Dementia Café at Soho House
November 4, 2016

Date: Fri 04 November 2016

SOHO Shouse - Soho Avenue (off Soho Road) - Birmingham

Late last year, Birmingham Museums Trust Community Engagement Officer Rosie Barker arranged training for all staff with the charity Dementia Friends. The session wasn’t delivered by a professional, but rather a volunteer who had personally been affected by Dementia. I found the session incredibly enlightening. One thing in particular stood out – the metaphor of someone’s memory being much like a bookcase. Your earliest memories are at the bottom, the most recent at the top. If you have Dementia your bookcase has a tendency to be quite wobbly and sometimes the books at the top fall off. Hearing this suddenly clicked everything into place and I came away from the session determined to improve access for those with Dementia at the site I work at, Soho House.

I had a chat with Rosie and Michelle Morris, a Museum Enabler who had attended access training ;relating to a health and wellbeing programme called ‘Coffee, Cake and Culture’. Rosie provided guidance and was able to use the community engagement budget for resources and refreshments, meaning Soho House could offer each café completely free of charge.

From my research into Dementia, I knew it was important each session followed the same place, same time, same room, same format rule. I wanted the cafes to be a shared experience for the person who had Dementia and their carer. Quite often their time spent together is all about the condition and hospital appointments and treatment. I wanted to provide an experience of reminiscence, stimulation and enjoyment. The themes had to be universal and accessible and I developed the content based on the collection at Soho House.

Kitchen at Soho House

The first café theme was food. We started in the Tearoom with an introduction and explanation of what activities we would be doing, with the promise of tea and cake at the end. We visited the house for a short tour of the Entrance Hall and Dining Room and settled in the Housekeeper’s Room to talk about Georgian food. If you’ve ever visited Soho you’ll know our Housekeeper’s Room to be a wonderfully warm, tactile environment. As I talked about Georgian meals and their obsession with the pineapple (google it), I passed around bread, kettles, sugar cone, mouse trap, spices and tea. Francella, who uses a wheelchair and has limited speech, examined the fake leg of lamb for quite some time, obviously recognising it but not quite piecing it together. My favourite moment was when Gwenth paused while holding the iron and spoke about a time when she was a child, growing up in the Caribbean, and would help her mother wash and iron her father’s work suit.

Dementia Cafe Group having tea and cake

Later in the tearoom we enjoyed tea, cake, coffee, chat and made spice bags. Some spice bags were more successful smelling than others, which amused the whole group. Enid really loved how fragrant her spice bag was and decided to take home some of the herbs to add to the rice she was cooking for tea.

Herbs And Spices

The second cafe theme was music. The same people as last time returned and we were joined by newcomers Juliet and Isobel. Again I gave an introduction in the tearoom and took the group on a tour of the house. This time our destination was the Drawing Room. We enjoyed listening to some Handel and forte piano recordings and learning more about how Georgians entertained themselves in a time before radio, cinema and television. Later in the tearoom we had a go at playing African instruments and listening to popular songs from the fifties and sixties. At the end of the session I asked people to fill out a very short feedback form. My favourite comment was ‘I really enjoyed it. I wish there were even more cafes.’

Dementia Café participant

Dementia Café will continue to take place at Soho House the first Friday of each month between 11am and 12.30pm until December. The café is free and I’m hoping within the next three months we will be able to roll the format out to other heritage sites.

If you know anybody who would enjoy and benefit from attending please email

Reviews Will Be Here soon
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