Staff at Asda St Matthews are leading the way nationally when it comes to raising awareness of dementia and creating an environment that people with the condition feel safe and comfortable in.
The store is one of nine borough businesses and organisations that have taken part in the Dementia Friendly Communities scheme, and recently received its kite mark from the Mayor of Walsall at a special presentation.
But it is going one step further by being the first Asda store in the country to trial new signage on its toilet doors. Instead of having 3 symbols which show a person with crutches, a figure and a wheelchair, the doors will now simply show a man or a woman with the word Gentlemen or Ladies underneath.
Toilets for people with a disability will show the wheelchair symbol and someone on crutches.
The move has been prompted by feedback from customers and their carers who felt that the original signs were too confusing to someone with dementia. If the trial proves a success new signs will appear in Asda supermarkets all over the country.
Asda St Matthews has 14 dementia champions and the store’s Community Life colleague Martin Bateman said there was no shortage of staff volunteering to take part in the Dementia Friendly Communities initiative.
“We had to find a dementia champion across all departments and I can honestly say it was no trouble at all – so many people believed in the scheme and what it was trying to achieve.
“We’re really pleased to think that the suggestions we’ve made here in Walsall have been taken on board at a corporate level and could bring about a national change.
“All of us at Asda St Matthews want people with dementia and their carers and families to know that they’ll be treated with dignity and respect and given support when they come into our store.
“Staff have really embraced the scheme and identified all sorts of ways that we can make improvements and we want to continue this. “
Asda St Matthews general store manager, Charles Page, added: "Asda is proud to have received such a prestigious kite mark, as we work hard to ensure that we meet the needs of customers and the communities we serve."
Four hundred hours of development work for Dementia Friendly Communities was commissioned by Walsall Council and NHS Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group, from the Alzheimer's Society and Pathways4Life which is an Age Uk Walsall and Accord Group partnership.
Discussions are also taking place with other GP surgeries and shops and work will start with Walsall's Library Service, which has signed up to the scheme, by autumn. Meetings have also been held with community pharmacists.
Councillor Barbara McCracken, portfolio holder for social care with Walsall Council Coalition, said: “I’m delighted to see that staff at Asda St Matthews have embraced the ethos of Dementia Friendly Communities so enthusiastically and are now trying to bring about significant national change.
“They are sending out a very powerful message with their commitment and dedication and reassuring people that they can be assured of being treated with dignity and understanding.”
Angela Causton, Dementia Care Manager for Accord Group, said: “It’s fantastic to see how passionate the staff at Asda St Matthews are about providing the best possible service for people with dementia.
"The stark reality is that the number of people with the condition continues to increase, not just in Walsall, but across the country and it’s vital that we as a society are equipped to meet their needs now and into the future.
"We’d encourage other businesses, no matter how big or small, to support Walsall in becoming a Dementia Friendly Community.”
Dementia Champion Craig Foster - Driver
Asda driver Craig Foster knows that when he makes deliveries to some residents he is the only person they will have seen for a week.
“I’m well aware that some elderly people don’t have family members and don’t get out and about much so I might be their only human contact that week,” said the 39-year-old of Short Heath.
“I can spot when someone’s not quite themselves and this may be that they forget they’ve already paid for their order or that their mood and behaviour has changed.
“This won’t always be because there’s any problem, obviously, but in some cases these changes will be a sign that someone needs that extra bit of support and understanding.”
When Craig was a child he watched his mother trying to care for his nan who lived with them and had dementia and he says this experience made him want to find out more about the condition.
“I think that my mum tried to shield us as much as possible from her illness because she could be very aggressive and challenging and this was upsetting for us,” he said.
“But I also saw how it affected my mum and back then there wasn’t the support and information available that there is now.
“I think dementia can be a taboo subject for many people either through fear or ignorance so the work being done through Dementia Friendly Communities is important as it’s breaking down barriers and helping more people to understand the condition.
“As a driver I have that one on one relationship with customers and I think I can make a difference to some of them as a Dementia Champion with my knowledge and understanding.”
Dementia Champion Lorraine Pottinger – Fresh Process Availability
When she attended an awareness session as part of Asda’s involvement with Dementia Friendly Communities, 44-year-old Lorraine Pottinger became very emotional.
Her father, who died seven years ago, had dementia and Lorraine says that becoming aware of some of the signs of the condition made her think back to her own family’s experience.
“I wish I’d have known these things years ago because I think I’ve only just realised quite how difficult things were for my mum trying to care for my dad,” said Lorraine who lives in Darlaston.
“I am really proud to say that I’m a Dementia Champion because this condition can be so upsetting and distressing for both those who have it and their families and they know that in our store they will be treated properly.
“The Dementia Friendly Communities scheme is all about being supportive, and about approaching people who seem confused or disorientated. They may be perfectly fine and just day dreaming but they may not and I could be the person who starts that process of help and support.”
Lorraine said the scheme had also given staff food for thought about their working environment.
“It makes you appreciate that when we do things like change items around, putting them in a different aisle, that it can be really difficult for someone with dementia and it also makes you realise how important signs are.
“I think it’s really good that through our efforts in Walsall there is going to be a trial for the new toilet signs that could even change things nationally. Wherever you work, there’s bound to be so much you can do for people with dementia and I hope others follow Asda’s example.”