Time Together

Published: 26th March 2024

God is at work here

The warmth of the atmosphere is what struck me first and foremost as I arrived at Time Together, run by Churches Together in Whitchurch at Bargates Hall beside St Alkmund’s Church. St Alkmund’s has had a dementia-friendly church Certificate since 2018. And you can’t miss the friendly atmosphere at Time Together, a fortnightly group for those with dementia and their family members.

As I enjoyed tea and craft and conversation, I found it moving to notice the low key teamwork, with everyone sharing in different ways, as valued members of Time Together. It made for a very special afternoon for all of us. There were 20 or more people the day I went - some were sharing a moment to draw breath, others were making tea, others were chatting, others were taking craft activities round to the different tables, decorating Easter crosses and making cards with lambs on. People knew one another and noticed what was going on, welcoming and weaving in both regulars and newcomers. There’s a different focus each time – sometimes singing, sometimes boccia, a game of indoor bowls. One man, whose wife is now in residential care, finds Time Together helps keep him going and he’s invaluable in helping to run the boccia sessions.

Is it hard to come the first time? “It’s just about taking that first step – it took a bit of courage to come. But knowing one or two people, volunteers came and sat with us.” This couple explained that the wife was “Whitchurch born and bred”, while her husband had been in Manchester as a steelmaker: he told me the work was very heavy and very hot, with some rough characters. When British Steel closed, he came to an aluminium company in Whitchurch. As his wife explained, “It’s his story and it’s mine”.

She said of Time Together, emphatically, “It’s good for me. He goes to day care two days a week and I can’t come with him: it’s nice to be able to comer here together.” This couple explained to me that when they first came there were a lot of people: the numbers dwindled for a time, but they’ve picked up again. This couple have been coming for several years: in all that time, “We haven’t missed many”. He used to enjoy playing dominoes with another man at Time Together – and that friendship developed to a point where they continued to meet and play dominoes at home.

The other domino player has died now, but his wife has recently returned to Time Together as a helper. Her husband had “dementia and lots of other complaints” – and they heard about Time Together by word of mouth. “We both loved it.” He loved people and he smiled all the time he was there – so they became known, to another guest who couldn’t easily remember names any more, as Smiler and Smiler’s wife. “The atmosphere is so happy.” They used to go to a local chapel, but liked it so much at Time Together that they started coming to St Alkmund’s Church. “I’m so lucky to have this.” Although it was too much to come to Time Together immediately after her husband had died, two years on feels the right time and “Smiler’s wife” has joined the team of helpers: “I’ve always been a listener – and I’ve grown in courage to go up and start a conversation.”

Another volunteer was “here from the start. I used to bring my mum.” She still manages to take time from work to come, making up her hours so that she doesn’t miss Time Together.

Time Together started eight years ago and I was introduced to a “founder member” who loves singing – and is still able to sing in the choir with a little bit of support. She is clearly a treasured member of the Time Together family.

I had a wonderful introduction to Morecombe from a couple who have been married for 57 years and used to have a caravan there: apparently Morecombe, from Morecombe and Wise, took his name from the town – his surname was actually “Bartholomew”! They painted a wonderful picture of holidays there – with their little granddaughter taking her grandfather off the paddling pool at 9 in the morning and staying there til 4pm! They had “afternoon tea to die for” at the Midland Hotel there, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. And then I heard about a parrot at Morecombe Zoo that landed on the husband’s shoulder and pecked his ear! What a lively conversation.

About half way through the two hour session, we paused and sang “Lead us heavenly father, lead us” together: it was wonderful to see the deep connection in the singing. We then shared the Lord’s Prayer and grace before team and delicious cakes were served. When I complimented the baker, she told me that her husband had had MS and after his death it left such a void. Her baking is clearly vocational: “I just feel called to come and do these things. We need one another: my church family have been the answer to all my emptiness.”

I recognised other members of the Time Together team from the four-session Dementia-Friendly Church course were ran at St Alkmund’s eight or nine years ago. It’s a strong team – and it’s inspiring to see them working together so positively and creatively.

As the laughter and happy buzz continued around us, I caught up with Pauline Green, St Alkmund’s Dementia Coordinator. We first met when I led a four-session “Dementia-Friendly Churches” course at St Alkmunds in late 2015, attended by 17 people. We remembered with thankulness how Rev Judy Hunt, as Rector of St Alkmund’s Church Whitchurch, took the lead in 2015/16, inviting all churches in the area to join together for Time Together: a seed of God’s love was planted, fed and blossomed, in the form of this group for those living with dementia and memory problems together with their family members and carers. Pauline recognises that during the pandemic the group wilted – but it was kept alive, sustained by God’s enduring love and it flourishing with fresh and renewed growth in 2023/4. Rev Judy retired a year ago – and Pauline is quick to acknowledge that Time Together is most fortunate to have the guidance and support of the new Rector at St Alkmund’s, Rev Chris Precious, together with the curate Rev Pippa White.

Pauline also told me more about the last year at Time Together. One couple had started to come to Time Together: the husband had no speech and at first he made no eye contact at all, just looking a bit glazed, while his wife, who was still deeply in love with him, used to get a bit emotional. The third time they came, Pauline learned that his hobbies were golf, football and modern music. She brought along some photos; and she sat opposite him, sharing the photos, noticing him coming to life as he looked at the photos and also beginning to make eye contact. When it was time to go, the wife embraced Pauline and said, “Thank you”. Then her husband said, “It’s been a good day”! Pauline acknowledged that she couldn’t sleep that night: “I thought, ‘God is at work here’.”

Page last updated: Tuesday 26th March 2024 3:28 PM
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