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‘It’s not rocket science…it’s about properly listening’

Throwing out the rulebook to support people with dementia and their families, For Brian has helped its members take a more active role in shaping support.

“For Brian grew from the idea that people with dementia and their families needed the opportunity to creatively shape support, rather than being ruled by a manual,” says Clare Morris, founder of For Brian. Launched in 2018, it’s a community organisation with a fresh approach to supporting people with dementia and their families.

With 30 years’ clinical experience in working with people with cognitive impairment, Clare was passionate about empowering people with dementia. She joined the Agents of Change leadership programme, which is part funded by Hammersmith United Charities. The programme, which enables female leaders to drive social change locally through skills building, networking and mentorships, helped Clare to get her idea off the ground in Hammersmith and Fulham. “The Agents of Change Leadership Programme has been such a brilliant source of collaboration,” she says. “It’s great to be part of such a supportive community of like-minded people with complementary aims.”

For Brian has now been running for three years. It’s working within the dementia community to find out what’s truly supportive, and then facilitating people to make it happen. “Co-production is a very popular term at the moment,” says Clare. “But we’re experimenting with it so people shape the services themselves. It also helps practitioners be more creative, without the constraints of a big organisation,” she says. Everyone has a voice; some of the directors at For Brian will have dementia themselves.

Underpinning this is ‘personal construct psychology’, which helps Clare stand in the shoes of people with cognitive impairment. “It’s not rocket science,” says Clare. “But it helps to think through what it’s actually like to struggle to communicate. How it feels for people to speak about you rather than to you; to feel disinhibited and then be socially excluded; to not know where you are. It helps us to remember to ask those important questions: Can I help? How can I help? And to listen carefully. People with dementia just want the same things as the rest of us.”

When designing activities for her members, Clare tries to encourage “anything that helps people with brain health,” unlocking the things that people can do, rather than what they can’t do. That’s brought into being things like dementia-inclusive cycling on adapted bikes, which gives people an immense feeling of freedom, she says. Other activities which have got people out enjoying themselves include dementia-friendly yoga, art, horse therapy and street parties.

In the true For Brian spirit, the members taken these initiatives and given them a life of their own. For example, online art sessions started with the concept of doodling together with peers. Projects gradually got more elaborate and as people got to know each other, they started to meet outside and talk about bigger issues and giving each other advice. “And projects important to members have begun to flourish – one person has started making bespoke ‘discovery bags’ with objects to provide sensory stimulation, comfort and intrigue,” says Clare.

Inclusion is a thread that runs through everything at For Brian. “I’ve met so many people with dementia – particularly from minority communities and younger people – struggling to find appropriate support,” says Clare. “In fact, For Brian started with Mike, who’s one of our directors, and Tom, a gay couple keen to raise awareness about LBGTQ+ people living with dementia and the prejudice that’s still prevalent.”

Connecting with empowering funders has been key to success. “Hammersmith United Charities funded us right at the beginning to help us get off the ground, and with them, I found people who understand what I’m talking about,” says Clare. “They’ve allowed us to use their funding really flexibly to meet the needs of people in a timely, tailor-made way. This helps For Brian to deliver with continuity and survive, and makes the funds go further.

“Hammersmith United Charities let us hold onto our funding over the pandemic as For Brian was awarded several Covid-related grants – now those projects are completed we have had that money in hand to provide a seamless service. This support between project grants is key to delivering the continuity people with dementia need, and has nurtured the relationship between For Brian and Hammersmith United Charities.”

Clare believes that if you get it right for people with dementia you tend to get it right for everyone in the community. “I feel proud that For Brian has helped grow an inclusive dementia community, where people have an active voice in their own lives.

“One local lady I know usually comes to the door in her nightie. With regular doorstep interventions throughout lockdown we managed to get her to come to our street party. She sat listening to the music, socialising and tapping her feet for three hours. That sort of thing makes my heart sing.”

