Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Camelford: One of 21 Memory Cafés in Cornwall

We arrived around lunchtime in Camelford, parked the car in a public lot, and walked down a hill to the main street where we had spotted a pub on our way into town. The Masons Arms Pub was the perfect place to experience Cornish pub food: baked potatoes with cheese and baked beans, and “cream tea” which means two scones, clotted cream, jam and tea. It’s important to know that the cream goes on top of the jam in Cornwall as we later learned from the participants at the Memory Café.

We waited to arrive at the café until 2:30 because they were having their “annual general meeting” at 2:00. This café meets at the Anvil Court, a “sheltered accommodation,” something like what we’d called “assisted living” except that there is no staff on duty. Each resident has a small apartment (or “flat”) with a bell to pull in case of emergency that will ring at the local police station. About 10 of the café participants live at Anvil Court and the other 10 live elsewhere.

Folks were sitting around a large table when we arrived. There were several volunteers present in addition to Margaret who works for Cornwall Care ( Her business card for Cornwall Care reads: “My options…really helpful support if you are caring for an older friend or relative.” (This is the first time we have seen “friend” in an official slogan of a care organization for older persons, especially those who live with dementia.) One of the volunteers had just retired from Cornwall Care two weeks ago, but did not want to give up her contacts with café participants so she has returned as a volunteer. Another volunteer is a retired nurse who is also Mayor of Cornwall. The café ended at 4:00 and an hour later he had a meeting to argue against a big budget cut that would affect the ability of Camelford’s children to get swimming lessons. (The budgetary problems of the UK and the US are quickly filtering down to the local level where decisions affect “people we know.”)

We were warmly welcomed and asked to tell a bit about ourselves. Then Margaret led the group through a program based on an old book called The Language of Flowers. At the previous café meeting, she’d asked participants about their favorite flowers and for this meeting, she made PowerPoint slides of flowers that she showed on a large monitor. The mayor read from the book as each flower was shown and discussed. People had fun talking about the colors and scents of the various flowers, as well as the memories they associated with them. There was much chatter about the flowers that had been in Kate’s bouquet that she carried when she recently married Prince William.

One of the high points of the Camelford café (as well as the Falmouth one) is the lottery. This is how they raise money for the tea and cakes they serve. People contribute what they can and get raffle tickets. Someone from the group picks a number and people win various donated prizes (a box of sweets, a bar of soap, a ladies’ magazine, etc.).

While Margaret and the participants talked about flowers, the other volunteers prepared the tea. It’s important to note that the tea is served in real mugs (that later need to be washed and dried) and biscuits are served on plates.

At the end of the café, the participants sang a Cornish song for us. Several didn’t know the verses, but most joined enthusiastically in the chorus.

We had a good conversation with Margaret and learned more about the operation of their café. They have a newsletter that reminds participants of what has been done at previous gatherings and gives a schedule of what’s to come. She described how the regular “fortnightly” meetings of the café give her and the volunteers the opportunity to monitor people’s well-being. She says that enables them to identify problems early and thus to avoid some hospital admissions. That in itself sounds like a good argument to set up a memory café in a community.

We spoke with one participant who does not have memory problems, nor has she been a carer. Rather, she just likes to come to the café (she lives in the building). She said that she had come to understand those who do have memory problems and she enjoys being with them. To us, this sounds like friendship!

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