Maidstone Mentors is a project that was developed alongside members of Maidstone Peer Support group, the Alzheimer’s Society, and the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT). The idea for the project came from members of the peer support group and was supported by learning from the insight gathering the Social Innovation Lab Kent (SILK) had carried out across Kent with people living with dementia, carers and professionals.
Many people said that once they had received a diagnosis they felt completely alone, “like stepping off a cliff”, not knowing where they could go or who they could speak to. People said that they often didn’t know where to turn to for support; but that once they had found support it played a very big part in their continued wellbeing.
Everyone involved agreed that there needed to be something to fill the gap between being diagnosed and finding support but we were not sure what it might look like at that point.
The idea for Maidstone Mentors came from Tom who attends Maidstone Peer Support group. Tom had previously reached out to his GP offering his phone number to be passed onto people who had been recently diagnosed so that he could listen to their worries and let them know that support is out there. He wanted to prevent anyone else feeling as alone as he had when he was diagnosed. This initial attempt did not receive any phone calls however; the other members of the peer support group could see the value in trying something like this more officially. We continued to work with the Maidstone Peer Support group to discuss and shape what the scheme might look like, decided upon the name, ‘Maidstone Mentors’, and gained two volunteer mentors, Tom and Brian.
From this point we began to discuss in more detail how the Maidstone Mentors would work in practice. We all agreed that there would need to be an organisation behind Tom and Brian and as the Alzheimer’s Society run the Maidstone Peer Support group it was a natural step for them to be the ones to support it. We also recognised KMPT would need to be involved and began talking to them about how the scheme might work.
Working together we all agreed that the Maidstone Mentors would:
• Attend Memory Clinic post-diagnostic course to talk to newly diagnosed people about what Maidstone Mentors offers and hand out contact information
• Not provide advice but rather be someone who will listen
• Share their own experience of being diagnosed and finding support
• Tell people what is available locally
• Signpost people to a specified person at Alzheimer’s Society if they feel they are unable to assist the newly diagnosed person they are in contact with
The Alzheimer’s Society provided support and informal training and are the organisation behind the mentors. They ensure that the mentors continue to find taking part rewarding and make sure it is still within their wellbeing to be a mentor. The KMPT Memory Clinic staff also supported the scheme and allowed the mentors to attend the post-diagnosis course so they could introduce themselves to newly diagnosed people.
The scheme has been trialled for nearly a year now and a formal evaluation has been carried out. The evaluation has suggested some recommendations to further develop the scheme and has looked into how the scheme can be developed and adapted so that it may be trialled in other areas across Kent.