Anna Littlechild was Alzheimer’s Support’s first employee and went on to lead the charity for 25 years until she retired in 2015. 

Anna Littlechild headshot“Even now when I drive around Wiltshire, I can remember where people lived that I used to visit. I can still remember some of the phone numbers. As we grew and had more support workers I loved matching people to families and getting to know people well."

Anna was working in a care home in Wiltshire when she saw a job advertisement for a development worker for a new project in West Wiltshire. The fledgling organisation (Anna was the only employee) was launched by Sheena Bowen of Bath CVS and Sue Devenish (later Dodd) of Bath Mental Health Care. They had commissioned a feasibility study which concluded that practical support for people living at home with Alzheimer’s in West Wiltshire was badly needed.  

Alzheimer’s Support was set up with a budget of £8,500 – which did not go far. As social services and health funding reduced, and the scale of the need emerged, Anna, Sue and Sheena decided to set up a charity so that they could fundraise independently.

Anna recalls: “It was a huge task to get our articles of memorandum and constitution organised, and so much paperwork. That was all done by Sue and Sheena who were more experienced in that world.  I didn’t have a clue about all of that then but I have always had the gift of getting people around me who can get it done.

“So we fundraised. We were favourites with the council for grants for a long time. They were exciting times.”

Anna continued to build and train her team of support workers, and to set the family orientated, person-centred ethos of the organisation.

“It was all about getting to know people. It makes so much difference, having that understanding of people’s lives, with clients and within the organisation. We were a family. I remember having a supervision meeting with Gill Frere-Smith and her children were playing in the corner. Now they are all grown up and Gill is still working for Alzheimer’s Support. I am so glad that that early ethos is still there.”

Early years of developing dementia care in Wiltshire

A landmark of the early years was winning £70k from the National Lottery to set up day care in a small semi-detached house near Trowbridge Park.  “We were there decorating in the evenings and weekends, and I was running Home Support on my own. I think now it's amazing I didn't have a heart attack!

“With services we were always looking for the gaps to fill. Polebarn was specifically for younger people then, and then we opened the Oasis Saturday Club in Warminster was so there was something at the weekend.

“We tried an overnight system at Polebarn so people could come to day care, stay overnight and the whole of the next day. It worked well for some but was so expensive. We started a training course for carers to help them understand more – it was all evolving in those early years.

I remember Professor Roy Jones of the Rice Centre in Bath saying ‘if you are going to have dementia, have it in West Wiltshire as there is so much there’.”

Public perceptions of dementia in the 1990s

But any positives were not dwelt on when it came to public perceptions of dementia thirty years ago.

“Everyone dwelt on the awful side of it. There wasn’t the awareness of dementia and people’s needs. People were hidden away. Families often didn’t talk about it, or admit to having it in the family. It was kept quiet. The national charities reinforced that too at that time, with pictures of little old ladies in their nightdresses on the publicity material. It was always the negative side to wake people up.

“People are more open now and there is so much more stress on the positives, and how you can live with dementia. We were at the forefront of that here in Wiltshire.”

Another change was not so positive.

“In the 1990s there were still day hospitals and people could have a whole week of respite. Now this is non-existent. Social workers had far more resources then, they could offer things like respite and occupational therapy.

“So although the attitudes and understanding is far better, there is far less statutory resource and it is up to charities now to meet the gap. We used to insist on full cost recovery on council contracts. Now we have to show value added and how much more we can bring in by fundraising. 

“I am immensely proud of what we achieved in the first 20 years and since then Babs (CEO 2025 - 2021) has done a brilliant job or growing it. And under Sarah Marriott the charity is absolutely flourishing and still doing so much good."

30 years of Alzheimer's Support