the BBC which had reported on activities at a Walthamstow care home. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-43006631/theHell-children-keeping-their-local-care-home-young-and-fun

    The essence being that the Home opens its doors to everyone in the family and so becomes like an extension of the family home – multiple families finding togetherness under a safe roof. What a contrast with the image of Homes as a place where older people are locked away – out of sight and missing all the warmth and give and take which happens in families.

    This same weekend we were hearing of a family fretting because their tiny grandchild, born early and living in another country, is in hospital where even his parents have been severely rationed in how much time they can spend with him.

    The insights and lessons from the work of Bowlby and others are taken for granted here when thinking of children. Those observations are relevant in all places and for all generations. It may not be rocket science but it works

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    21st May 2018 | By David Jolley

    I have read again the inspirational articles from Jill Manthorpe and Steve Iliffe in the Journal of Dementia Care. They provide an illuminating review and analysis of the literature on dementia and our current situation. From this they call for a revision of policy priorities - from throwing money and resource on research for a cure, toward a focus on healthy life styles which reduce incidence, and informed and sustained care, including palliative care.

    Within their review they draw comparisons with approaches and attitudes to cancer, including the use of metaphors of heroics, conflict and military triumphs. These they see as possibly appropriate in the case of cancer – perhaps underpinning the success of fund-raising schemes – but not right for dementia. So it was interesting this week to find a headline questioning the good and pointing to the adverse effects of the war metaphors in cancer care: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/15/pressure-to-stay-positive-may-be-a-negative-for-cancer-patients-charity

    One aspect of the fighting and war model is that individuals with the disease feel pressured to fight and to become survivors. The reality is that many will succumb – so is this a condemnation of their resolve or prowess? It reflects denial and clinging to a curative model, when palliation will be kinder and more useful: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/22/saying-youre-fighting-a-war-on-cancer-could-make-you-lose-it.

    There are effective treatments for some cancers – and progress is being made with surgical techniques, medication and other therapies. Dementia is a more complex condition. There are essentially no success stories arising from the investment of billions of pounds world-wide in pursuit of a curative treatment. Less inflammatory dialogue will be more appropriate – encouraging health-giving life styles which are common to dementia prevention and promotion of general health – and a positive palliative ethos in the years with dementia, including death. This centres a great deal of control in individuals, families and communities in finding and using the tools which work. More satisfactory than waiting for an illusory magic bullet.

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