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Opening our doors to older people in need of a home

We're inviting older people on a low income who need an affordable new home to tour our almshouses.

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We’re looking for a new Grants and Communication Officer

We have a terrific opportunity for someone at the early stages of, or looking to begin, their career in grant making. Find out more about our Grants and Communication Officer role here.

Location Based at Sycamore House (W6 0AS) with frequent visits to other HUC locations and grant holders (all in Hammersmith)
Salary: £28k – £34.5k (pro rata) depending on experience
Contract: 22.5 hours per week (3 days), Permanent
Reporting to: Head of Grants and Community
Benefits: 28 days annual leave plus bank holidays (pro-rata), Up to 8% employer contribution to pension, Health cash plan on completion of probation

The opportunity

This is a terrific opportunity for someone at the early stages of, or looking to begin, their career in grant making.

Key activities involve supporting the management of the grants programme, contributing to raising the profile of the organisation and the impact of our grant holders, and
maintaining the grants database.

Hammersmith United Charities is part of our community, and it is important that the Grants and Community team are in touch with what is happening in Hammersmith and the rest of our small team. This involves frequent visits to grant holders, partners or networking meetings as well as hands on involvement with the life of the Almshouses.

About you

We are seeking an individual who is passionate about community, loves working with people, is flexible and thrives in a changing environment, genuinely enjoys administration and takes pride in excellent attention to detail.

We particularly welcome applications from people with a strong connection to Hammersmith and Fulham.

Purpose of the role

To provide support to all aspects of the Charity’s grants and community work including:

  • Grants administration
  • Database, website and social media management
  • Supporting prospective and current grant holders
  • Helping promote the work of the Charity and that of our grant holders

Download the detailed Job Description here

Application process

We are committed to our team reflecting the diversity of the communities we work with and welcome applications from people of all ages, sexual orientations, genders,
ethnicities, nationalities, religions and beliefs.

If you are excited by the role but aren’t sure if you have the right experience then we’d still love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact Paul, our Head of Grants and Community, for an informal chat by emailing paul.robson@hamunitedcharities.com to arrange a call.

To apply, please send us written answers to the following questions using a maximum of 600 words in total OR answer the questions in a video of up to 5 minutes.

  1. Tell us why you want this job and why you want to work for Hammersmith United Charities
  2. Tell us about your skills and experience and how they are a good fit for the role

Please email your written answers or video to officeadmin@hamunitedcharities.com no later than midday on Tuesday 21 November 2023, shortlisting will take place that week.

First round interviews will be held online on 29th or 30th November

Second round interviews will be in person at Sycamore House, W6 0AS on Wednesday 6th or Thursday7 th December. A presentation may be required at final interview.

These dates may be subject to change and applicants will be advised in advance should this happen.

To be appointed to this role you must be eligible to work in the UK, undertake an enhanced DBS check and provide satisfactory references. We will follow up on this later in the process.

By submitting your application, you are consenting to the processing and storage of your personal data in order that you can progress through our recruitment and management process. We will never sell your data however we are obliged by law to inform you that should we be required to we may share your data with external agencies. This may include but is not limited to CareCheck (a service for managing and processing Disclosure & Barring Service clearance applications) and our HR Advisors. We will also contact those individuals you name as your referees to confirm your suitability for the role you are applying for. Your data will only be used for your role and to comply with our statutory and legal obligations. If your application is unsuccessful, we will retain your information for 6 months; after this date it will be safely destroyed. If your application is successful, we will retain your information for the duration of your commitment and up to 6 years after you cease employment.

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In pictures: out and about

Our team took part in the Wormholt & White City Community Festival in September, which celebrated our vibrant community.

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5 minutes with…Our community gardeners

Meet our community gardeners, India and Lucy, who nurture the award-winning green spaces at our almshouses.

What do you both do and why do you enjoy it?

We are the community gardeners for Hammersmith United Charities’ two sheltered housing schemes (almshouses), John Betts House and Sycamore House.

