September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: an opportunity to raise awareness and break down the stigma that is often attached to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Dementia is a general term for reduced ability to remember, think or make decisions; Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.
There are many activities and services available for those living with dementia and their carers in Islington – including at Islington Ecology Centre. We sat down with Jo Corrall, acting nature conservation manager, to find out more about the Ecology Centre and what it means to be a dementia-friendly venue
Tell us about the Ecology Centre.
The Ecology Centre acts as both an educational resource for local people about nature and biodiversity and also as a community centre. We have Islington schools in twice a week learning about nature in a very hands-on way, plus many events throughout the year focusing on protecting and celebrating nature. There are also lots of events that relate to promoting better physical and mental health.
These events are for everyone and are also part of the green social prescribing offer, meaning they are ‘prescribed’ by doctors and social workers to help tackle things like depression, loneliness and poor physical health. We run a monthly health and nature walk and park cuppa event, which are both designed to get people out and connecting with each other. Recently we’ve been running qi gong taster sessions, and there’s a six-week course starting in October. I really love these events, as the mixture of nature and mental health is very important to me. I enjoy seeing how someone’s mood can lift through a short walk around the nature reserve.
The Ecology Centre received its dementia-friendly venue status in February 2023. How and why did that come about?
We run many events that are suitable for people living with dementia and their carers, so we wanted to make sure that the centre was a safe place for them to come to and feel comfortable. It felt like an obvious status to try and achieve.
The process took a few months, as we needed to get some specific support for the centre, as it is quite a different venue than at the sorts of places that are typically given dementia-friendly status. We don’t have lifts, multiple rooms, lots of staff members or tonnes of signage, as we’re pretty small. The process involves answering questions about the venue and its staff, which prompt you to make necessary changes to ensure the venue is easy to get around, feels safe, has places people can sit and has staff that are specifically trained.
What were the main changes you made?
Luckily, we didn’t need to change too much. There were a few things, like making sure the lights in the toilet corridor remain on, so it’s clear it’s somewhere people can access, and ensuring new members of staff become dementia friends. We also realised we need to work on our signage and make it clear where everything is. Thanks to Cllr Burgess, we got a sign pointing to the Ecology Centre from nearby Arsenal tube station.
We’ve also recently painted two beautiful murals on the entrances, which help to show people they are in the right place and that it is a safe and welcoming place to entre. From speaking to people who have visited the Ecology Centre, we know that finding it was the thing they were most anxious about.
What words of wisdom can you share for any other organisations thinking about becoming a dementia-friendly venue?
Start the process now. It’s not that difficult, and a lot of the changes are relatively simple and cheap or free to do. It’s very helpful for getting you to think about your venue and making tweaks to ensure everything is accessible. It’s definitely not something to be scared about tackling!
What have been the benefits of the changes for visitors?
Knowing that the Ecology Centre is safe and suitable for people living with dementia has made me more confident and comfortable about putting on events for this audience. I know that we have done everything we can to make people feel welcome and happy in the centre. The changes aren’t just good for people living with dementia, but also people who are neurodivergent – and everybody else, too! Clear signage, well-lit areas and friendly, approachable staff are good for everyone.
For more information, contact the Ecology Centre on 020 7527 4374 or email email@example.com
Visit Eventbrite to see what’s on, or check out what else is happening in Islington this Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and for World Alzheimer’s Day on 21 September.