The Upstream team are very fond of York Station having travelled to, from and through it many times over the years. So when we started the project we were delighted to learn that York had become the first dementia friendly station.
On the way to the ESP Westminster event I had the pleasure of breaking the journey and meeting PC Fiona Andrews, a British Transport Police (BTP) officer based in York. Fiona has been involved in local work to make rail travel more dementia-friendly that is now spreading far and wide around the BTP network. It all started with an increasing number of people needing assistance at the station...
"Rail staff at York station highlighted that they were struggling to deal with persons they came across at the station who had dementia; they mentioned that, when called, BTP didn’t quite know what to do either. I went to our local Alzheimers Society to see if they could give us any help but, whilst liaising with them, discovered that there were many of their members, who lived in York who wanted access to the railway but had lost their confidence, both in coming to the station and also travelling by train. We just all realised that we didn’t really understand very much about dementia...'
Fiona began to think about the role that the BTP could play in supporting people to travel.
People were losing their confidence to travel and Fiona wondered if a 'supported' journey - a day out to Harrogate on the train - might help to re-acquaint them with getting out and about. It was a great success - people with dementia and their carers reported afterwards that they would be more likely to use the train again having had that experience.
"All of the persons who have travelled with us on our journeys have said that they would never have had the confidence to do so had they not done so in a supportive group. Travelling by train is also very reminiscent – I’ve travelled with persons who have struggled to speak yet will recount memories of train journeys they took as a child to the seaside or trips out with family. The person caring for the person with dementia found the journey liberating, many saying that it gave them a new level of independence, a new way to get about without having to rely on others".
Interestingly, the experience also helped staff to see their service and role from a different perspective .
It hasn't stopped there though. The word is spreading throughout the rail and police networks and now Fiona is spending much of her time helping other areas to provide similar support, including providing other supported journeys and developing some national guidance for dementia-friendly public transport.
"If there is such a high demand for persons needing to use the railway network in York then how many others over the country are being denied access to train travel? I decided to ask the Alzheimers Society to help write up a charter for dementia friendly railways and they agreed – they decided to use the ‘York model’ as the basis for the charter and then adapt it so that it covers all public transport. This charter has just been tested during its pilot phase in the York and North East region and will be then rolled out as the charter for all public transport for all of the UK.
The railway companies really want to develop their dementia friendly approach and to encourage persons living with dementia to use their services – for us as police officers we need to be able to make sure that when persons who have dementia and their carers travel they are supported and kept safe"
We're very much hoping that we can help to bring this approach to Scotland.
Take a look at this video and hear Fiona and her colleagues describe the work in their own words...