The gardens are an unexpected highlight at both almshouses. Visitor, residents and staff alike often comment on the beautiful surprise of the gardens as they discover them for the first time.

We manage, maintain and improve the gardens while also providing activities and workshops for residents. A big part of our role is to encourage the residents to use the gardens, and advise and support them with their own plots and pots displays.

At both the almshouses, we love the diversity of personalities, activities and events – and how each day is different from the last. The kindness of the residents to the staff and each other is a daily joy.

How would you describe the gardens?

The gardens provide a space for all residents to enjoy in a variety of ways. Groups of residents meet in the gardens for a chat and a cup of tea, others sit alone and immerse themselves in the sounds and sights of nature, or simply read a paper or have a chat on the phone.  Some residents get their daily exercise by doing laps of the gardens, while many residents have their own small plots and pots, getting involved in the practical nature of gardening, planting, watering and weeding.

Currently residents are preparing for spring by planting bulbs in pots and looking forward to the next growing season following the dark and quiet winter months.

How do the residents help you with the gardens?

We work closely with the residents and many of them assist us in maintaining the gardens by watering and weeding, sweeping paths, leaf clearance and dead heading the beautiful roses.  We appreciate all the work the residents do and could not maintain these award-winning gardens without them.

What are some important gardening jobs you’ll be doing as we head into the autumn and winter?

Seasonal jobs include leaf clearance and ensuring all pathways are safe, bulb planting and compost turning. We manage all our green waste so that it returns to the gardens for the health of the plants and trees. We are currently preparing areas in both gardens to create wildflower meadows for next summer.

What is your favourite local green space to visit and why?

India has recently introduced Lucy to W6 Garden Centre on the edge of Ravenscourt Park.  It is a beautiful oasis of indoor and outdoor plants, garden supplies and has a gorgeous cafe. Many of our residents enjoy it too!

Find out more 


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Almshouse living may boost life expectancy by up to 2.5 years

New research from Bayes Business School has found that many almshouse residents receive a “longevity boost”.

On average, the lower a person’s socioeconomic status, the lower their life expectancy. But new research from Bayes Business School has found that many almshouse residents receive a “longevity boost” compared to their peers of the same socioeconomic status from the wider population.

The new research is based on analysis of many decades of records from 15 English almshouses. The life expectancy of almshouse residents was compared to people of similar gender and socio-economic background from the general population and was generally found to be longer. Giving an example, the authors estimate that a 73-year-old man entering the almshouse with the highest longevity boost in the study today could live 2.4 years longer than his peers from the same socioeconomic group.

Almshouses, which have traditionally provided affordable community housing for older people, are usually designed around a communal courtyard or gardens. Residents live independently and there are plenty of opportunities for social connection and support when needed.

Professor Ben Rickayzen, report co-author and professor of actuarial science at Bayes Business School, said: “More research is needed to ascertain exactly what factors cause almshouse residents to have a longer life. However, we postulate that it is the sense of the community that is the most powerful ingredient.

“For example, a common theme… is that [almshouses] encourage residents to undertake social activities and responsibilities on behalf of their fellow residents. This is likely to increase their sense of belonging and give them a greater sense of purpose in their everyday lives while mitigating against social isolation.”

Hammersmith United Charities Chief Executive, Victoria Hill, said: “It’s great to hear some evidence for what we’ve always felt to be true. Community means different things to different people, but usually it’s more than just the opportunity to socialise and be active. It’s often things like feeling safe and welcome among your neighbours, knowing there’s always someone nearby to help or being able to help others. It doesn’t surprise me that this feeling of belonging in your community may help you live longer and, we hope, happier lives.”

Find out more 
  • The full report: ‘Almshouse Longevity Study: Can Living in an Almshouse Lead to a Longer Life?’
  • Bayes Business School news release with a summary of key findings
  • Find out more about Hammersmith United Charities’s almshouses
  • Find out more about almshouses and their history

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