Chelmsford dementia-friendly group offers support and companionship during the pandemic

Share this article

Christmas meal delivery crop2This month we hear from Maria J.Y. Lee, a Church Related Community Worker (CRCW) based in Chelmsford. Maria and her CRCW team have been supporting the members of 'Good Companions', a dementia-friendly group which benefits people who suffer from dementia and aims to improve the quality of life for older members of the community.

Maria explains what happens to those vulnerable and elderly individuals who suddenly find themselves isolated due to a global pandemic and how her team has been reaching out to them.


Before the pandemic, we met on the first and third Wednesday of the month for two-hour sessions and we gathered around 20 people each time. The sessions included dementia-friendly activities, hymns, discussion, fellowship, creative prayers, and a light meal.

One of the key resources for Good Companions (GC) is Walking the Way, the United Reformed Church’s focus on whole-of-life discipleship, because I believe that discipleship is for everyone at any stage of their Christian journey and its invitation is open to any generation - it is for us all.

As a result of the pandemic, our GC lifestyle was tipped upside-down. Most members are elderly, but that’s not to say they weren’t active and independent people. However, we can see the negative impact lockdowns have had, leaving several of our friends dependent, lonely, and isolated.

Day to day activities, such as walking, cooking, or washing, became challenging for some, and reduced mobility led to instances of muscle weakness, joint pain, weight-gain, and disrupted sleep patterns. Gradually, many of our dear friends became house bound. 

Not only has Covid-19 altered peoples physical health, it has also affected their emotional wellbeing. According to Age UK’s research, one in three (34%) of older people agree that their anxiety is now worse or much worse than before the start of the pandemic.

Many of the GC members told me that they are feeling down or depressed because they cannot socialise as they did before, their daily routine has slipped away, and they are worried about the future.

Of course, the pandemic has influenced all of us and many have experienced some form of poor mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and stress. However, at least a large section of the population are able to engage with others online, via social media and video calls. This was sadly not the case for most of our members.

We wanted to reach as many as we could during these isolating periods and so, as soon as the first lockdown started, I began producing a weekly newsletter.

I shared stories behind the hymns, well-known prayers, Deep Meaningful Conversation, and then, to my delight members responded and were willing to share their own testimonies, their professional experiences, poems, and prayer requests.

The newsletter became a communication tool, reaching out to members, and members were also engaged with each other. I delivered the newsletter to their door, and it soon became clear that for some, I was their only human contact. Although we maintained our two-metre distance, they were delighted to see me, and it was enough to feel cared for and loved.

The GC team contacted the individual members weekly and had telephone fellowship. In the beginning, a few members were worried, as they had forgotten some words during the conversation and were afraid to be noticed with their dementia symptoms. Sometimes they were upset when they missed the phone call because they took a long time to stand up and to get to the telephone. We had to reassure them regularly and not add to their stress.

Meet the Team cropDuring the festive period we wished to have Christmas lunch together, but we changed the plan to a Christmas meal delivery. We strictly followed the food hygiene regulations and the Covid-19 government guidelines and delivered meals safely.

When members received the meal, they were so happy, like children receiving a gift from Father Christmas! They not only enjoyed the high-quality roast dinner, but they were overjoyed because they felt a strong belonging to the church community, moreover, they were remembered in the Lord.

During the pandemic we have learnt an important lesson that true friends will always be there for you and happiness can truly be found in the darkest of times.

We have been a good companion to each other. The newsletter, telephone fellowships and prayers not only help the GC’s mental stimulation, cognitive skills and socialising, but the ministry of GC also became a nourishment for their spiritual relationships with God and gave them courage to walk Jesus’ way together.

Many of our GC’s are still facing a lack of confidence, fear of self-neglect, loneliness, and depression, but we will live together as we are, even if we are losing memories and are physically limited. We will remember that we are loved by God and we will be living in the memories of God. Let’s face dementia head on and talk about the dementia-friendly way continually.

Find out more about Church Related Community Work

If you would like to find out more about Church Related Community Work and how you can become an agent of social change, contact the CRCW office by email for more information.

Related content

Share this article